June 18, 2018

After Furor, Harvard Library Spokesperson Says ‘Inaccurate’ That All Staff Will Have to Reapply

[Editor’s note: The comment author below is not John W. Collins III, the Librarian of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.]

[This story has been updated with a link to, and excerpt from, the Library Town Hall Presentation.]

Uncertainty about the status of Harvard Library staff spread across Twitter and other social media sites late Thursday afternoon after a series of Town Hall meetings held earlier in the day on campus to discuss the library’s massive restructuring plan, which was approved in September.

“The nature of academic and research librarianship changed today. Today, all Harvard librarians were essentially given pink slips, asked to participate in a website that has tips on rewriting your resume and changing your career, and also asked to basically re-apply for their jobs,” wrote E. Keathley, who said she has worked for the library system, in a Google+ post.

The meetings also stirred into life a Twitter hashtag, #hlth, that was awash with similar comments.

However, in a statement sent to LJ, Kira Poplowski, the library’s director of communications, took issue with this characterization.

“It is inaccurate to say that all library staff will need to reapply for their positions,” Poplowski said. However, she would not provide any specifics about what the staff were told at the meetings that were led by Mary Lee Kennedy, senior associate provost, and Helen Shenton, executive director.

She did say that text from the presentations would be available online sometime Friday, but details remained very few late Thursday.

[The full text has now been posted here. Key excerpt: “So, all Library staff are invited to state job preferences, to articulate skills and to provide a resume by creating and submitting an Employee Profile.  Creating an Employee Profile is voluntary, and we hope to receive as many as possible.”]

Earlier, the library transition website had a listing of workshops on resume writing and ways to determine transferable skills, but late Thursday this information had been removed from the site along with a video of the Town Hall meeting (which wasn’t working).

[On Friday, Poplowski said the workshop site was live and “eight of the fourteen workshops are full, and more will be added to the schedule as soon as the details are finalized.”]

The full text of Poplowski’s statement:

University leaders embraced a series of recommendations for the future of the Harvard Library system to establish a coordinated management structure and increasingly focus resources on the opportunities presented by new information technology. Ultimately, the University seeks to ensure that the Harvard Library continues to set the standard for research libraries worldwide.

Today, the Harvard Library leadership shared immediate next steps in this transition, which include recommending a new organizational design to the Library Board and senior University administrators. Details about the new Library organization and implementation steps and timetable will be shared at Library-wide staff meetings in February.

The implementation of the restructuring plan, under the direction Kennedy, has been scheduled to begin this month, according to a timeline, with the transition fully completed sometime in 2013.

The restructuring of the system’s 73 libraries has its roots in a November 2009 task force report on university libraries and a work group, headed by Professor David Lamberth, that followed up on the report’s recommendations.

In a letter sent in December 2010, Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman announced plans to better align the library’s structure with the university’s academic priorities, and after the 11-member library board approved the plan this past fall, Provost Alan Garber wrote in a September 28 letter: “I am committed to ensuring that the new Harvard Library will be the flagship research library of the 21st century.”

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Michael Kelley (mkelley@mediasourceinc.com) is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.

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  1. John Collins says:

    The Devils, as usual,is in the HR details. True, only some employees will have to strickly reapply for changed jobs but ALL employees not in that category and in Access and Tech Services (hundreds of employees) functions now find their jobs subejct to layoff review of such a scale that Havard doesn’t want to reveal the numbers. Some say “flagship” , others a titanic sinking ship.

  2. Janine Nichipor says:

    “Re-train and re-deploy.”
    There is no doubt that library reorganization is needed–and then, needed again, so it seems. I have worked at the Harvard College Library since 1991 and there has been continual change–sometimes from within the library system and sometimes from outside the libraries. The influence of all electronic media, both in depleting existing budgets and changing the way library users conduct research, has been a huge change. Online resources, including the demise of the card catalog, reduce the numbers of users coming into some of our libraries. A scattered system that when I was an undergraduate, involved schlepping through snow across campus in search of a book, has been brought together, at least in the virtual world. Duplicates are surplus. The cost of storing print sources has soared. The present sluggish economy creates a backdrop of uncertainty.
    I acknowledge that change is inevitable, but what I feel, after yesterday’s meeting, was the unnecessary devaluation of the librarians and library assistants, many of whom have worked at Harvard for decades and are experts in their particular field or have particular skills. The impression I got yesterday is that there will be a huge shell game played out with our lives, and those of our families, with rules not yet disclosed. I didn’t feel we were valued as employees or as persons. So many of us asked after the meeting yesterday, what was the point of the it? Why call a meeting when there are no answers ready for our biggest questions? Was the purpose of it to instill fear? Because, sadly, that was the main result. Fear for ourselves and for the future of one of the best library systems in the world.
    Though the meeting was purported to have been called to allay anxiety caused by not knowing what was happening, we were only given enough information to become more anxious about our futures–and the future of a library system we have been proud to serve.
    “Re-train and re-deploy” we had been told at an earlier meeting during this process. I would like to get back to that tactical plan and would be energized by that prospect.

  3. Harold Widener says:

    The whole Harvard Library reorganization has been a trainwreck since day one. Sadly it is one that we are on, and therefore not one we can watch with detached bemusement.

    The absurd Town Hall meetings Harvard held yesterday (the ones with no details, no figures, no numbers–only that “there will be a significant reduction in staff”) have only added to the sense that this whole process is out-of-control, and that we– the long suffering Harvard library employees are once again going to pay the price for the whims of our insane masters.

    The current mad wheeze is for this Grand “One-Library System” to be stripped of all Reference, Research and Collection Development staff who will remain employees of their respective “schools” (ie Law, Business, Arts & Sciences, etc.). The plan is also for the library system to eliminate the library IT, Human Resources, Financial, & Operations and “purchase” these services from central Harvard administration.

    This leaves only Access Services, Technical Services (including Cataloging), and Preservation under the control of this “One Library”. It also leaves these groups alone to shoulder the brunt of the cuts.

    Library directors have asked all staff to “voluntarily” complete a strange hybrid of resume and cover letter, and have been promised that this will not be used to select who will be let go. However, after the meetings senior managers made the rounds telling staff that this hyprid was not voluntary and would be used for selecting who might survive the coming purge.

  4. Jack Maniscalco says:

    These are times of economic uncertainty and personal anxiety for many within the professional librarian community. But, there’s something to consider here – Harvard Library Assistants, those professionals who work within the library system number in the hundreds, and are a part of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW), an affiliate of AFSCME. The HUCTW leadership should mobilize members to protest the impending layoffs and fight for their members. If the union leadership fails to mobilize it’s resources in a meaningful and well considered action, then there’s nothing to be said of universities across the country following the lead of Harvard. Why not? If Harvard doesn’t need well-trained and highly educated librarian professionals, then why should *insert name here* University? It’s time for all librarians to stand together to counter the widespread elimination and devaluation of libraries and the librarians who work within them.

    In solidarity,

  5. Jane Lamont says:

    It’s really sad that neither Helen Shenton or Mary Lee Kennedy have made any public statements or sent out e-mail about this issue. Why did they hold the town hall without having an approved plan? Why have they been so reluctant to release information? Why can’t they say “sorry for stressing people out but we wanted to share the information we had”? It’s also telling that information keeps on disappearing from the official transition site. I’m not surprised that video of the town hall meeting no longer works. Video from other events that haven’t gone well have either been removed from the site or never uploaded.

    Follow up meetings given by library heads and senior managers haven’t given staff any more concrete details about what is happening or a realistic time line of events. I was unable to get a definition of what are “shared services” means for this re-org. I was also unable to get an explanation of what “voluntary staff reductions” will mean (early retirement? Buy out? Who knows!).

    The Harvard Clerical and Technical Workers union (HUCTW) sent out a letter (http://t.co/Bn5aP5Bl) indicating that the library transition team did not discuss details of the proposed decrease in labor force with them.

    It’s also too bad that despite the stated commitment to new technology etc. that the twitter acct for the Harvard Libraries (http://twitter.com/#!/Harvard_Library) hasn’t been updated since Dec 7th and the Facebook account (http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Harvard-Library/) hasn’t been updated since Dec 9th.