June 04, 2010

Harvard Libraries face big changes in collection development

From the Boston Globe:

With 16.5 million volumes Harvard University has the world's largest university library. The collection spans a range of esoteric topics, from the manuscripts of Ukrainian political leaders to the field notes of famous horticulturists. Harvard owns so many books, serials, and other items that it now houses nearly half of the collection in a climate-controlled warehouse 25 miles away in Southborough.

But the days of accumulating every important title and artifact under the scholarly sun are over for Harvard’s labyrinthine system of 73 libraries.

Facing an unprecedented budget crunch, the university cancelled print copies of more than 1,000 journal titles last year in favor of online subscriptions. And Harvard is turning toward other universities to collaborate and share acquisitions, all while trying to maintain its libraries’ stature in an increasingly digital world.

“We need to worry less about buying everything, and instead ensure that we have access to these materials,’’ said David Lamberth, a divinity school professor who is overseeing a group tasked with reinventing Harvard’s libraries. “The real issue is giving present and future scholars the ability to find what they need to find.’’

Harvard’s shift in priorities from acquisition to access, though, does not sit well with some professors, especially faculty in the humanities and social sciences who fired off a letter to president Drew Faust last winter decrying the slowing rate of acquisitions and staff cuts. The number of physical volumes added per year fell from 429,000 in 2004-05 to 349,000 in 2008-09, library officials said.

Faculty fear that any further decline would jeopardize research and teaching, and erode the foundation Harvard was built on 372 years ago when minister John Harvard bequeathed his library to the nation’s first university.

Harvard administrators, though, say the university cannot possibly maintain its previous rate of acquisition given the surging number of print and digital works at prices outpacing inflation.

“At an institution such as Harvard, the appetite for more content is constantly growing, but we’re always limited by budget, and our priorities must be balanced with what’s now being taught,’’ said Nancy Cline, Harvard College librarian.

Technology, once again, is redefining how a modern university library functions.

The number of digital items, including text, images, and audio files, soared from 1.2 million in 2003-04 to 12.4 million last year. During that period, electronic resources — journals, books, and databases — rose from 6,058 to 370,696.

“Online resources are the first step for most students these days,’’ said junior Shana Caro, a human evolutionary biology major who said she relies mainly on electronic resources for research. “I have access to pretty much any major science journal from my laptop.’’

The library is also planning to build a virtual reference desk, where students who rarely seek the help of librarians can solicit research advice without having to set foot in a library. Librarians would assist students through e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and Skype.

“Some people would like to think that the library itself has become a sort of museum which is cute and has nice, old things in it,’’ said classics professor Richard Thomas. “But that’s fiction. What it collects and stores are going to get even more use because one gets access to them electronically. More people can find it now.’’

Read the full story by Tracy Jan

No comments: