From Berkman Centre to the Harvard Law Library

Occasionally a single appointment can signal everything. Today, Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan announced the long-awaited replacement for Harry S. Martin, who has been director of the Harvard law Library ((Which is the most extraordinary law library I’ve ever used, with due apologies to Ruth at the Bodleian and David at the Great Library)) for 27 years. Martin’s contribution deserves a post in its own right for his service as Henry N. Ess III Librarian and Professor of Law at the Law School and his seminars on Art and the Law.

But let’s focus on the new Librarian, who’s John Palfrey currently Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard Law School. Palfrey is a regular blogger. His work is informed by the energy of the Berkman Center and all that this implies. He does not, however, a leap from tradition, appear to have a library degree.

Dean Kagan commented:

“John is the perfect person to ensure that the Harvard Law School Library is as important an institution in the 21st century as it has been in the past. His extraordinary understanding of how digital technologies can facilitate scholarship and teaching, his deep commitment to making information and knowledge accessible, and his inspired leadership of research institutions all make him uniquely qualified to assume this great responsibility. Everyone who honors the Harvard Law School Library — who appreciates what it has done and what it can do to advance learning in the world — should feel a sense of joy about this appointment”.


  1. I could be wrong, but I don’t think you’ll see much backlash for the lack of a Library Science background.

    Librarianship has always been a multi-disciplinary profession, and John Palfrey is a solid choice. It’s also tough to argue looking at his bibliography he doesn’t have the informatics background.

    I do have to wonder though… what the response would be if a non-lawyer were appointed dean of Harvard Law? :)

  2. No apology needed, I assure you. Harvard is the ‘Law Library of Dreams’ as far as I am concerned. Just for starters – their materials budget is 6 times that of the Bodleian; they have 3 times our number of staff, their volume count, the depth of their collection and their wonderful, renovated space, mean that we are not even in the same league!! All of this is such a credit to Terry Martin and his leadership.. and his ability to get the necessary funding to make this all happen!