Harvard and MIT libraries explore far-reaching alliance

New agreement reflects physical proximity, cross-registration, joint programs and research affinities.


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Heather Denny
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The provosts of Harvard University and MIT have charged their respective library systems to explore expanded collaborations for sharing library materials, advancing digital preservation and collection and developing future off-site storage facilities.

Both institutions have identified increased collaboration between and among their complementary libraries as an essential element in developing the research library of the 21st century. While an ambitious level of collaboration is anticipated, each library system will remain engaged with and guided by the respective missions and priorities of each university. While enhanced collaboration may serve to reduce prospective costs, the focus of the collaboration is on the future of 21st-century library services, technologies and collections.

"No single library system can expect to meet the full intellectual needs of the academic and research communities of MIT and Harvard," stated Harvard Provost Steven E. Hyman. "A wide-ranging exploration of all opportunities for collaboration is of great interest to both institutions."

Both formal and informal relationships already exist between the MIT and Harvard libraries. MIT has shared in the use of the Harvard Depository since its inception in 1985. A 1995 agreement between Harvard College Library (HCL) and MIT brought reciprocal borrowing privileges to faculty, researchers and graduate students in both institutions. An April 2010 pilot program extended those privileges to undergraduate students.

While traditional library materials have been the focus of prior agreements, digital materials are at the forefront of the new alliance.

"The increasing primacy of digital materials brings its own urgency to our collaboration," said MIT Provost L. Rafael Reif. "As new models of online information delivery emerge, Harvard and MIT can support joint programs for open-access as well as joint acquisition and licensing approaches that are appropriate for education and academic research."

Under the agreement, the two libraries will develop a four-tiered action plan by the end of 2011. The four tiers are:

Reciprocal access to circulating collections

By developing linked access between Harvard and MIT library catalogs and implementing reciprocal privileges that extend to Harvard's graduate and professional school libraries, library patrons can anticipate full access to 20 million volumes that users will experience as a single collection.

Enhancing digital preservation and collection practices

MIT and Harvard have earned leadership roles through their open access programs and repositories and through their respective approaches to digital preservation. High priority areas for collaborative growth include digital archives of faculty papers and web-based publications.

Developing wider access to electronic information

Questions of electronic serials pricing, and the costs of building digital information management and delivery systems, point to opportunities for Harvard and MIT to investigate new models for licensing agreements, as well as alternative, open access forms of publication that reflect each institution’s commitment to the dissemination of new knowledge.

Envisioning joint off-site storage facilities for the future

Harvard and MIT have shared the Harvard Depository for high-density, non-browsable, off-site storage since 1985. Together, the two universities could effectively anticipate both a new service model and an additional facility for off-site storage.

“We’ve enjoyed a collaborative working relationship with Harvard’s libraries for many years,” said Ann Wolpert, director of the MIT Libraries. “This new agreement builds on our successes and underscores the commitment we share to provide our communities with the best and broadest range of resources possible, and to be at the forefront of advancing the digital preservation of scholarly work.”

"In several ways, the libraries of Harvard and MIT are already united by proximity and affinity," said Helen Shenton, executive director of the Harvard Library. "Our new agreement supports the distinct priorities of two very singular universities. At the same time, it challenges us to collaborate on a sustainable information ecosystem for the 21st century."


Topics: Collaboration, Faculty, Libraries, Students

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