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UPDATE: - has more direct info, and is closer to the source than I am. This blog post writes that research librarians won't be laid off, but I still stand by what I wrote below. And honestly? After a decade of successive cuts to Harvard library staff, I just don't know that I believe that research librarians are safe.

original post below.

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. You can read updates on twitter at #hlth .

Harvard has the second largest endowment in the world, second only to the funds held by the Vatican. If Harvard is unwilling to fund research librarians, you can bet most US libraries will quickly ditch their staff as well. This will impact your health, because it impacts medical research. This will impact the economy, because it will impact engineers needing information access. This will impact all areas of R&D in the United States, because much of the in-depth research assistance to those working on DARPA, NIH, and other government grants is - surprise!! - conducted on behalf of researchers by academic and research librarians.

Full disclosure: I have worked both for Harvard Medical Library and Harvard University Library. In that second position, I helped consolidate the foreign language libraries into the main university library. I'm obviously not against consolidation of information. But my time in the medical library underscored for me how very important librarians are to the research process.

Information neither curates nor organizes itself. I hope that Harvard plans to hire back the majority - if not all - of its librarians, and retrains them for DAM or remote research assistance. Another good idea would be to embed research librarians in individual research projects - effectively assigning a knowledge worker to important projects.

My worst fear is that the finest research library system in the world is being gutted, and that we're all going to suffer for a lack of reference. Harvard needs to issue a press statement NOW about what their master plan might be regarding #hlth . We all deserve to know what's going on - especially those librarians and archivists who have devoted their lives to helping make all of ours better.

UPDATE:@mpeachy8 is live tweeting info given to librarians.
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Okay, scared now. That is not good news. I hope they actually have a plan here or maybe we are looking at a cost cutting plan that screws things up.
Excellent summary of what is happening at Harvard Libraries during "transition" - otherwise called "pink slipping everyone and telling them that they might get hired back."
You say " If Harvard is unwilling to fund research librarians..." and I am wondering if you have seen any basis to suggest Harvard is no longer going to do so. I haven't seen any significant details about what kinds of positions might be eliminated, redefined, or for that matter added. I certainly appreciate the anxiety that the announcements today have produced for the individuals affected but am wondering what you may know about Harvard's unwillingness, as you suggest, to fund research librarians. Apologies if I have missed an obvious source; Iwould appreciate any additional background you can provide. EDIT to add that I see from Twitter that the number of positions being reduced is not yet being announced.
Hi Roger, you make fair points. In the past nine years, Harvard has already reduced its library staff substantially (apologies for not having hard numbers). When I worked there ten years ago, the medical library was a busy place with over 30 staff. In the past few years, staff was whittled down - mostly via attrition - to the point that the building regularly had just one person on duty - just one in that very large building - on weekends. I now suspect the medical library was a bellwether for the rest of the system.

My prediction is that only a skeleton staff will remain - someone to turn on the lights and to be addressed when someone absolutely must be there. The system has been shedding positions for a decade. At first, there were librarian protests and protests in support of the librarians; eventually these faded, and here we are today.

Until official plans become public, I am left with my best educated guess as to what is occurring. This is my best guess, and I don't think it's extreme.
Thanks. I appreciate you filling in this background for me, which I hadn't realized. I certainly understand the concern and will look forward to seeing exactly what plans are announced in the coming weeks.
Early in the communications to library staff, the short hand was "the Harvard libraries do less with more" to represent the results of a large number of consultants who did comparisons with peer institutions in terms of costs/staffing in major functional areas. Three major areas make up the shared services being referred to: Access Services, Technical Services, and Preservation.
Will you guys please consider starting a petition? Let's organize around this, building a campaign around alumni support and the huge network of librarians, academics and researchers who support you.
It is scary. I have worked at several Harvard libraries, and I'm happy to be gone from there. They have amazing collections but really poor management.
This is a bit inaccurate. Harvard has fired no one yet, and will only be making people who's jobs differ significantly after the restructuring reapply. More will be known about specifics in February. Twitter has perpetuated gross exaggerations about the current state of things, though to be fair it has caught accurately the feeling of angst in the current workforce.
I have only a dim sense of what's actually happening, but the very notion that management would announce to a large staff that any of them may lose their jobs and then not provide more details, is inhumane. According to the tweets, no info yet on % of staff cut, what jobs are going to remain, other basic information that any reasonable person would wish to know. Is that in fact what they are doing? Why on earth announce this when they can't answer the obvious questions? (And imagine having to go back to work tomorrow in those circumstances.) Brutal.
I agree Monica -- and that is what caused most of the angst and anger. There are specific work areas, which are not part of the "shared services," where staff know they will not be affected. That is a small portion, though, of most of the people at the meetings, and even these people (including myself) are caught up in the angst and anger. I have a dim sense that they believe they are doing something good by communicating what they know, even though they did it in just enough measure to cause more anxiety.
Can anyone who knows more details about this send me an email? I write for The Atlantic and have been covering labor issues at Harvard this year…
+Rebecca Graham has listed the shared services that will be affected, which leaves Research, Teaching, and Learning (Reference and Teaching Librarians) and Collection Development (Bibliographers, Curators) outside of the current restructuring. It was confirmed that Special Collections in general (Rare Books, Archives, etc.) will not be a part of this either.
Hey James - those of us who remember staff levels from the pre- Larry Summers days find it difficult to believe that library numbers could be lower without further compromising the system. Already service has degraded from a formerly high standard - assistance is much more generalized for the majority of users.

How can Harvard trim the fat, when many of us already believe they've cut to the bone?
I agree +E Keathley. There are many units and libraries that are strapped because of the cuts after the economic meltdown in 2008. I also remember the pre-Summers days, when I worked in different libraries in the Harvard system.
In contrast, Mitt Romney and the private equity folks seem like nice guys. This is a dreadful way to handle a restructure, and I write as someone who manages turnarounds.
I would just like to thank +James Capobianco for actually explaining what is going on - from what I saw on Twitter, it sounded like they laid off their entire staff, which just doesn't make sense. So, thank you!
I think what is happening there is troublesome on a few levels - first, it just appears (not only as someone from the outside, but from the social discussion from people on the inside) that the management handled this whole thing poorly - a lack of information, lack of tact, etc. For anyone remaining, you have to wonder what morale and work environment would be like going forward. It also speaks to an idea that they do not value existing staff enough to think people can retrained to do new work. Also, if you are telling people that they have to get resumes and employee profiles together to apply for jobs that they don't know the details of yet - well, that is sort of unfair to the employees. And backwards.
To provide another voice from the inside - I'd echo some opinions out there that change is not a bad thing in and of itself. It's how you go about the change and communicate it to all. There has been a general lack of transparency and information withholding through this entire process, which is what has riled up the Harvard librarians. It's possible that what's about to happen here at Harvard won't be the terrible event everyone fears with mass layoffs and reshuffling of positions (it's equally possible it will be) but the Administration has made it nearly impossible for anyone here to trust them. So when you tell a room the only thing you know for sure about the logisitics of the change is that the staff will be leaner and more efficient, it's not going to go so well. I've been trying my best to stay on neutral ground over the last few days, but it's extremely difficult not to want to yell really loudly in frustration about how this is all going down. I'd like to have faith that the new Harvard Library will be a leader in the field of research libraries and that our patrons will be happier with our services than ever, but right now it's getting hard to keep that faith.
Thanks for commenting, Margaret. I understand the urge to yell; that's essentially what this post is, me yelling. Since I don't work there anymore, I'm free to throw an internet hissy in ways that employees really can't (and shouldn't). I think the exercise in ringing the internet alarm has been productive, and I'm glad people are still posting and writing. FWIW, I do think Harvard has had mass librarian layoffs - spaced out over a decade. By not replacing retirees and trimming slowly and in spurts since May of 2002, Harvard has very much reduced their staff, and I'd love to see someone really run the numbers on how much the positions have declined since that time.
By way of further background to the potential impact of coming staff reductions, during the 2009 financial downturn, effecting all institutions - public and private - a similar voluntary/involuntary approach was taken university wide to dealing with necessary budget reductions. In the Harvard College Library, close to 100 positions were eliminated through a combination of voluntary retirements, reductions in force, and not filling long vacant positions. For HCL, that was roughly 20% of the workforce. Other libraries at Harvard experienced similar levels of staff losses at that time as well. And finally, over the past 12 to 18 months, many vacated positions were also not filled.
Yes, and this was very similar to the reductions in spring of 2002, and again, I believe, in 2006. For a decade now they've continuously reduced the library workforce. I'd love to see some hard numbers on this, and will try to put something together next week.
Of course, if there were any research librarians out there who could find citations for me on the staffing levels of Harvard Libraries between the years 2001-2011, I'd treat that help very confidentially. Of course, the citations for the math must be verifiable. PDF scans of , say, staff directories for libraries would be helpful, or library staff directory pages cached at
Here is the information about staffing levels. All of the numbers, except for 2009-2010, are from ARL Statistics. 2009-2010 (starred below) is from the Harvard University Library Annual Report for 2009-2010. I hope this helps!

Total staff (FTE) -- professional staff and support staff (not student assistants)
2009-2010 938*
2008-2009 1094
2007-2008 1096
2006-2007 1149
2005-2006 1134
2004-2005 1087
2003-2004 1137
2002-2003 1169
2001-2002 1185
2000-2001 1077
1999-2000 1088

1) Association of Research Libraries. ARL Statistics (ARL Library Data Tables, Personnel and Public Services)

2) Harvard University Library. Annual Report 2009-2010 (Statistics and Appendix: A Harvard Library Overview)
+Vernica Downey you are a fabulous data queen. I'm going to correlate these numbers with Harvard's annual reports. Any reason you can think of for the discrepancy in numbers from the Harvard factbooks at

PS - sorry for multiple reply edits, my G+ ap kept autocorrecting spellings and I had to move to the desktop.
I believe the Harvard Fact Book does not have a separate library staff headcount. Harvard College Library is listed but that does not include all of the faculty libraries (e.g. Law, Divinity, Medical) and libraries within other parts of the university. Staff falling under those categories are counted as employees of their individual school or unit.
Ok. My next read is the annual reports, and then the staff directories. I'm not doubting the ARL numbers, I just want multiple sources.

Also, I know of reductions that don't seem reflected in ARL numbers. This is likely due to the loss of support staff.
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