Retirement Announcement

September 2007

I have decided to step down as director of the Harvard Law School Library at the end of the current academic year. When June arrives, I will be 65 years old and will have served as head of this library for 27 years, a longer tenure than anyone since John Arnold's 41 years.

I look back on the past quarter century with some satisfaction. When I arrived in Langdell Hall in 1981, there was one Lexis terminal and one Selectric typewriter in the library, the Reading Room leaked when it rained, and, as Professor Plucknett said, we had the greatest collection of law books in the world, but half of them were lost. Today our infrastructure is fully digitized, Langdell is beautifully renovated, and we still have the greatest collection of law books, most of them found.

The library has also been transformed from a collection-driven institution to a service center. That pleases me more than anything else, that the students and faculty think well of the library and expect it to support their information needs. For that I must thank a great staff, whose skill, energy, dedication, and good humor are unmatched.

At one time, I had thought to see the library evolve into a fully digital entity before I retired, but the process has been slower and messier than I once predicted. Government agencies are foregoing print distribution in favor of electronic publishing, but persistent access to authenticated official documents remains a dream. Electronic journals have exploded in popularity being easy to search, but the first question people ask is how to print them out. In 1990 I predicted that a law library of 500,000 volumes would never reach one million, but I was wrong. Despite an explosion of electronic legal information, more books are being published than ever before. Nearly five years ago, when a few of us met with the folks from Google for the first time, I had visions of our entire collection being digitally accessible by this time. But the limitations of Google's technology and the specter of copyright lawsuits have reduced those expectations by 90%.

Managing the transformation to a digital future is also more complicated for a research library like Harvard, particularly one with a global reach. Since I see the process taking some considerable time, I think it best that the library be led by someone more likely to see it through. This is the best job for a law librarian but it is time for someone else to enjoy the pleasures and challenges of the position.

The leader of the Harvard Law School Library needs a vision for the role of information in a digital age and the energy to implement that vision vigorously. The Harvard law librarian must balance the need to develop resources and policies that support the research, teaching, and service endeavors of the law school while recognizing the responsibilities of a great research university to the general world of scholarship. Specific challenges include better integration of librarians into faculty research - developing their role as information consultants - and taking the lead in developing a stronger infrastructure for scholarly communication.

Among the great pleasures of the last 35 years has been my participation in the various professional organizations that an academic law library director encounters. I've been able to serve AALL on the Executive Board, on the National Legal Resources Committee, and on the AALL Special Committee on the Renaissance of Law Librarianship. I served on several ABA inspection teams and chaired the AALS Committee on Libraries and Technology in 2004. I served a term as president of the New England Law Library Consortium. I was asked by my former colleague Don Trautman to join the first board of the Center for Computer-Assisted-Legal-Instruction. At Harvard, I chaired for five years the University Library's committee to oversee the operation and development of the Harvard On-Line Library Information System and currently serve on the committee that oversees the Harvard-Google book scanning project. These activities have been intellectually stimulating and socially worthwhile but, more importantly, have brought me into contact with wonderful people who have kept my life interesting.

After a year filled with traveling, I intend to join the ranks of the emeriti on the third floor of Langdell, where I will watch with interest the development of the library over the next quarter century.

- Terry Martin