What the heck is going on at Harvard?

Last week you might have heard rumblings in the academic library / librarian blog circles that there was a great librarian massacre at Harvard. Thanks to the Jersey Exile blog for this clever reference to Robert Darnton’s collection of essays on cultural history of 18th century France, the Great Cat Massacre. By the way, the essay of the same name describes an antagonistic relationship of social class in France, where underpaid labourers and artisans would torture and even murder the cats of French aristocrats because the cats were better treated that the workers. While I don’t see any such uprising in UO librarians, the feelings of being undervalued never yield positive results. Darnton, I am sure was referenced, as he was Harvard’s Chief Librarian until last year.

Here is a breakdown of what shook down at Harvard’s town hall meetings on January 19th (copied and pasted from the above-mentioned blog):

I was in attendance and livetweeting at the first of the three meetings, but I can confirm through other colleagues who Tweeted from the second and third showings that even though we have not been fired or laid off, that the following things were announced:

1. Pending approval of the Implementation Plan by Harvard’s President, an overall reduction in library staff is guaranteed- of the jobs that remain, “There will certainly be new roles, requiring new skills” (direct quote)

2. Next month library staff will be informed by local library directors or HR whether or not their jobs as considered to be “local” or part of “shared services”

3. The final disposition of local library staff is a matter for the deans and their respective school budgets

4. Library staff falling into the category of Shared Services will either be assigned to new positions or required to apply for them anew in some informal or formal capacity, with preference going to existing Harvard Library staff

5. The Harvard Library will be offering some kind of voluntary retirementstaff reduction incentive,but has not ruled out as well as involuntaryretirement staff reductions to meet its strategic goals (edited x2)

6. All library staff have been encouraged but not required to create and submit an Employee Profile, which is meant to highlight one’s individual strengths and accomplishments and “inject oneself into the process” (direct quote)


So, what does this mean for academic librarians more broadly? There is a sense that “if it can happen at Harvard, it can happen anywhere.” But, I personally, don’t share that view. I do think that we as librarians have to look at these changes as the canary in the coal mine, to use one of the oldest union clichés. Reorganization of library services have been fairly constant in the last few years. That is not likely to change. At U of O we saw our own reorganization and staffing optimization plan in 2008 which was implemented over a couple of years. 13 support staff positions were eliminated or made redundant. Luckily, there were open positions so people did not have to lose their jobs.Luckily, some staff were close to retirement and “chose” to leave the university. Our town hall meetings are scheduled for Feb. 8th. We’re already a skeleton staff, so there is not a great deal of trimming of the fat, as my least favourite public servant, Rob Ford, likes to say. But besides staffing, there are changes afoot. Let’s be responsible and learn from what we hear next week.