inocybe blues

What's the Matter With Cambridge?

Full disclosure on this one: I wrote and rewrote and rewrote this post as events from the Harvard Library Town Hall flowed in from twitter, mostly because the situation as it was presented via the backchannel changed significantly as the day progressed – basically from “everyone has been fired” to “nobody’s been fired (yet)”. True to the trail, reorgs foster mis/disinformation at near light speed.

So the story as I understand it (but told way better by any number of people is this:

  • In 2009, Harvard University, an institution with 40 libraries, commissioned a report on organizational problems, a great many of which are related to redundancies inherent in a system as disaggregated, far-flung and apparently historically untouched as Harvard’s.

  • Nothing happened (much) from 2009-January 19th 2012. Some staff attrition occurred, but no substantial communication from management to staff about what was happening in wake of the 2009 report.

  • Then on January 19th, Harvard library management held at least two town hall sessions in which, if you followed the #hlth twitter hashtags, either everyone was fired, nobody was fired, or some people are going to be fired but exactly who isn’t yet known. When the dust settled and some clarification from management happened in which it was stated that “It is inaccurate to say that all library staff will need to reapply for their positions” (which, to me anyway, is cold comfort. That statement could be factually true if everyone at the library except one needed to reapply, and I’m sure that Harvard library workers weren’t really reassured by it, especially given the gentle suggestion by Harvard library management that workers fill in an Employee Profile which is apparently not-a-resume-or-a-job-application-except-maybe-it-is).

  • Exactly what percentage of library workers in the Harvard system who will be voluntarily or involuntarily downsized is unknown, and won’t be known until next month at the very earliest.

Whatever your intentions as library management, by adopting this sort of coy maybe-you’ll-have-a-job-maybe-you-won’t message, you’ve made it all but impossible for your library to function. When people don’t know if they’ll have a job in a month, I’m not sure how they’re supposed to, you know, actually work.

I hope I’m wrong on this one, and Harvard’s badly needed attempt to reinvent itself ends up with as few hearts being broken as possible, but they’re off to a bad start.

I’ll leave you with this one:

A lesson in how not to do it. #hlth

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