14 Oct 2022

Baker Library Update: Q+A with Executive Director Ken Peterson


The team at Knowledge & Library Services (KLS) recently undertook an exercise to learn more about how the Harvard Business School (HBS) community views the KLS brand and identity. While they learned that there was overwhelming support for library services, they also found confusion around KLS as a brand. In response, they are pivoting back to their founding name, Baker Library. We caught up with Ken Peterson, executive director, to learn more about the change.

Can you tell us more about the change from Knowledge & Library Services to Baker Library?
Many people didn’t realize we had a name other than Baker Library. The history of the KLS name goes back to 2008, when the library leadership decided to elevate the library services into a new, more encompassing area of knowledge management and to break from our physical building identity. This was a bold step, signaling to the community that we were much more than a location for collections—we were a service organization. Our recent community engagement showed that we are valued for our services, staff, collections, and that there is a fondness for Baker Library name. The return to Baker Library is more than a symbolic acknowledgement of the library as the center of campus, built in 1927. It reaffirms Baker Library’s position as the world’s leading academic business library. It also recognizes the permanence of our mission: We’re thought leaders for information management—data for the future—and we preserve the scholarly record—the knowledge from the past.

What effect will this have on your services?
There will be literally no impact. However, we do see this transition as an opportunity to strengthen and market the support we offer to our faculty, students, and alumni. People probably don’t realize all that happens inside that beautiful building. It’s so quiet inside that first floor, but on any given day you might find researchers mining datasets for faculty, conservators restoring historic artifacts, or librarians guiding MBA students on their first projects. And so much happens outside this building, whether it’s research dissemination through Working Knowledge or the classroom outreach our teams provide.

What are the industry trends in your field? How is HBS adapting?
Some people might think of libraries as homes for documents and books, but they truly are the great equalizers in a democracy. We welcome all and we protect the rights of an individual to pursue their research quest. Across the field, librarians have never been under more pressure to bend on their choices to represent all voices in their communities and be unbiased in providing service.

At HBS, we will—as we have in the past—continue to collect information in all areas of business, but we know we can do more. There are voices missing from our collections, both from the past and the present. We need to actively engage with those communities to hear their stories. We will also lean further into data science and information management to help our community discover and access information.

You’ve been here about a year—can you reflect on your experience? What has been your biggest challenge? What do you see as the greatest opportunity?
It has been an amazing journey and as everyone said in the interview process, HBS is so deeply committed to building community, and I have experienced it firsthand. What a fantastic place to get to work. I’ve been so fortunate to have an amazing team at Baker Library and many supportive colleagues I've met over the past year.

Starting during Covid might be the biggest challenge, but this is slowly diminishing as more and more people return to campus. Those chance encounters to introduce yourself to a community member are now much easier to do! Also, the semester start has demonstrated what a vibrant, engaging, and active campus HBS is, which I didn’t experience so much last fall.

Returning to Harvard reminds me of how many opportunities we have to make a difference in the world. I think one interesting opportunity might be to bring our collections alive for HBS and the global community. There is so much data living in formats that make it difficult to access and I’d like to see how we can free it through thoughtful digitization. Of course, that doesn’t replace the experience of holding that first edition of Adam Smith or exploring the Dunn and Bradstreet collection. At the same time, we should continue to build an amazing collection of born-digital items and data for current and future scholars to use.

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