29 Nov 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Heather Oswald


by Shona Simkin

Heather Oswald is the manager of public services for the Special Collections and Archives unit in Baker Library. We talked with Heather about what fascinates her about her work, how collections are ever evolving, and what she likes to do in her spare time.

Woman on hiking trail, smiling and crouching next to dog.

Tell us about your role at Baker.
Special Collections and Archives holds the records of the School as well as extensive rare book and business manuscript collections that document the evolution of business and economic thought over several centuries.

I have a range of responsibilities, which helps keep things interesting. I oversee the reading room and reference program for all our researchers: Harvard students, staff, and faculty, as well as people all over the world who are interested in our collections. I help get them the resources they need and access to our collections, whether that be virtually or on site. I run our digitization program. We work with Harvard Library and vendors to digitize key collection materials based on research trends and will dive into different areas of the collection to make resources available to anyone who's interested. We have a strong in-house scanning program and I work with my colleagues to make specific requests available. I make sure our collections are findable, that our catalogs are usable, and that our discovery systems—our digital collections, exhibit sites, and website—work well and help us reach new audiences. I’ve been here for seven years.

What does that look like day to day?
One of the best parts about working in a library is that every day is different. Sometimes I'm in the reading room, or I’m working with researchers to find what they need, going to meetings, making sure our stack spaces are maintained, or developing new policies and procedures.

How did you get into this line of work?
I’m originally from Detroit and received my undergraduate degree in history from the University of Michigan. I really wanted to stay in the field of history, to make it both available and more understandable to a wider audience beyond academics. I moved to Chicago, earned a graduate degree in public history, and started my career at the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust. I then worked at several universities in the Atlanta area, leading outreach and teaching efforts with everything from hyper local materials to international literary and civil rights collections. These experiences led me to HBS.

What are some of your favorite aspects of your work?
It’s been really interesting working in very different areas—my subject expertise grows with every position I’ve had, and I’ve learned so much. I never would have thought that I would be working with the records of Lehman Brothers or Polaroid, and seeing how much they teach us—not just about business, but about culture and the impact of business on society.

It's fascinating to see how people approach our collections—they are doing exciting work, and their interests make me realize how incredibly rich, varied, and valuable the materials are to different types of users. Some have limited time and need to get specific answers quickly, and others get so excited and want to tell me all about their research. We’re here to connect people with information they couldn’t find anywhere else.

We also have a really fantastic team here and getting to learn from them and see their perspective on approaching different challenges makes every day a new experience. I feel very lucky to be able to do what I do and to work with the people I do.

Woman in athletic clothing on rocks surrounded by greenery.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
My husband and I are big hikers; it’s one of my favorite parts of living in New England. I also love to kayak and in general being outside as much as possible. I don’t get outdoors a lot during the workday, so it’s probably my favorite thing to do when I'm not here. I can also give a very stereotypical librarian answer and say that I love to read and bake.

What would you most like the community to know about Baker’s collections?
One of the most important ideas we try to get across is that special collections aren’t just dusty troves of books. Of course our older materials, like the business records of the Medici family, have ongoing value and importance, but we are also preserving and making available collections that document business today, such as the papers of Henri Termeer, president and CEO of Genzyme from 1983 to 2011.There are also the important changes in practice and thought originating here at HBS captured via the records of the School and faculty. We want to dispel everyone of the notion that special collections are old fashioned.

In addition, we're really excited about the digitization we're doing and the ways it opens up resources and enables the creation, manipulation, and transformation of data that can be difficult to pull out of physical materials. We look forward to working with the larger HBS community to think through how we can utilize our collections in innovative ways, especially as part of digital transformation.

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