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Open Session Focuses on Collection Development Planning

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Associate Librarian of Harvard College for Collection Development Dan Hazen, center, talks with Alison Harris, Roosevelt Project Cataloger/Metadata Specialist and Rachel Howarth, Associate Librarian of Houghton Library for Public Services, before the open session to discuss the library’s planning efforts for Collection Development.

October 12, 2010 – Dozens of Harvard College Library staff assembled in the Lamont Forum Room last week for an open session with Dan Hazen, Associate Librarian for Collection Development, who outlined the library’s planning efforts for Collection Development. Sponsored by the HCL Joint Council, the session was the first of four meetings that will be held over the next several months to give staff a chance to learn about and discuss the library’s ongoing planning efforts.

“The planning process in HCL is pulling together a number of areas and issues that have been in process at various times and in various ways for the past year or two,” Hazen said. “In collections, the planning goes back at least two or three years.”

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At the core of the planning process, Hazen said, is an existential question facing all academic research libraries - how to make their physical collections relevant and useful in an increasingly digital world.

“We have these wonderful books and journals – we have wonderful hard-copy collections, but what’s the point if you can go to Google, and it’s all online?” Hazen said. “If the future of academic publishing is digital, how are our patrons using different forms of information, why are they using it and how do we position ourselves vis-à-vis that universe?”

Work on answering those questions began in June 2009, when Hazen authored a discussion paper entitled “Rethinking Collections in the Harvard College Library: A Policy Framework for Straitened Times, and Beyond.” In his paper, Hazen proposed a series of redefined principles, goals, and priorities – including broadening the library’s focus to encompass both physical collections and digital content, the increasing need for cooperative work, the need to support open-access models of scholarship and the need for governance models that allow for local accountability and cooperative activities – that would allow HCL to respond to the new digital information environment while still living within its means.

To refine the abstract principles laid out in “Rethinking Collections” into a series of concrete steps, the Collections Development Planning Council was formed in July. The Council consists of library heads Mary Clare Altenhofen, Fine Arts, who co-chairs the council; James Cheng, Harvard-Yenching; Virginia Danielson, Loeb Music; Lynne Schmelz, Librarian for the sciences; and Bill Stoneman, Houghton Library, as well as Senior Collection Development Librarian Alison Scott. A month later, the group began work on preparing a broad-brush collection development policy statement that represents goals and priorities for HCL as a whole. This document, prepared in close consultation with selectors and local units, will provide a baseline for the continuing policy work of the permanent Collection Development Council, which will be created next year.

“The library heads are involved because ultimately the decisions we make are going to influence how money is allocated, how priorities are set, how policies are articulated and meshed together across the libraries, and how staffing structures may come to look within the Collection Development realm,” Hazen said. “In a larger way, the decisions we make will also have an impact on research, teaching and learning, as well as technical services and processing units and access services. There’s a very explicit vision that what we’re doing is with collections is part of a whole array of services and activities that happen within the college library, and, indeed the university library. We want to begin to get those connections drawn.”

The first stage of that work, Hazen told staff, could soon come to fruition. A draft set of principles that will serve as broad guide to the collections development process will likely be complete before the holiday break. The draft will then be refined with input from library staff, and will later be used to form a policy framework for collections going forward.

“That policy structure is the starting point for understanding where we want to go, what we want to do and where we move from here with collections,” Hazen said. “The principles behind the structure will provide the coherence for individual unit policies as they emerge. The principles behind that structure are still very much under discussion, but will likely include a preference for digital formats, where acceptable, or a preference for open access as a business model for scholarly communication.”

Similar work is also underway through the Provost’s Taskforce. In its November 2009 report, the Taskforce recognized the need to “rationalize our system for acquiring, accessing, and developing materials for a ‘single university’ collection.” The Library Implementation Work Group (LIWG) is now working to shape the Taskforce’s recommendations into more concrete recommendations, which will be presented to the Harvard Corporation and Visiting Library Committee this December. If the recommendations are ratified, Hazen said, the implementation of those recommendations will begin in January, and could take years.

While the planning work of HCL and LIWG are taking place on separate tracks, Hazen, who sits on the LIWG Collections Subgroup, assured staff that the steps taken by HCL are closely in line with the plans emerging from LIWG.

“What we’re doing within the College Library is entirely consistent and congruent with the preliminary recommendations coming out of LIWG,” he said.

Hazen also noted that while the principles laid out in the coming months will inform the development of a policy structure, they will not act as limits on future policies. Given the size of HCL and the variety of collections its libraries encompass, whatever principles and policies are developed must be flexible, Hazen said.

“The principles allow for those local variations, but at the same time, they will give shape and coherence to what will be perceived, and will actually function, as an integrated whole,” he said. “They will allow us to act in a way that we haven’t in the past.”

Following his comments, Hazen opened the floor to questions.

HCL staff can find a transcript of the questions and responses on the staff intranet later this week.