On Harvard, being quoted out of context, and a fleeting 15 minutes

My summary of the situation at Harvard continues to get some press, including an out of context quote in the Boston Globe story Harvard plans to consolidate library, reshuffle employees . The original version of the story concluded with:

A blogger named Chris Bourg, an assistant university librarian at Stanford University,” wrote that as Harvard goes, so might other universities: “If massive layoffs can happen at Harvard [with its huge endowments], then no academic library is safe.”

The actual full quote from my blog post is:

Plenty of folks are worried that as Harvard goes, so go other academic libraries – in other words, if massive layoffs can happen at Harvard (with its huge endowments), then no academic library is safe.

The part about “Plenty of folks are worried” seems to be key to the actual meaning of what I said. I’m not too happy about the fact that the Globe article makes made it sound as if I believe that what is happening at Harvard is a harbinger of things to come for the rest of us, when I actually think quite the opposite. In my subsequent Update on What’s happening at Harvard, I note that:

My sense is actually that what Harvard is doing now (in terms of downsizing and centralizing) is actually what many of us have already done. I think this is a case of Harvard emulating its peers, rather than a case of the rest of us eventually following in Harvard’s footsteps.

Just to be very, very clear — I am not (nor was not) saying that I think the restructuring and downsizing that is happening at Harvard is necessarily good, or necessary, or inevitable. I am in no position to know what the best organizational structure is for the Harvard Libraries. I do know, however, that the Stanford Libraries faced some very painful restructuring, streamlining and centralizing in 2009. We are not looking at Harvard’s situation as a harbinger of things to come for us, nor as a model to be followed. Colleagues at other large research libraries tell me they are likewise not looking to follow in Harvard’s footsteps. If anything, I suspect the folks who produced the Task Force Report (PDF) for Harvard may have looked to us and our peer institutions for benchmarking.

At any rate, I was unhappy enough about the out of context quote that I tweeted: “Really unhappy about being quoted out-of-context in the @mary_carmichael Globe story about Harvard bo.st/yPHgRa #hlth” To her credit, @mary_carmichael (Higher Education reporter for the Globe) responded immediately and graciously; and the entire paragraph was removed from the online version of the story. Ah, the fleeting nature of digital text!

So, my 15 minutes of fame is over, but I do now have a Twitter follower at the Boston Globe, so one never knows …

4 Responses to “On Harvard, being quoted out of context, and a fleeting 15 minutes”


  1. 1 Martha Hruska February 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    glad she responded so quickly, but still an interesting lesson in how news can get altered with no trace of an earlier version. and no retraction? did you comment on the Globe site?

    • 2 Chris Bourg February 10, 2012 at 6:19 pm

      Yes, definitely. I have a Google Alert set up for mentions of Stanford Library; and got an email with the article and my “quote” long after my quote had been deleted.

  2. 3 Chris February 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm

    I find it … unnerving that the Globe article doesn’t appear to indicate that it has been edited.


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