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ULC Establishes Harvard's Library Lab

July 28, 2010—At its July 15 meeting, the University Library Council accepted a proposal establishing the Harvard Library Lab to create better library services for students and faculty and to join with others in fashioning the information society of the future. With support from the Arcadia Fund, the Library Lab will provide continuous opportunity for individuals to make innovative contributions to the way libraries work.

Arcadia is the charitable foundation of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. Since inception in 2001 Arcadia has awarded grants in excess of $192 million. Arcadia works to protect endangered treasures of culture and nature. For more information please see http://www.arcadiafund.org.uk.

According to Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, "The Library Lab will develop a wide variety of digital innovations that will ensure Harvard's leadership in the burgeoning and increasingly collaborative world of information technology. Thanks to Arcadia's support, Harvard's Library Lab will enhance knowledge and library services through a striking balance of innovation, cooperation, and entrepreneurship."

Harvard's Library Lab is designed to promote the development of projects in all areas of library activity and to leverage the entrepreneurial aspirations of people throughout the library system and beyond. Proposals from faculty and students from anywhere in the University will also be welcomed and the Lab will encourage collaboration with projects being developed at MIT. The Lab offers infrastructure and financial support for projects and establishes a venue for cooperation across projects. Projects will be able to avail themselves of technical staff to augment the home department's staff, as well as support for release time, equipment, or outsourced services.

The Lab's efforts are based on the following principles:

  • Entrepreneurialism. Projects should be based on ideas supporting the library system and championed by people invested in their success. While these ideas must be consistent with the overall mission of the Harvard University Library, the Lab will operate on the principle that the generation of ideas should be bottom-up, through a proposal mechanism, rather than through top-down mandates.
  • Scalability. Projects should lead to changes in systems or practices that can scale so a reasonable investment can have substantial and lasting effects. It is better, for instance, to build infrastructure or tools that enable members of the Harvard community to achieve their goals themselves than to provide "one-off" solutions to individual problems.
  • Openness. Projects should promote openness and should be sharable to the extent technically feasible.
  • Experimentation. The Lab promotes experimentation; risk of failure of a project does not disqualify it for support.

In keeping with these principles, the Lab's proposal process is similarly lightweight, requiring only a short proposal outlining the idea and any needed resources.

The Library Lab is managed by the Harvard University Library through its Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC). The OSC Advisory Committee will also be the advisory committee for Library Lab. Projects will be reviewed by faculty and staff from the Harvard University Library, Law Library, and FAS.

As a forum for questions and general discussion of the Library Lab, OSC will host a brown-bag lunch for the library community on Thursday, August 12, from 12 noon to 1 pm in the Lamont Forum Room. Beverages will be provided.

For full information about the Lab and details on proposing a project, visit the OSC web site at http://osc.hul.harvard.edu/liblab, or contact Sue Kriegsman (suzanne_kriegsman@harvard.edu), OSC program manager.

 

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