Digital Strategy Year in Review

This is a guest post by Leah Weinryb-Grohsgal from the Digital Strategy Directorate. Leah outlines below some of the major milestones reached by the Directorate in 2019.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Exciting changes are afoot for digital transformation at the Library of Congress!  This post reviews some of the things we did last year to open our digital collections, connect with our users, and encourage digital innovation for the future.

You may have heard that we have a new Digital Strategy, which we adopted in October 2018.  The first ever Library-wide Digital Strategy, it’s intended to be a living, changing document.  In fact, we updated the Digital Strategy in April 2019 based on public and Library staff feedback. We plan to do so again in the future in the spirit of continual change and improvement.

Now, we’re moving forward with implementing the Digital Strategy.  We’re thinking big and thinking small, and looking ahead to the blue sky horizon of all things digital at the Library.  Our plan is to “throw open the treasure chest, connect, and invest in the future.”  LC Labs, launched in 2017 and now part of the Digital Strategy Directorate, continues to be a place for experimentation and provides a friendly interface for our technical side.

Image from A Library of Colors app by Library of Congress Innovator in Residence Jer Thorp

Image from “A Library of Colors,” by Jer Thorp.

Collections in the Cloud

How do we throw open our collections when those collections involve vast amounts of data?  As staff member Laurie Allen explains, for many years libraries have built infrastructure around traditional models of research.  But research using huge amounts of digital information, like the data found in Chronicling America or our Web Archives, requires a different—and unknown—infrastructure.  And each year brings new digitized and born digital materials to our collections.

In 2019, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the Library of Congress a grant for “Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud.”  This project will help us learn about what data people want, how they want to use it, and how we can provide access to collections as data at scale.  We’re underway—and look out for upcoming librarian and researcher opportunities soon!

Innovation Takes up Residence at the Library

Another way we’re trying to throw open the treasure chest is through our new Innovator in Residence program.  Researchers, scientists, artists, and others come to the Library to showcase innovative uses of our collections and encourage us to see our content in completely new ways.  As LC staff member Jaime Mears puts the question: “What is the potential for research, for inspiration, for joy?”

Our very first Innovator in Residence, Jer Thorp, explored serendipity, developed the Library of Color app, and released a podcast.  Two new innovators, Ben Lee and Brian Foo, have just begun their residencies.  Foo is identifying free-to-use audio and moving image collections for use in sample-based hip hop music.  And Ben will extract and caption photos and illustrations from our collections and build an exploratory search interface.

New Communities, New Approaches

Our LC Labs unit within Digital Strategy focuses on experimentation and piloting—even when it comes to finding new ways to connect.  Writing a book in just one week was one such experiment last year, when our very own Abigail Potter attended a “BookSprint” in Doha, Qatar.  “Labbers” from around the globe discussed the value of opening Labs in GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums)—and they finished the book!  It’s called Open a GLAM Lab, and it suggests that labs open to experimentation, risk-taking, iteration, and transformation are critical to the digital shift in cultural heritage organizations.  With no time for extensive research or wordsmithing, Potter thought that the process brought out tacit knowledge—the sorts of things you’d share in a hallway conversation.  And, as Potter reflects, the quick BookSprint process itself puts these values into practice.

Photograph of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Laboratory of Anthropology, 1943

Collier, John Jr., photographer. Santa Fe, New Mexico. Laboratory of Anthropology. United States, 1943. //

Machines Learning and Our Collections

Another hot topic in the library innovation world is machine learning.  What is machine learning?  Well, as LC staff member Eileen Jakeway points out, in some ways the term is a misnomer.  Machines don’t learn on their own, but via a great deal of human labor.  Machine learning, Jakeway says, is “training computer algorithms to recognize sets of patterns across large datasets.”

Machine learning tools are useful for dealing with huge amounts of data.  Last year, LC Labs embarked on a “Summer of Machine Learning,” including a ML+L (Machine Learning + Libraries) summit.  We learned that there is major potential for using machine learning in library settings.  Given the size of many cultural heritage collections, Jakeway points out, machine learning may offer a significant advantage for accomplishing identification and organizational tasks like identifying subjects in photographs, connecting records, and removing duplicate images.

Photograph of girl using adding machine, 1930 to 1935

4. Nesmith, photographer. Girl Using Adding Machine. United States. [Between 1930 and 1935?] //

Testing Machine Learning Approaches

We undertook to find out how with a 16-week collaboration with researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Led by LC staff members Meghan Ferriter and Abigail Potter, the group is experimenting with using machine learning and artificial intelligence to extract text and images from collections, classify documents, and perform quality assessment of individual items and pages.  After six weeks on site at the Library and several more months’ remote work, the group produced a prototype and report with recommendations that will be shared with the public in the spring.

Newspaper page image from Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers

The dispatch-news. (Lexington, S.C.), 14 Jan. 1920. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. //

Much More in Store

These are just some highlights of our 2019 in digital transformation at the Library of Congress.

There’s also a lot going on with the Library’s By the People crowdsourcing program: new campaigns, new features, and new materials available for tagging and transcription.  There’s so much in store as we step forward implementing our Digital Strategy.  Stay tuned here for 2020 updates.  If anything catches your attention, we’re here at [email protected] or @LC_Labs!

Connections in Sound and at the Library of Congress: Reaching out to experts to connect Irish traditional music through Linked Data

Patrick Egan is a scholar and musician from Ireland, who served as a Kluge Fellow in Digital Studies at the Kluge Center. He has recently earned his PhD in digital humanities with ethnomusicology in at University College Cork. Patrick’s interests over the past number of years have focused on ways to creatively use descriptive data in […]

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 […]

Announcing International Collaborations on Digital Scholarship in Cultural Institutions

The following is an announcement from funding and cultural organizations from the United States and the United Kingdom about a new collaboration supporting digital scholarship.  The Library of Congress Labs team is co-hosting a workshop to kick-off international collaborations around digital scholarship. Partners in the UK and the US are coming together to collaborate on the […]

Creative Technologist and 2018 Papamarkou Chair Tahir Hemphill Looks Back on his Year in the Archives

This is a guest post from Tahir Hemphill, the 2018 Harissios Papamarkou Chair in Education at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress. The Labs team first met Tahir – a creative technologist, educator and radical archivist – when we invited him to speak at our Collections as Data: Impact conference about his […]

Welcoming Charlie Moffett and crafting interactive, location-based narratives on the web at the Library of Congress

In January, the LC Labs team welcomed Charlie Moffett as he kicked off his innovation internship with the Library of Congress. He’s been exploring digital collections and geospatial data and where the two might intersect to tell stories about place and change. We checked in with him to learn more about his goals, background, and […]

Rethinking LC for Robots: From Topics to Actions

Have you noticed that our LC for Robots page has a new look this month? We integrated feedback from visitors, discussion, and a card sorting exercise to consolidate resources for machine-readable access to Library of Congress digital collections. We’re looking for your feedback, but first, learn more about how we approached this redesign. In September […]