[It is worthwhile to first read President Drew Faust’s statement about the ongoing “Library Transition,” referenced in the following Op-Ed published in the Crimson today.]
By HANNAH L. HOFHEINZ, DERIN KORMAN, and TIMOTHY S. MCGRATH
Last week, President Drew G. Faust circulated a statement in which she referred to a new strategic direction and set of overarching goals for the Harvard Library, including an outline for an organizational design to support a more unified University-wide library system. As the Harvard community confronts this transition, the New Harvard Library Working Group of Occupy Harvard has acted autonomously to open a persistent community space for critical thought, engaged learning, and insistent action in the Lamont Library Café. In doing so, we strive to fulfill the promise of this library space as an open and participatory forum for learning.
Over more than three centuries, Harvard has developed the nation’s, and indeed the world’s, preeminent university library. It is a global treasure and one of Harvard’s greatest assets. The work of transforming a collection of books into a thriving space for cultivating knowledge rests on the shoulders of the communities that work behind the scenes, at the carrels, and in the classrooms, often without due recognition. To move into the technological future, this exemplary institution deserves a radical re-imagining of the future of education, libraries, and thought—not just digitally enhanced card catalogues.
We think of the proposed Harvard library transition as a manifestation of the University’s accession to neoliberal imperatives. Occupy, whether at Harvard or Wall Street, challenges and refuses the devastating willingness of our broken society to view humans as expendable resources and systems as ultimately beholden to profit. A future cannot be imagined in the absence of its past, present, or future constituents. A library needs the workers who are its lifeblood, its circulatory system, just as a functioning democratic society needs the voices of the 99 percent. Systems built with profit imperatives can only serve to further perpetuate the patterns of destruction and unequal power structures that we denounce. The proposed library transition not only fails to address these systemic problems, it replicates them.
We insist on an alternative vision, one that cherishes the human communities and collaborative processes that make intellectual and civic engagement—on campuses and in public parks—not only possible but also fruitful. In Lamont Library, we are creating a community of knowledge sharing that is open, horizontal, and free from the destructive impulses that too often guide our university and that seem to be shaping the library transition. As our daily schedule attests, we will screen films, engage in the communal task of producing knowledge (skill-shares, tutoring, and, yes, we will read your paper drafts), meet for morning coffee and conversation, and host twice-daily “Think Tanks”—topical discussions in which participants enter as equals and where professors, students, and workers converse as peers.
As members of the Harvard community, we are committed to occupying the spaces of our education with integrity and intentionality. Lamont Library Café is an educational space specifically vested to facilitate the learning ideals of the University. We are doing no more and no less than striving to fulfill the promise of this space.
Indeed, it is because we love the libraries we cannot ignore the challenges they face. We must direct our resources more effectively to our academic priorities; we must re-imagine the nature and scope of services the Harvard libraries can provide digitally and embrace the possibilities inherent in new technologies; we must unite across the University to strengthen our collaborations and academic innovations; we must open our doors to other universities and to the greater public so that access to the thinking of centuries is not the privilege of a few, but integral to the bonds of our common humanity.
All of this involves change, and change is never easy. Our destination is compelling: We intend the Harvard libraries to be a preeminent university library of the 21st century. But that does not mean the path to that goal will always be clear or easy or noncontroversial. We accept this challenge. We occupy.
At a time when the University is restructuring the library, we will work to change what a library is understood to be. We seek to alter long-lived structures and arrangements, thus disturbing what may seem like short-term stability in service of much longer-term purposes. It is inevitable that we will need to make adjustments and revisions in initial goals and plans, that we will learn as we proceed. We will certainly encounter challenges—some that we foresee, others that we do not. But we must not be diverted from the goal before us: to make the change necessary to ensure that the treasure that is the Harvard Library, entrusted to us by the age that is past, is sustained in its excellence for the age that is waiting before us.
Join us. We seek your engagement, your understanding, and your support as we live into the possibilities of a new Harvard Library together.
Take a break. Think.
Derin Korman is a teaching fellow in Visual and Environmental Studies. Timothy S McGrath is a student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Hannah L. Hofheinz is a Th.D candidate at Harvard Divinity School.