LC Labs Letter: November 2019


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

Concordia Featured in Code 4 Lib

The By the People team shared their experience developing Concordia with Agile in an article published in Code4Lib Journal. The articles describes the By the People program, how the team adopted an Agile approach, and the process of developing Concordia.

We hope the discussion demonstrates the ways we designed opportunities for public audiences to engage with Library resources. The piece also addresses the ways design considerations were used to align the tool with the technical approaches and requirements of the Library of Congress and the design to allow Concordia to scale and adapt to new collections and user needs. Read the article here:

Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud: Quarterly Update

If you’d like to hear an update on the Mellon-funded Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project, please join us for our first online info session where we’ll give a brief overview of the grant, describe the progress to date, and answer questions about upcoming opportunities.

The call will take place on Friday, December 13, 1pm – 2pm Eastern. To register, please visit:

University of Nebraska-Lincoln: “Digital Libraries, Intelligent Data Analysis, and Augmented Description: A Demonstration Project”

This month, the Project AIDA team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln presented on their project “Digital Libraries, Intelligent Data Analysis, and Augmented Description.” This collaboration with LC Labs demonstrates five possible applications of machine learning to improve the services, collections access, and discoverability of the Library of Congress.

Drs. Liz Lorang, Leen-Kiat Soh, and doctoral candidates Mike Pack and Yi Lee will spend the final 1-2 months of the project testing five ideas for further exploration. They are: 1) informed crowdsourcing for labeling the documents in a training set, 2) enriched metadata through tags, 3) benchmarked datasets for documents, 4) low-cost ground-truthing using weak supervision, and 5) the application of deep learning to Library-related tasks.

When released, the final white paper documenting their results and process will be made publicly available and shared via the newsletter.

By the People: Veteran’s Day Challenge Update

On Wednesday, November 6, By the People kicked off a Veterans Day Challenge – asking volunteers to both transcribe and review Samuel J. Gibson’s 200-page Civil War POW diary by the end of the holiday. Volunteers leapt into action and met the goal in less than 36 hours! With the holiday still a few days away, we set a stretch goal to review “Civil War Soldiers: ‘Disabled but not disheartened”, in which volunteers completed 371 additional pages. This campaign features writings by Union soldiers who lost their right arms in the conflict and entered a left-handed penmanship competition. In addition to moving these documents of service and sacrifice across the finish line, the challenge encourages volunteers to engage deeply with these histories in honor of all who have served.


  • LC Labs attended the Association of Moving Image Archivists Conference (AMIA) 2019 on Thursday, November 14 and the Coalition of Network Information (CNI) Annual Meeting on December 9 & 10
  • We are hiring two 2020 Junior Fellows! Please share this information widely with interested candidates. Applications close 12/20/19.
  • Sweater News: a publication dedicated almost exclusively to covering trends in plush pullovers. Only one of the amazing findings at the Library’s Art + Design Night that took place on Friday, November 8. See what else people found by searching #TouchTheBooks on social media.
  • Looking for some fun, instructive reading? You can read Open a GLAM Lab, co-authored by Labs member Abbey, for free here. Read more about Abbey’s experience participating in the book sprint in this blog post.

Kate’s Corner
Notes from the Director of Digital Strategy

Fall is upon us here in D.C., and we’ve been enjoying sunny days and brilliant displays from the changing leaves. It’s always a season of reflection for me, and this year especially so as we move forward with new plans, while looking back at what we’ve achieved so far.

We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of our By the People crowdsourcing program here at the Library, and completed a Veterans Day challenge in record time. I’m so proud of the work our team has done building a software platform and rolling out collections from the “Angel of the Battlefield,” Clara Barton to the “Man Who Recorded the World,” Alan Lomax. I’m delighted by how this project has invited the people into the Library of Congress in unprecedented ways—to explore, to learn, and to grow.

All of this makes me excited to think about our big tent, and the possibilities for bringing people together. I hope you’ll have a chance to join us!

-Kate Zwaard

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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 »

In the Library’s Web Archives: Dig If You Will the Pictures

The Digital Content Management section has been working on a project to extract and make available sets of files from the Library’s significant Web Archives holdings. This is another step to explore the Web Archives and make them more widely accessible and usable. Our aim in creating these sets is to identify reusable, “real world” […]

Celebrating a year with By the People

Celebrating the 1 year anniversary of By the People, the Library of Congress crowdsourcing platform that engages volunteers to explore and connect to Library of Congress collections while enhancing searchability, readability, and research use of digitized collections. In the last year over 11,000 volunteers have registered and even more have contributed anonymously to complete transcription of over 31,000 digital collection pages, with 55,000 awaiting peer review.

Launching the Digital Collections Management Compendium

Over the past two years, my colleagues and I in the Digital Content Management section have been working with experts from across many divisions of the Library of Congress to collate and assemble guidance and policy that guide or reflect the practices that the Library uses to manage digital collections. I am excited to share […]