LC Labs Letter: December 2019


A Monthly Roundup of News and Thoughts from the Library of Congress Labs Team

Keeping up with the Innovators

This month, Brian Foo and Ben Lee came back to the Library to gather feedback from staff in the early stages of their project and to showcase working prototypes.

Brian presented his project Citizen DJ, a music production and sampling tool, which will allow users to produce their own music using public domain audio and sounds from moving image materials.

Ben showed his project Newspaper Navigator, which extracts visual content from the digitized historic newspapers in Chronicling America to allow users to browse it using exploratory modes of search.

Both Ben and Brian will continue meeting with Library stakeholders including curators, outreach units, and counsel to demo their works in progress. They will then move into the next phase of their projects, which will be to begin user testing with broader audiences and to publish their source code.

Keep an eye out on the LC Labs Experiments page, where they will soon begin sharing public versions of their work.

LC Labs Presents at Fantastic Futures, CNI conferences

Earlier this month, acting Labs Chief Meghan Ferriter and Senior Innovation Specialist Abbey Potter co-presented a workshop with staff from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and the National Library of France at Fantastic Futures 2019, an international conference on AI in archives, libraries, and museums. The workshop dove into ethics, what it takes to move an AI project from start to finish, and how to prepare staff for future developments in this technology.

The LC Labs team also presented at the CNI (Coalition for Networked Information) Fall 2019 Meeting this month. Leah Weinryb Grohsgal, Laurie Allen, Jaime Mears, and Meghan Ferriter spoke about the implementation of the Digital Strategy, the recruitment process for the Innovator in Residence program, the maturation of By the People (the Library’s crowdsourcing program) and the team’s goals for the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project.

Abbey Potter and Eileen Jakeway also shared brief updates about the GLAM Labs Book Sprint and experimenting on supporting digital scholarship, respectively. To read the abstract of both presentations, look them up in the CNI meeting program.

Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud: Stay tuned

If you didn’t have a chance to participate in last week’s virtual information session about the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project, check out this blog post by Senior Innovation Specialist Laurie Allen outlining the history of the grant and its proposed approach to testing researcher access to digital collections at scale through the cloud.

You can also read more about the project, including its advisory board and timeline, on its landing page: //


  • This month, LC Labs and the Innovators in Residence visited the National Audio-Visual Conservation Center at the Library’s Packard Campus in Culpeper, VA. We learned about various types of conservation necessary for preserving audio and visual material and the necessity of caring carefully for nitrate film! Re-live the experience on this live-tweeted thread.


  • The “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words” exhibit opened at the Library of Congress on December 5. It showcases rarely seen materials documenting Parks’ lifelong commitment to activism. If you have a chance, check it out on the second floor of the Jefferson building. If you want to know more but are not local to DC, take a listen to this six-minute documentary highlighting some of her private writings or read them for yourself in the Rosa Parks digital collection.


  • The Library of Congress has joined the Digital Preservation Coalition as a full member. Read more on the Signal blog in a post by Digital Projects Coordinator Kate Murray.


  • Looking for something fun to do over the holidays? By the People launches a challenge this week focusing on review of Clara Barton’s diaries in celebration of her birthday, December 25. Join at

Kate’s Corner
Notes from the Director of Digital Strategy

In a few days, I’ll travel to my ancestral homeland for holiday celebrations. My parents’ house will be filled to bursting with the smell of good food and the pleasant chaos of family and friends. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s New Jersey.

As always, there will be a few new people. Walking in on all of this can feel a bit intense. So someone will grab them, give them a hug, and tell them to check on whatever’s in the oven or grab some chairs from the basement. It’s our way of showing without telling, that you’re not just welcome here, you’re family.

The Library’s crowdsourcing program By the People reminds me of that moment. Where you know you belong because someone’s asking for your help, that this dinner is yours because you helped make it.

This time of transition of seasons also brings a new beginning for By the People. It is graduating from pilot to program and moving, along with program community managers, to a new home in the Digital Content Management Section of the Library.  LC Labs incubated and nurtured By the People as an experiment in engaging users with our collections.  Success, though, means it must move as it transitions to a permanent place in the Library.

In just over a year, the crowd has transcribed and tagged some fascinating materials: an 1849 draft of a bill to abolish slavery in D.C.; handwritten by Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony’s letter discussing her defense for illegally voting in an 1872 federal election; and baseball scout Branch Rickey’s 1963 assessment that Hank Aaron was “frequently a guess hitter,” despite his power and hitting record.

I’m proud of what we accomplished and grateful to Dr. Hayden for beginning this program. Thank you to all who have contributed. I hope it has helped you know that you are welcome, and you are cherished.

-Kate Zwaard


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In a Web Archives Frame of Mind: Improving Access and Describing the Collections

This is a guest post by Lauren Baker, a Librarian-in-Residence on the Library of Congress Web Archiving Team (a part of the Digital Collections Management & Services Division). The Librarians-in-Residence Program offers early career librarians an opportunity to contribute to Library projects while learning from professionals in the field. In 2018, the Library of Congress […]

The Library of Congress joins the Digital Preservation Coalition

Today’s guest post is from Kate Murray, a Digital Projects Coordinator in the Digital Collections and Services Division at the Library of Congress. Digital information drives our economy, spurs our culture, and connects our community. But it requires special care to ensure that our expanding archives of digital information will be there for the future. […]

Introducing the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud Project

With support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the LC Labs team will pilot ways to combine cutting edge technology and the collections of the largest library in the world, to support creative new uses of collections. This project will explore service models to support researchers accessing Library of Congress collections in the cloud, with findings shared throughout the 2 year project.

In the Library’s Web Archives: 1,000 U.S. Government PowerPoint Slide Decks

The Digital Content Management section has been working to extract and make available sets of files from the Library’s significant Web Archives holdings. The outcome of the project is a series of web archive file datasets, each containing 1,000 files of related media types selected from .gov domains. You can read more about this series […]

What can you find in 1.7 million phone book images?

The Digital Content Management Section (DCM) is excited to announce the release of over 1.7 million images scanned from the Library of Congress U.S. Telephone Directory Collection. These images originate from thousands of reels of black and white microfilm held in the Main Reading Room – now available on the Library’s website. The process for getting […]

Sprinting toward a Lab: defining, connecting and writing a book in five days

A lab is where experimental and research-focused tools, methods, and services are incubated. The starting premise for a lab is often wanting to spur change and make space for new practice and new people. Yet calling something a lab can also signal separation between traditional services and new approaches. Labs, and innovation in general, can seem like a passing fad that promotes shallow thinking about the application of digital technologies. Considering the limited resources and lack of cutting-edge technologies available at most galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs), should GLAMs consider opening labs? 

Open a GLAM Lab book cover.To begin to answer this question, the British Library Lab, which opened in 2013, held a meeting in September of 2018 called “Building Library Labs” to start a conversation among practitioners who were currently running a lab or thinking of opening one. There was a lively enough discussion to warrant another meeting in March of 2019 in Copenhagen. The buzz from these events created a community of “labbers” and the lab-interested that has grown to 250 participants from 20 countries. 

Even with this momentum and interest, participants identified a need to articulate lab values, share relevant experience and case studies, and suggest some best practices for those starting up cultural heritage innovation labs. One year after the first gathering in late September 2019, a group of 16 librarians, developers, archivists, curators and academics from around the world (including myself) landed in Doha, Qatar, to embark on a BookSprint, a collaborative and rapid publishing methodology to write a book in five days

At the end of that five days, the authors strongly argue, yes, “Open a GLAM Lab”.

Labs can be directly tied to achieving the missions of GLAMs and they can be inclusive change-makers. GLAM Labs build on the work of their institutions to create, preserve and provide access to collections. They can work with and share new technologies and methods for creating and disseminating expertise embedded in and adjacent to cultural and memory organizations. By explicitly inviting new users into GLAMs and designing new partnerships with communities, labs can address contemporary challenges around reaching new audiences, collaborating with communities, and sharing the value of collections broadly.

Tools and services created in a GLAM Lab are not devised as permanent. Therefore, space emerges where researchers, artists, educators and the interested public can collaborate with a group of partners with the time and remit to explore questions that help create new collections, tools, and services. These outcomes help transform the future ways in which knowledge and culture are disseminated. The exchange, experimentation and data created in a Lab are open, iterative and shared widely, which can feel risky to authoritative organizations. But GLAMs are full of people who are passionate about connecting collections to communities; Labs provide opportunities to combine new ideas with the deep expertise of existing staff and a mechanism to imagine and test future possibilities.

All this positive thinking about the future of digital transformation in GLAMS can be contagious, and we (the authors) hope that it is. But, there is very hard work involved and a resilient mindset is required. Bureaucracy-hacking, risk-taking and reacting to criticism are all everyday activities in a Lab.  It is challenging to  navigate ingrained processes, anxieties, user expectations, and technical limitations while generating momentum toward future progress. Not all experiments or partnerships end with the hoped for results. Labs can help articulate criteria and provide evidence for hard choices that GLAMs make everyday.

As exciting as the new methods and technical possibilities are, people are the center of a GLAM Lab. Only through engaging with people can you change the culture and direction of an organization. A GLAM Lab helps to translate expertise and generosity from across the organization to make collections and technologies approachable and usable. Establishing values for a GLAM Lab provides guiding principles for how to engage with partners and communities. Nurturing staff and taking an inclusive and transparent approach to engaging with collaborators and user communities help to ensure all groups feel welcome and supported in lab environments.

GLAM Lab Booksprint in Action

GLAM Lab Booksprint in Action

People were also at the center of the experience of writing the book. Capturing the collective experience and perspective from 16 people was a unique experience. As we reflected in the Introduction: Making this book was hard but is was also very special. The themes you see reflected in this book: being open to experimentation, risk-taking, iteration, and transformation also capture the methodology of the BookSprint. The process of extracting ideas from sixteen heads and making a coherent narrative under extremely tight deadlines sometimes got messy. There were highs and lows, moments of brilliance, feelings that we’d never finish, and very late nights. We had to push each other to keep going, be uncomfortable, debate, disagree, come to a decision, and move forward to finish. Sometimes we didn’t do this well, but we were always able to come together again. The five days of intense work resulted in a book, but it also resulted in a very bonded group that is galvanized to make positive change. The process allowed diverse experiences and perspectives to meld together into a unified book that we hope you find useful in answering questions about why time, space and resources for experimentation are important to create.

You can download the open access e-book from and sign up for the GLAM Lab listserv for updates. The book is a collective product with contributions from Mahendra Mahey, Abigail Potter, Aisha Al-Abdulla, Armin Straube, Caleb Derven, Ditte Laursen, Gustavo Candela, Katrine Gasser, Kristy Kokegei, Lotte Wilms, Milena Dobreva-McPherson, Paula Bray, Sally Chambers, Sarah Ames, Sophie-Carolin Wagner and Stefan Karner who are from the following institutions. 

  • Austrian National Library, Austria
  • The British Library, UK
  • Fundación Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes, Spain
  • Ghent Centre for Digital Humanities, Ghent University, Belgium
  • History Trust of South Australia, Australia
  • Library of Congress, USA
  • KB National Library of the Netherlands, The Netherlands
  • National Library of Scotland, UK
  • Qatar University Library, Qatar
  • The Royal Danish Library, Denmark
  • State Library of New South Wales, Australia
  • UCL Qatar, Qatar
  • University of Alicante, Spain
  • University of Limerick, Ireland

The University College London, Qatar, Qatar University, the British Library and the Library of Congress provided funding to hold the BookSprint.  Read more »