John G. Palfrey VII ’94, J.D. ’01, who heads the Harvard Law School (HLS) library and serves as a faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, will leave to become head of school at Phillips Academy, Andover, starting July 1.
Palfrey was executive director of the Berkman Center from 2002 to 2008, when he was named vice dean for library and information resources at HLS. At the law library, and beyond, he has been an exponent of change. His first act of reorganization there involved asking all the employees to hand in their resignations in order to receive new job assignments. As he told this magazine in 2010, he thought about the library’s mission less as “How do we build the greatest collection of books in law?” and more as “How do we make information as useful as possible to our community now and over a long period of time?” That focus on information services guided both personnel decisions and changes in collection strategies. Palfrey has also been involved in guiding change within the University-wide library system, and has been instrumental in incubating new technologies for use in libraries.
His work with Harvard’s libraries led to his involvement in the nascent attempts to build a national online library. Palfrey now chairs the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) steering committee, a role in which he will continue, by agreement with his new employer. In an e-mail to the DPLA mailing list, Sloan Foundation vice president for programs Doron Weber wrote that “John’s change in day-job will add a further sensibility toward K-12 issues to the project.” (The Sloan Foundation and the Arcadia Foundation are funding the development efforts of the DPLA.)
Palfrey’s departure will be a loss to the law school, where he has most recently been involved in its teaching and learning initiative, but will allow him to further his interests in the way young people interact with technology, the subject of his book Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives.