16 Aug 2021

A Q+A with new HBS Executive Director for Knowledge and Library Services (KLS) Ken Peterson


We caught up with Harvard Business School’s new Executive Director for Knowledge and Library Services (KLS) Ken Peterson to learn more about his background, career, and early plans for his time here at HBS.

Q: Describe your background and where you grew up.

I grew up in southern New Hampshire, outside of Manchester. My parents moved back to the states after four years of living in Puerto Rico with my brother and I. Living in NH afforded me a great number of opportunities because it was an hour drive to some of the best skiing in New England, an hour to the beach and an hour to Boston for some city experiences. During high school I was really into our marching band and I am proud to have been part of the first band to represent New England in the Tournament of Roses Parade in California (all 5.5 miles of it!).

Q: What led you to pursue this kind of work?

I got the librarian bug from being a student worker in the library at the University of New Hampshire. They have an amazing reference and teaching team and I worked there throughout my four years of college. I saw how the reference librarians interacted with the scholarly community and the impact they had on their scholarship. And I got to witness firsthand what a struggle it was for some students to step into the library as freshmen (or maybe even sometimes as seniors!). At this time there was no Google. The Internet was just in its beginning stages. We were working from paper and CD-roms so you really needed a guide. I found it inspiring to watch the reference librarians build a bridge connecting a student’s research question to the information they needed. That’s what formed my philosophy and approach for librarianship. We work in service to someone who's wrestling with a research problem, to help reduce the amount of space between their research problem and the information they need to find their answers.

Q: What are your responsibilities at Dartmouth?

My team manages most of the life cycle of the scholarly record. That begins with the acquisition of collections. We are the folks that are bringing physical or electronic content to the Dartmouth community. We negotiate the licenses for electronic and print subscriptions and receive the print materials. Then the metadata services team describes the content to make it accessible and findable for the community in the discovery system. I also oversee the preservation unit whose charge is to make sure that our physical assets are maintained in the right condition so they last through the ages. We maintain the historical record for Dartmouth for future generations. The College is over 250 years old and those investments over time and into the future need to be stewarded for current and future generations of scholars.

My other core responsibility is to lead our collection development strategy so our collections acquisitions are responsive to shifts in faculty teaching and research. Outside of my day-to-day role, I’m also active in the Ivy Plus Libraries Confederation, serving on the Collection Development group, the Technical Services and Metadata group, and the Resource Sharing group. Resource sharing is of particular focus because that is how we fulfill the content needs across the 13 member schools, including Harvard. The other work I am engaged in is with NorthEast Research Libraries (NERL) which collaborates on shared licensing and purchasing on behalf of 30 preeminent research libraries and over 100 affiliates.

Q: What big shifts have you witnessed in library services during your career?

As I mentioned before, I got involved in libraries before Google and I'm still here after Google! I experienced firsthand the panic amongst librarians, researchers, and library users that this thing called Google was going to just wipe us all out. There'll be no need for library service. It's clear that's not been the case. In fact, Google is a powerful tool that we leverage in order to do our work. It's another arrow in our quiver. I've also experienced the migration from print to electronic. When I was at Harvard, we were receiving well over 5,000 serial titles in Widener alone. That's continuing to diminish as publishers opt to produce in an electronic format to satisfy users who expect the information to be at their fingertips. There are still specialty areas for print and of course, some small academic presses just don't have the infrastructure to move to electronic format, and we should continue to collect in all the areas our researchers need, regardless of format. We need to be embrace that.

Another important shift has to do with leveraging our relationships and networks of libraries in order to provide access to content. No one library can own it all, but we can partner with each other to ensure that the scholarly records are being preserved and that our communities have access to the entire scholarly record. That involves resource sharing and traditional interlibrary loaning, but it also involves making strategic partnerships where we collect together and share copies. That alleviates the need for storing multiples of items across the nation, because storage is finite.

Q: What do you see as the big opportunities in the field going forward?

I think this continued move towards digital transformation poses tremendous opportunity. Unexpectedly, the pandemic forced us to advance more quickly towards digital migration because our user community expects us to be there. We have no more wiggle room and I think we need to embrace that. We need to leverage current and new technology and online learning environments to facilitate our work in new ways. It's infinitely easier now to jump on a zoom call for work or to connect with family and friends. Everyone's more comfortable with the technology. Getting 10 minutes with a faculty member or a student to solve a quick research problem is way easier now because we are not focused on the in-person for every face-to-face interaction. The print transition will continue to unfold as will the digitization of special and unique collections. I know HBS is on the forefront in this area and I'm looking forward to seeing where else we can to make strides to bring out the unique materials. Continued investment in digitization will bring further awareness of unique resources to our community and allow for new ways to use them in scholarship.

The other trend I'm excited about is some of the work we're doing around open access. A vast amount of our information still sits behind paywalls and we should explore ways to make that more accessible to all. Related to that, there’s an opportunity to address article processing charges with vendors that charge faculty to produce or publish their scholarship. This causes inequity and limits the diversity of scholarship because it is a system of pay to play and we need to figure out how we're going to improve on the ability for all scholars in our global community to share their scholarship.

Q: What will your first 90 days look like?

A lot of handshaking! Perhaps virtual handshaking, but I'm really looking forward to getting to know the faculty and staff—most importantly, the library staff. I plan to have an open invitation for anyone on my team to come and spend time with me. I'm looking forward to getting to know the whole operation, understanding the culture, and identifying opportunities to build on the existing excellence. I also want to understand the strategic roadmap for Knowledge and Library Services (KLS) and where we are on that journey. Eventually, I’d like to open a dialogue about potential future direction. But the first ninety days are going to be all about learning. Even though I've worked at Harvard before, I've not worked on the Allston side of the rivers, so I want to get an appreciation for Harvard Business School and its culture and needs.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about coming back to Boston?

The restaurants! The upper valley in Hanover has some great offerings, but it's still limited. I'm looking forward to being able to jump on a train and hit the North End or get some good Chinese food. Oddly enough, shopping is another thing I’m looking forward to as there are as many malls or fun stores to explore in the Upper Valley of NH. I also just like the vibe of Cambridge and Allston. There's an energy there that's very different than Hanover.

Post a Comment

Comments must be on-topic and civil in tone (with no name calling or personal attacks). Any promotional language or urls will be removed immediately. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.