Evolving digital Baker

Stacks of books

What’s the best description of an academic library? The iconic heart of the campus? A quiet, contemplation study space? A buzzing collaboration hive? A vibrant faculty water cooler? Literally miles of unique and rare materials? A virtual gateway to the world of information? A complex organizational knowledge hub? All of the above? Although its shape and function continue to evolve, the academic library remains integral to the research, teaching, and learning enterprise in higher education. Discover how Harvard Business School defines its academic library through a look at the evolving Digital Baker Ecosystem — a place where librarians no longer simply catalog physical collections, but add rich contextual structure to unstructured data; research guides transform into dynamic curated digital information products; and, research services go beyond providing a bibliography of relevant content to offering concierge research analysis and comprehensive data management services.

“Although its shape and function continue to evolve, the academic library remains integral to the research, teaching, and learning enterprise in higher education.”

In a time where many business school libraries are consolidating collections, slashing budgets, struggling to stay relevant and even merging into the university’s larger collection, HBS’ Baker Library, led by Deb Wallace, is doubling down by investing in unique collections, modifying organizational capabilities to meet the changing pedagogical and technical landscape of our campus, and fully embracing digital innovation. For example, the introduction of experiential learning into the MBA program (i.e., FIELD) generated a new hybrid library service of dynamic real-time course and research support. The evolution of physical records (e.g., former Dean’s papers or alumni-bequeathed archival collections) into digital formats (e.g., floppy disks, video cassette recordings) spawned the creation of an in-house digital forensics laboratory to convert data from obsolete media to useable, preservation-quality formats so these valuable records are not lost. Observing the needs of HBS alumni to make informed decisions in their work and in their careers, led Baker to provide a custom, on-demand fee-based research service that gives alumni access to high-quality research reports and information professionals to guide the way. HBS’ entrance into online learning, through HBX, created an opportunity to present our physical historical collections to a completely virtual audience in new ways. We integrated images of the original Medici accounting ledgers, part of the HBS Medici Collection, into the HBX Financial Accounting course chapter on debit and credit — bringing these key concepts to life through showcasing stunning Renaissance examples.

At HBS, we’re living the Association of Research Library’s vision for the future of academic libraries where the library “…will have shifted from its role as a knowledge service provider within the university to become a collaborative partner within a rich and diverse learning and research ecosystem.

The ever-increasing content explosion coupled with the pace of technological change are impacting every component of our economy, and libraries are no exception. Baker Library’s strategy is to shine a spotlight on an emerging role for library staff to increase the fidelity of information, what we’re calling “hi-fi-i” — the result of building value-added context and manifesting new connections between researchers, content, and tools. This high fidelity information can then enrich the researcher experience by saving time through shortening the ‘incubation’ process of the research idea and expanding the diversity of input and ideas in the validation stages. Using new technology and age-old classification models, we tie together taxonomies, visualize data, map metadata schema, build custom ontologies, and link open data to guide the research process. With the user at the center, we have designed a new approach to service delivery by providing contextual content services. Our community finds like-minded researchers, pertinent datasets early in the research lifecycle, and a host of talented information professionals (e.g., research librarians, statisticians, product designers, archivists, journalists, and more) to extend and enrich their work. Hi-fi-i adds new capabilities to our knowledge and library services.

“The ever-increasing content explosion coupled with the pace of technological change are impacting every component of our economy, and libraries are no exception.”

We preserve our core customer-service focus while balancing traditional expertise in search and discovery processes with a new ‘mass-customization’ digital information product innovation mindset. Considering economies of scale, we have designed and implemented a framework for sustaining innovation — helping to prioritize custom digital information products as well as facilitating, managing, and tracking the resulting projects.

HBS provides the perfect environment for innovation: “How but by studying great leaders and organizations might you have the opportunity to truly rethink the academic library of the future? Surrounded by people studying effective organizations, you have the opportunity to be a test-bed of experimentation.

By leveraging HBS’ research content, knowledge assets, and historical and contemporary collections; investing in an information infrastructure, content management, and discovery platform; and, enabling our trusted knowledge and information expertise — Baker Library comes closer to its vision of being the first place the HBS community searches to meet its information and research needs.

Authored By

  • Stephanie Oliver

    Stephanie is the Director of Information Products and Technology Services at Harvard Business School’s Baker Library.


  • Deb Wallace

    Deb is the Executive Director of Knowledge and Library Services at Harvard Business School’s Baker Library.