A Collaborative Path to Library Innovation—
Harvard's Library Lab Issues an Open Call for Proposals from Students, Faculty, and Staff
August 27, 2010—In a move designed to inspire a new generation of library services, the University's newly created Library Lab is inviting students, faculty, and staff to collaborate with the Harvard Libraries and serve as co-creators of the information society of the future.
In announcing the Lab, Robert Darnton, Carl H. Pforzheimer University Professor and Director of the University Library, states that the 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 support from the Arcadia Fund, Harvard's Library Lab will enhance knowledge and library services through a striking balance of innovation, cooperation, and entrepreneurship."
The University-wide Library Lab is designed to leverage the entrepreneurial aspirations of Harvard students, faculty, and staff, who can propose projects in all areas of library activity.
"Harvard has a long history of library innovation," notes Stuart Shieber, James O. Welch, Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and faculty director of the Office for Scholarly Communication. "But many of these innovations were brought about by high-level planning efforts. The Library Lab is intended to unleash the entrepreneurship of individual members of the Harvard community, enabling them to experiment with ways of improving library services, and leveraging their creativity with concrete support.
"Unlike past efforts to change library systems," Shieber continues, "the Library Lab will address issues observed by both library staff and patrons—that is, all members of the Harvard community who rely on library services. Already, we have begun receiving inquiries from creative students about possible projects for the Lab."
"In the past," says Ted Feldman G4, "I viewed the library only as a patron of an available palette of technologies. As a regular user of the library's online tools and services, I'm excited to have an opportunity to re-shape and improve these interfaces."
The Library Lab is based on an unusual "laboratory" model developed, and currently under way, at Harvard Law School Library. John Palfrey, the Law School's vice dean for library and information resources and faculty co-director of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, began developing the Law School's lab "because we needed a theory of innovation at the highest level.
"In the traditional library structure," Palfrey says, "there's not been an obvious center for innovation—it happens to some extent, of course, and Harvard's libraries have been sources of innovation in many respects, but never in a transformative sense. We were trying to do more than create greater efficiencies in the operation. We set out to free staff to do things that were different and experimental—and to think very broadly about incorporating research that we have about how people find information these days."
Tracey Robinson heads the Office for Information Systems in the University Library and is responsible for the current palette of online library services, which range from the HOLLIS catalog and Google Book Search for Harvard to Harvard's Geospatial Library and its Visual Information Access, or VIA, catalog.
"Encouraging creativity and investing in innovation can fundamentally change how libraries work," Robinson says. "The Library Lab is not so much about technology or building cool things as it is about changing the way we think about libraries, about the discovery and use of information, as well as what we need to collect and preserve for future scholars."
The Lab will support projects based on four criteria:
The Lab's proposal process is lightweight, requiring only a short proposal outlining the idea and any needed resources. "If you have an idea for the Lab, but aren't ready to submit a formal proposal," Stuart Shieber advises, "use our online inquiry form to start a dialogue about your idea."
"I think the great thing about this is that it gives us an opportunity to contribute in a big way," says Calvin McEachron '12. "I think many students like myself are going to be scrutinizing the library systems now, looking for ways to innovate. That's going to be great."
The Library Lab is managed by the Harvard University Library through its Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC). 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), OSC program manager.
Proposals are accepted on a rolling basis—in other words, at any time, with the first set of proposal reviews set for December 1, and funding announcements shortly thereafter.
For potential proposal writers, OSC plans to hold open "office hours" at its Wadsworth House headquarters early in the fall. Dates will be announced in the Gazette and on the Library Lab web site.
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