​Outsourcing the Harvard Library

Source: Noah D. Cohen, The Harvard Crimson, November 13, 2015

In technical services, our experience suggests that budgetary savings since 2012 have been due not to increased efficiency, but rather to severe cuts in quality and to the outsourcing of library work. These trends have allowed the library to continue processing books with smaller staffing, but this has come at the sacrifice both of the quality of its collections and of its contractual commitments to its employees. … It seemed clear to the copy catalogers involved in the project that the new cataloging standards were designed to facilitate outsourcing by allowing substandard vendor supplied cataloging to be accepted without meaningful revision by staff. These new, reduced cataloging standards are now being used to overlook the errors already found in a recently introduced workflow called “direct to destination” where outside, for-profit companies catalog for Harvard and send titles directly to shelf without review by local expert staff. … Librarians and library staff at all levels have a basic accountability to the university and the intellectual mission it serves. By outsourcing our work to vendors, Harvard is ceding the independent function of the library as a curator of information in the service of knowledge to a handful of private corporations whose main interest lies in maximizing profits.


Following Restructuring, Libraries Report Large Savings
Source: Karl M. Aspelund, Harvard Crimson, November 2, 2015

Harvard’s library system has reduced spending by $25 million in aggregate since 2009, largely due to a multi-year restructuring effort completed in 2012, according to an update distributed to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences prior to its meeting on Tuesday. … The number of employees in the library system dropped from 1,094 in 2009 to 771 in 2015, a nearly 30 percent decrease, the document says. The restructuring effort included transfers of staff to other administrative offices—such as human resource staff and technology specialists—but also involved controversial cuts to staffing. Spending on salaries decreased from 53.2 to 50 percent of total spending within the library system between 2009 and 2014.

Harvard Library Workers Resist Top-Down Restructuring and Austerity
Source: James Cersonsky, Labor Notes, February 12, 2013

…Staff cuts are only one plank of a broader shift in Library governance. At the recommendation of a management consulting firm and a two-year in-house study, the 73 libraries on campus have been merged into one “Harvard Library.”

A subset of workers—access services and technical services—have new duties, and in some cases new worksites, as part of a “shared services” structure. These workers run the Library’s bread-and-butter operations: cataloging books, responding to patron inquiries, supervising student workers, managing the library’s website, and processing book loans from other universities…..

…A “shared services” model often entails de-skilling. At a number of universities, converting to a shared-services model for academic departments has detached workers from their localized knowledge and stripped their workplaces of the relationships that help the departments function….

…Under a similar push in University Financial Services, employees have been fired for not processing invoices fast enough. The logic of the performance measurements—employees must work at or above average speed 75 percent of the time—makes it impossible for everyone to succeed. Meanwhile, most workers aren’t getting paid any extra to work under the new system….