Innovation, collaboration key to inaugural projects in Library Lab

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The Harvard community has responded with insight and imagination to a call from the University’s Library Lab to collaborate with the Harvard Library and “to serve as co-creators of the information society of the future.” With generous support from the Arcadia Fund, Harvard’s Library Lab is designed to leverage the entrepreneurial aspirations of individuals across the University.

A slide-show generator, a multimedia library without walls, a digital atlas viewer, and an online platform for library-related communities of knowledge were among the 10 collaborations proposed by members of the Harvard community and funded by the Library Lab.

“It is clear,” states Harvard Library Executive Director Helen Shenton, “that innovation and collaboration are linked phenomena. And nowhere is the connection more apparent and more powerful than in library and information science. Each of these projects has the potential to make an original contribution to the way that our Library works.”

The Library Lab is based on a laboratory model initiated 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, developed the Law School lab in response to a need for “innovation at the highest level.”

“In the traditional library structure,” Palfrey says, “there’s not been an obvious center for innovation.”

The University’s Library Lab is managed by Harvard’s Office for Scholarly Communication (OSC). “Our goal,” notes Stuart Shieber, OSC director and James O. Welch Jr. and Virginia B. Welch Professor of Computer Science in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, “is to provide concrete support for innovation and experimentation that will lead to improved library services.”

In August, the Library Lab issued a call to students, faculty, and staff to submit proposals, and subsequently held public information sessions as well as office hours for potential applicants. By the Dec. 1 deadline, a total of 30 proposals had been submitted.

On Feb. 1, the Library Lab review committee allocated up to $700,000 for 10 wide-ranging approved projects generated from the Faculty of Arts and Sciences; the graduate Schools of design, government, and law; the Harvard–Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; and the Harvard Library Office for Information Systems. The approved projects are from a variety of schools and departments and involve faculty, staff, and students. Each project will be created using open-source software and shared with as broad a community as possible.

According to Shieber, new proposals are due April 1 and a second round of funding decisions will be announced in May. Harvard students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to apply.