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Q&A with Laurie Allen, new Chief of LC Labs

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The LC Labs team is excited to share that our colleague Laurie Allen has been selected as the new Chief of the Digital Innovation Lab (LC Labs)! In her new role, Laurie will lead LC Labs’ experiments into the digital collections and the team’s support of the Library’s ongoing digital transformation. Laurie brings decades of experience in libraries and digital librarianship to her position as Chief – read on to learn more about her background and discover her thoughts about the future of LC Labs.

Tell us a little about your background.

head shot of Laurie Allen

I am a Philadelphian, born and raised, and a proud graduate of Philadelphia’s public schools. I left the area for college, where I majored in philosophy, and studied the ways our minds and cultures are constantly sorting and classifying things in order to make sense of them. After graduating, I moved to New York, where I worked in the publishing industry for a year before realizing I wanted to be a librarian and heading to Boston for Library school. During my masters program, I was really drawn to the technology side of things (the fact that I kept taking symbolic logic classes in the philosophy department should have tipped me off that I might enjoy computers, but it didn’t). I ended up taking lots of digital courses. After library school, I moved home to Philly and spent 20 years working in academic libraries at the intersection of innovative technology, data, and library strategy and leadership.  Before I came to the Library, I was the Director of Digital Scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries, where I led a team responsible for data management, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), scholarly publishing, and public and digital humanities across the large University Library system. 

What brought you to the Library, and what roles [or responsibilities] have you held?

As my career developed, I found myself more and more drawn to work with an obvious and immediate public impact. I am also always fascinated by how things actually get done in practice, and I know that IT infrastructure and the many decisions, constraints and practices on the ground really matter. Plus, IT remains an area that I genuinely enjoy digging into and nerding out on. I joined the Library in late 2019 as a Program Analyst in the Digital Strategy Directorate within the Office of the Chief Information Officer. I’ve collaborated on implementing the Digital Strategy; helped launch the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI); convened the Digital Strategy Working Group; and more recently, held strategic visioning workshops to inform what will follow the 2019-2023 Digital Strategy.

What are some of your standout/favorite projects?

Working in DSD has been fascinating, and I’ve learned a huge amount in these past (strange) three years. I’m really proud of my contribution to launching the Of the People program, funded by the Mellon Foundation, and in particular my role helping shepherd in the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) within OCIO’s Digital Strategy Directorate during its startup . Drawing on the successful work of LC Labs and with a focus on work with communities of color across the country, CCDI was designed to incentivize a group of libraries, archives, museums. artists, higher education institutions, and scholars to really dive into the digital collections and creatively make use of them for their own purposes. Their grant-funded engagements can then help us understand what kinds of tools, approaches, and techniques are most useful. Indeed, even seeing the proposals that we’re not able to fund helps us get a view into how these institutions imagine connecting with the Library through technology.

How will your time in Digital Strategy inform your work in this new role?

Before coming to the Library of Congress, I just thought of it as a big library – but my work in digital strategy has really helped me understand the agency in all its fullness, so I’m excited to keep learning about this fascinating federal agency, and exploring how Labs might help colleagues all over the agency try new approaches to their work, and extend their reach through new tools or techniques

Also, of course, there are the people! For three years, I have watched the Labs team iterate, explore, inspire, convene, and collaborate on innovative approaches to the digital library, so I come into this role knowing what an awesome crew this is and with a huge amount of enthusiasm for what we’ll be able to do. I’m looking forward to working with the team to keep refining our engagement processes with peers and partners, and digging in on some of the really tough challenges the Library encounters.

I also know how much librarians around the country are counting on us to help people engage with the historical record in new ways, so I hope to stay engaged in broader professional conversations to help inform this new role.

What is something your co-workers may not know about you?

I have no hobbies. I have lots of friends and family who I enjoy spending time with, but some combination of Gen X cynicisms, growing up with a busy single parent, and my peculiar disposition, means that I just never developed any hobbies. For years, I thought it was probably a problem and meant I was boring, but I prefer, now, to think of it as an abundance of curiosity that I choose to evenly distribute rather than focusing in one area.

Comments (2)

  1. I was interested in Laurie Allen’s work with digital strategy and the LC Lab, but the really liked her self-description of having no hobbies. “An abundance of curiosity that I choose to evenly distribute” is a wonderful quality in a librarian and a phrase I will borrow. Thanks!

  2. Does the LC have anything to do with presidential papers and documents?
    Are there departments or areas of the government whose documents are not destined for LC?

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