By David Rapp - Library Journal
At Harvard University, two different "library labs" aim to produce new information-technology projects benefiting libraries on and off the Harvard campus, with a clear focus on openness.
Such projects could lead to new and practical library applications—one of the labs, for example, is currently working on an web-based research tool with social-networking aspects—and could include collaborations with other libraries, such as that at the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The Harvard Library Lab, managed by the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) in the Harvard University Library (HUL), is just getting off the ground, and will have up to $1 million to support projects proposed by Harvard students, faculty, and staff.
The Library Laboratory at Harvard Law School was established a year ago, and recently announced a new co-director. Its projects range from the practical to the whimsical, such as the Harvard Library Hose, which generates a Twitter post for each book checked out from libraries across Harvard, including the book's title, its author, and a link to its Harvard catalog entry.
Harvard Library Lab: a focus on openness
The new Harvard Library Lab was established last month; its first projects will be funded in January.
The lab will be funded by part of a $5 million grant the library received from the London, England-based Arcadia Fund in April 2009. Up to $1 million will be used for the Library Lab in the first year of the program, according to HUL spokesman Peter Kosewski.
Stuart Shieber, the Faculty Director of the OSC and the Welch Professor of Computer Science at Harvard, told LJ that part of the lab's aim is to support projects that promote openness—that is, projects that are sharable as much as possible, as well as projects that help make Harvard's information resources more accessible to the general public.
"We expect a lot of the proposals will come from librarians because, obviously, they have the most knowledge of what the opportunities are for improving services," said Shieber, architect of the pioneering Open Access Resolution approved in 2008 by Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
Assistance and collaboration
The lab will provide staff to help with projects, including assistance from HUL's Office for Information Systems and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Shieber said that he expected that a lot of the support would be providing software development help. Funding will be used to provide additional staff (or time off for existing Harvard staff), outsourced services, additional equipment, or technical tools as required for a particular project.
HUL is also encouraging potential collaborations with library-related IT projects being developed at MIT, and the library has consulted with MIT Libraries' Associate Director for Technology MacKenzie Smith, who is the former Digital Library Program Manager for HUL.
The OSC, in a document [PDF] regarding the lab's details and guidelines, gives examples of the kinds of projects that might qualify for support, including innovative mobile apps for existing library systems, customizable search applications for electronic resources, applications improving browsing capability for digital resources, or improving print-on-demand capabilities.
The document also states that the Harvard Library Lab's efforts would be guided by four main principles: entrepreneurialism (supporting projects via a "bottom-up" proposal system), scalability, openness, and experimentation.
Law school's library lab evolving
The Library Laboratory at Harvard Law School was established in August 2009 by the law school's Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources Jon Palfrey, who is also an administrator for the new Harvard Library Lab.
David Weinberger, a senior fellow at the Berkman Center, became co-director of the Library Laboratory at Harvard Law School on August 23. He told LJ that the law school's library lab will be applying to the Harvard Library Lab for help with some of its upcoming projects.
The lab's in-house team has pursued several ongoing projects such as Shelflife, the aforementioned web-based research tool, and Visual Book Objects, which provides graphic representations of books based on metadata.
Weinberger said that the law school's library lab is planning to change its name to avoid confusion with the new lab, though he didn't know yet what the new name would be. Although the lab is officially part of the Harvard Law School Library, Weinberger said its mission was broader. "In fact, I think some of the most exciting ideas we're looking at call for open collaborations with other libraries," he told LJ.
Weinberger said that many of the projects the lab pursues try to use "what libraries know," a phrase that he said has become "something of an internal motto" at the lab.
"Included in what libraries know is not just the content of their assets, but what librarians know, what the scholarly communities centered around libraries know, and the information about patterns of usage developed inadvertently and on purpose by users," Weinberger told LJ. "We've been thinking about ways all that glorious data and metadata could be put to use."