As it looks to economize, Harvard has turned some of its attention toward the more than $160 million it spends each year on its nearly 375 year-old library system, which holds 17 million volumes, and includes 73 separate libraries. Widener, the flagship library, alone has 57 miles of shelving.
While the system has been a “precious asset to the university for many, many years,” Harvard has “also spent more on libraries than we’ve really needed to to accomplish our goal,” said Mr. Garber, the provost.
The number of full-time library workers is down 20% from the end of 2008, when there were more than 1,000 positions, as Harvard centralizes functions such as preservation instead of handling them separately at each library. After the plan was announced in February, library supporters picketed, holding sign with messages such as “$32 billion in the bank? No layoffs.”
Harvard is also changing its philosophy on owning books. The goal: Provide access to them rather than collecting each one, which can lead to costs for storage and preservation, a 2009 Harvard task-force report said. The library will extend partnerships to borrow from other libraries, and further digitize its own collection so it can share with others.
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