Friday, March 30, 2012

Labor Notes Article on Harvard Libraries

Harvard Layoffs Threaten the University’s Backbone: Libraries

Harvard has 73 libraries that comprise the largest private library collection in the world. The library system attracts researchers from around the world, a major draw for attracting the best faculty in all fields. From ancient maps to personal effects to photography collections, not to mention millions of books and journals in multiple languages, the materials of Harvard’s libraries are the keystone supporting billions of dollars in research grants awarded to the Harvard community each year.

Such a large collection is unusable without librarians and library staff to catalog materials and help researchers sift through the mountains of information. Most research using the Harvard library would be impossible without the aid of library workers.

Yet the Harvard administration feels its libraries are a drag on finances, as they do not directly create revenue. Library closings and staff reductions have been part of a continued corporatization of the university, begun under former President Larry Summers (who later was appointed to head President Obama’s National Economic Council). The focus on revenue and serving corporate ends has accelerated under current President Drew Faust’s recession-bound tenure.

In January, Harvard called a “library town hall” to announce that “the library workforce will be smaller than it is now”—by July. The news fell like a bombshell on close to 900 employees, both union members and managers, who still do not know how many people will lose their jobs.

Jeff Booth, a library assistant for over 25 years, said, “It affects you physically. You think that the prospect of losing a job is just a mental thing, but it makes me physically sick when I think that in six months I may not know how I’ll be able to help my children.”

Harvard libraries have already seen layoffs. In 2009, the administration laid off more than 275 workers. In every department, workers were asked to take on more tasks. Harvard claimed poverty as the recession caused its endowment to fall from $36 billion to a mere $25 billion. But in fiscal year 2011 the endowment grew 21.4 percent to $32 billion.

Library for the 21st Century

Harvard set the goal in 2009 of “creating a library for the 21st century.” Many assume this means removing books because “everything is online now.” However, more books are published in print now than ever before and often electronic resources require just as much labor to provide as physical resources.

The role of a library is constantly changing, but it continues to require substantial human labor.

Harvard’s present library system grew as schools and departments created their own libraries in order to focus service on a specific community.

The transition emphasizes centralization of “shared and technical services” such as interlibrary loan, cataloguing, and preservation. But in the past “shared services” has meant fewer jobs and bigger workloads.

The 2009 layoffs hit libraries particularly hard; 21 percent of library staff either took early retirement or were laid off. Workloads increased for those left.

Ed Dupree, 57, an assistant librarian for 19 years, describes the changes: “My workload has doubled since the layoffs of ’09, and gotten more complex. I do my old duties plus those of my former supervisor, who took the forced retirement. My department is backed up and service has inevitably declined.”

The service problems mean longer waits for materials, frustrating searches undertaken without aid or appropriate resources, and in some cases materials being mis-categorized and effectively lost forever.

Another longtime worker complained of the dumbing down of his job since 2009: “Many of the meaningful tasks of my work have been outsourced.”

How to Respond?

At the next meeting of the library transition team, the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, a rank-and-file group of members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers/AFSCME 3650 (HUCTW), met the downsizers with a picket of 20.

The No Layoffs campaign reached out to local media and the Cambridge City Council. The Student Labor Action Movement and Occupy Harvard took up the cause and formed close working relations with the campaign.

Even without official union endorsement, more than 200 workers, students, faculty, and community members demonstrated against layoffs on February 9. SEIU and UNITE HERE (the second and third biggest unions on campus) were invited and sent unofficial messages of support.

Three days later, Occupy Harvard began a week-long occupation of the main undergraduate library. Students camped out in the café area and used the space to host discussions with library staff and the No Layoffs Campaign.

The HUCTW leadership, which champions a policy of jointness with management, never reached out to any of these groups. Instead, it met with library transition leaders “to get more information and express our serious concerns. …In our union’s experience, it is nearly always possible to meet the same ends without any involuntary layoffs.”

The HUCTW contract is set to expire June 30, yet HUCTW officials insist that layoffs are not a primary concern for upcoming negotiations. HUCTW members have no way of challenging this outlook except through outside channels, as twice-yearly membership meetings rarely turn out more than 1 percent of the membership.

Joshua Koritz is a member of HUCTW who has worked in the Harvard library system for six years. You can show your support for Harvard library workers by sending a letter of protest to with a copy to and

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Protesters Speak Out Against Layoffs

Approximately 45 protesters gathered in front of the Science Center on Tuesday with signs and a megaphone for a “Speak-Out Against Layoffs at Harvard.” The event, which was organized by the No Layoffs Campaign, the Student Labor Action Movement, and Occupy Harvard, featured short speeches from workers, students, and faculty opposing the layoffs of Harvard Library workers.
The speak-out is the latest in a series of protests and rallies regarding library layoffs following Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton’s Jan. 19 announcement that the library’s reorganization would include staff reductions.
Library assistant Geoff P. Carens, who introduced many of the speakers, said that events like these have “definitely raised awareness” about the situation facing library workers. He called the “speak-out” format “more of an opportunity to reach out to the broader community in a more conversational way.”
Library assistant Jeffrey W. Booth also attended the event and said he was pleased with how it went. He said that each group of the library’s stakeholders were represented by a speaker, including union representatives, undergraduates, graduate students, alumni, and faculty.
The speakers focused on the arguments that layoffs would be unfair to the workers and negatively impact the quality of the library system. A No Layoffs campaign leaflet distributed at the event alleged “damage already inflicted on Harvard’s libraries by layoffs, out-sourcing, automation, and excessive reliance on student workers.” The handout listed problems such as minimal and inaccurate bibliographic records, faulty ordering and claiming processes, and thousands of books being shipped to the Harvard Depository without cataloging.
In response to the claims of the protesters, a University spokesperson wrote in an email that the library’s reorganization will actually enhance access to the Library’s holdings.
“The new organizational design unifies functions that occur within all libraries—Access Services, Technical Services, and Preservation and Digital Imaging Services,” the spokesperson said. “The shared services will enable greater focus on the needs of the user community.”
SLAM member William P. Whitham said that he thought that the “four or five” protest actions that SLAM has been involved in regarding library layoffs have been effective in spreading knowledge of the situation to the community.
“I think it’s having an impact,” Witham said. “The main purpose of these has been to inform people what’s going on.”
Whitham mentioned a variety of actions that SLAM has taken, including rallies, attending University President Drew G. Faust’s office hours, and contacting members of the administration.
“We’re going to do whatever it takes,” Whitham said. “We’ve tried so many tactics.”
—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Profit Margin of a Library: Harvard’s Corporatization

The Profit Margin of a Library: Harvard’s Corporatization

By Sandra Y.L. Korn

Two weeks ago, Harvard University Library administrators held a town hall meeting to announce major, imminent changes to the structure of the Harvard University Library. Helen Shenton, executive director of the Library, announced to a bewildered and shocked audience of library employees that the restructuring would involve “voluntary and involuntary layoffs,” and that the workforce “would be smaller.”

In the next week, both Harvard University President Drew Faust and University Provost Alan Garber sent out emails to the entire Harvard student body explaining the planned changes to the library system. Faust described the importance of making “strategic decisions about the digital future” and reforming the libraries to move into the technological age. Garber discussed the ways in which the restructuring would allow innovations to benefit library users.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Next No Layoffs Campaign Action


12 Noon, in front of the Science Center

Featuring testimonials from workers, students and faculty. Layoffs in '04 and '09 damaged Harvard's libraries. More layoffs will only mean library services will be further degraded.

Join the No Layoffs Campaign, the Student Labor Action Movement and Occupy Harvard to

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Harvard Club Workers Get New Contract

Harvard Club Workers Get New Contract 
By Dan Dou and Samuel Y. Weinstock, CRIMSON STAFF WRITERS

The membership of UNITE HERE! Local 26, the union that represents many of the employees at the Harvard Club of Boston, ratified its contract with the Club last week with over 95 percent member approval, Local 26 President Brian Lang said.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Open Letter to HUCTW Leadership from the No Layoffs Campaign

The following is a letter sent to the HUCTW leadership (Bill Jaeger, Tasha Williams, Donene Williams, Carrie Barbash,, Laura Ebenstein, Pam Mullaney, Lynnwang Delacey) on Friday, March 9, 2012.  As of today, we have not received a reply.  Any response to this we plan on publishing in its entirety here as well.

Dear HUCTW members, elected leaders, and organizers,

We, the Harvard No Layoffs Campaign, consisting of many HUCTW activists and rank and file members are sending this letter to urge action and cooperation in fighting library layoffs.

On January 19th, 2012 Harvard announced that they intended to reduce the Library workforce. While you began your discussions with Harvard about the downsizing, the No Layoffs campaign started a public campaign to draw attention to Harvard’s plan to lay workers off.  We:

·         Rallied against a Harvard “Community Conversation” with Occupy Harvard students and concerned community members (Jan. 25)
·         Rallied/protested with 100+ union members, students, faculty and community members Feb. 9th in Harvard Square
·         Picketed on Feb. 16th in support of Occupy Harvard site in Lamont (see OCCUPY BOSTON link below)
·         Reached out to the Cambridge City Council for support opposing Harvard layoffs/bad business practice
·         Engaged with Harvard’s SLAM movement (Student Labor Action Movement) and OCCUPY Harvard movement
·         Reached out to media
·         Initiated petitions to support Research Librarians and to oppose Layoffs
·     Picketed with scores of supporters on March 1, during a snow shower.

Union members want coordinated, united action against these layoffs.  We all want to see HUCTW mobilizing its membership and working with the No Layoffs Campaign, SLAM, Occupy Harvard, UNITE-HERE and SEIU.

We welcome the recent open letter and that you have just announced some outreach but we seek clarification on how exactly you see the plan unfolding. The open letter described the problems with Harvard's plan, but did not describe what our response will be. We call on you (as leaders of HUCTW) to initiate and support visible actions and aggressively establish coalitions with other unions on campus.  We hope that you will expand on your written communications with members by calling an emergency membership meeting with quorum so that we can plan a campaign.

Our publicity and all this exposure has had an impact on Harvard. Bill Murphy has admitted as much. This is evidenced in the administration's attacks on OCCUPY Harvard’s free speech  and by their refusal to even meet with staff (canceling an open meeting and making it an online chat).

We ask you to:

·         Call an emergency, campus-wide membership meeting (with quorum) to plan out how HUCTW will fight this round of layoffs
·         Organize visibility actions and encourage HUCTW members to attend
·         Support No Layoffs events and initiatives
·         Reach out to work with OCCUPY Harvard and SLAM students on campus
·         Build active coalitions with other unions on campus
·     Immediately set a date for the largest possible rally of HUCTW members against management's threats to cut the jobs of library workers.

We all agree that a Library Reorganization must not result in job loss.  You already know that another round of support staff layoffs (after the 21% reduction in 2009) will result in ruined lives, will have a horrible impact on the Harvard community and result in a significant loss in union dues and power.  We can save jobs if we work together to mobilize the members.

In Solidarity,

-The No Layoffs Campaign

OH Crimson Op-Ed - A Real Dialogue on Layoffs

A Real Dialogue on Layoffs

Two weeks ago the Graduate Student Council hosted what it called an Open Forum with Provost Alan M. Garber ’76, the administrator charged with overseeing the library restructuring and the public face of Harvard’s threatened layoffs. As a forum for a discussion, and as a space open for debate, the GSC event was a farce. Unfortunately, this failure to engage the Harvard community in a meaningful dialogue is now part of an established pattern whereby library workers, students, and community members are excluded from the decision making process at Harvard.

We call upon Garber, Library Executive Director Helen Shenton, and University President Drew G. Faust to engage students, staff, and faculty in a sustained dialogue on our libraries. Given the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the library restructuring, we urge Garber, Shenton, and Faust to pause, consider carefully the concerns of the Harvard community, and assure all workers and staff that they are vital participants in the future of our libraries. We need a firm commitment: real participation by library users and no layoffs for library workers.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Boston Occupier article on 3/1 No Layoffs Picket

Harvard Community Protests Library Cuts

photo credit: Matthew Shochat

Across the country, March 1st protest actions tended to concentrate on the debt-ridden plight of students. On the snowy Thursday evening at Harvard University, the focus was somewhat different.
Fifty protesters gathered in front of Holyoke Center in Cambridge to rally against the university’s secretive, top-down handling of the restructuring of Harvard’s libraries, including plans to cut a substantial number of its 930 full-time employees. Rank-and-file members of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW) were joined by students, faculty, alumni, and participants in Occupy Boston and Occupy Harvard.

Monday, March 5, 2012

HUCTW Leadership Open Letter on Library Layoffs

Library System in Jeopardy

Since 2009, Harvard has been reorganizing its 73 libraries into a consolidated entity, the Harvard Library. Library staff members are deeply concerned that some of the proposed changes, including workforce reductions, will result in serious threats to the integrity of the Library. We worry that if the voices of staff are not heard and the reorganization continues on its present course, thousands of books and materials could be lost, service standards could drop to unacceptable levels, and human relationships that are key to research, curriculum, and collection development could be severed.

In recent communications, Harvard Library leaders have implied that staffing levels need to be reduced to put us in line with our peers, asserting that Harvard spends more on its library than other universities. But HL leaders have not provided the community with any data to support the assumption that this discrepancy is caused by “overstaffing.” We would expect Harvard Library to be more expensive to operate than its peers—it is larger, with a spectacularly broad and unique collection that requires sophisticated maintenance. It has significant offsite holdings, and offers deluxe services such as HD Transfer and “Scan-and-Deliver.”

Additionally, since 2009 (which is when the data comparing Harvard to other schools were gathered), Harvard Library staffing levels have dropped by more than 20 percent. More recently, the University offered eligible library workers an early-retirement package. With the threat of possible layoffs heavy in the air, many long-time staff members will likely take the package and leave. Harvard Library cannot afford to lose any more skilled workers. Across the campus, librarians and library assistants report serious quality problems resulting from understaffing and overreliance on poorly-considered cost-cutting measures.

In order to reduce labor costs, HL increasingly sends books and materials to external vendors for outsourced cataloging. The results are alarming: outsourced materials are frequently cataloged with mistakes in title, author, subject, or call number. Since staff members often do not have time or permission to make corrections, the errors have led to thousands of materials becoming undiscoverable. The materials reside physically on shelves or in the Depository, but patrons are unable to locate or retrieve them. Precious books, films, journals, documents, and other treasured resources are being lost.

In all library departments, students and temps provide valuable assistance to overworked permanent staff, but dependency on short-term staff actually creates more work. Although temporary workers seem low-cost, the amount of time permanent staff spend training them on sophisticated tasks, and checking and correcting their work, cancels out most or all of the savings. When a short-term worker leaves and is replaced, this process begins all over again.

Staffing shortages are also affecting circulation, with some departments reporting 30 percent staffing reductions since 2009. For smaller libraries, this often means that there is only one person on duty, and tasks like searching for missing items and preparing materials for transfer necessarily get set aside to help patrons. Staff regularly skip lunch and breaks, or work when they are sick, because there is no one else to cover for them.

Conservation technicians talk about how a deep understanding of their particular library’s collections allows them to know which of the rare, fragile materials need attention. Their unique expertise and cross-departmental relationships often enable them to repair items on the same day the work is requested. But as this skilled group becomes scarce, technicians struggle to maintain high levels of quality.

Librarians and assistants regularly work on projects that span departments and require advanced skills. Often these projects fall outside of official job descriptions, but they are vital to patrons’ efforts to carry out research, develop curricula, teach courses, and diagnose patients. If staffing levels are cut further or jobs are over-simplified, these critical functions will suffer.

No one person can claim to have the authoritative model for the great Library of the 21st century. But there is only one effective approach to such a major reorganizational effort: the process needs to be transparent and participatory. If the cautionary cries of library staff about severe understaffing and quality concerns are not heard and heeded, the Harvard Library Transition will not be successful.

One staff member sums up the urgency of the moment beautifully: “There is such a breadth and depth of knowledge within the library support staff that could easily be used to make the new Harvard Library a reality and a rousing success without cutting a single job. We are already at bare-bones staffing level in my library, and I hear the same thing from everyone I talk to. Don't fire us. You need us. Put us to work, give us new tasks, new ideas, new technology—we are knowledge junkies, we love drowning ourselves in books, media, anything containing the written or spoken word, and we can do anything you throw at us… I enjoy learning. For its own sake. That's what makes a librarian (or in my case, a library paraprofessional) tick. That's what I love. And I'm not alone, not by a long shot. Everyone I work with shares the same passion.”

Carrie Barbash, Alex Chisholm, and Bill Jaeger are organizers with the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, which represents close to half the Library workforce at Harvard. This piece was written with the assistance of unionized library staff and non-unionized librarians from across Harvard.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Video from 3/1/12 NO LAYOFFS PICKET featuring Evan Greer


Protesters Rally Against Library Layoffs

Library Workers' Protest
Chanting slogans such as "layoffs ruin lives and libraries," Harvard Libraries staff and supporters gathered in front of the Holyoke Center on Thursday evening to protest proposed layoffs.
Approximately 50 protesters gathered in front of the Holyoke Center early Thursday evening to rally against layoffs which may result from the Harvard Library’s upcoming reorganization.
“It may be raw out here, but it’s not as raw as the deal Harvard is giving its employees,” Harvard library worker Geoff P. Carens said through a megaphone to the crowd gathered in the wind and snow. “It may be cold out here, but it’s not as cold as Harvard University.”

After a series of chants and a brief musical performance, the group marched into the Yard and circled Massachusetts Hall, University Hall, and finally Widener Library before returning to the Square. The protesters marched down the center of Mass. Ave., slowing traffic for five minutes before disbanding.
On Jan. 19, Harvard University Library Executive Director Helen Shenton announced that “the library workforce will be smaller than it is now,” and that the University was considering voluntary and involuntary options to reduce staff as part of the Library’s reorganization.

Since then, groups such as the Student Labor Action Movement, Occupy Harvard, and the No Layoffs Campaign have held a variety of protest actions against staff reduction, including an occupation of Lamont Library Café last week.
On Feb. 13, the University announced a voluntary retirement package for library workers. Two weeks ago, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, which represents library employees, proposed forming “joint councils” with library administrators to discuss the reorganization of the library.

At Thursday’s protest, Rudi E. Batzell, a doctoral student in history, told the protesters about attending a Graduate Student Council open forum earlier in the day with University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76.

Batzell said that while most of the forum was spent answering questions previously submitted online, it seemed to him that the administrators were expecting controversial questions about the library reorganization. According to Batzell, Garber said at the forum that it was possible that all staff reductions would be voluntary, but he refused to say for certain.

“He flew out of there,” Batzell said. “It was pretty disappointing.”

Harvard College library worker and HUCTW member Dawn M. Miller said that she attended the rally to express her concern about losing her job or her coworkers losing theirs. She said that she was hopeful that the councils would be helpful, but that the request for their formation was a “weak response” from the union that “should have happened six months ago.”

“I’ll try to be optimistic,” Miller said.

Francisco J. Maldonado ’14, who attended the rally, pointed to the fact that Harvard has the largest university endowment in the world to say that Harvard should not lay off workers.

Maldonado said he was satisfied with the way the rally turned out. “I think we got a pretty good showing in spite of this weather,” he said.

—Staff writer Samuel Y. Weinstock can be reached at