Library Lab Puts on Show

The next time you return a life-changing book to Widener or Lamont Library, consider dropping it in the “Awesome Box,” an alternative return box for library materials too good not to share. Books left in the brightly colored boxes will be scanned into a database, allowing other students to check for books recently proclaimed “awesome” on a special website and Twitter account.

“Anyone in your community can see what people are ‘awesome-ing,’” said Awesome Box co-creator Matthew Phillips, explaining that the aim is to create a dialogue among members of the Harvard Library community.

Awesome Box was created by Annie J. Cain and Phillips, web developers at the Harvard Law Library, as a project funded by the Harvard Library Lab.

The Library Lab showcased Awesome Box and 27 other library projects created by Harvard students, faculty, and staff Wednesday night at the Radcliffe Gymnasium.

The Lab, finishing its second year, funds new ideas and applications for the library and beyond, ranging from a tool for organizing emails and other digital documents, to an app that tracks where and when students use library materials.

“There was a perceived need to provide funding for innovative library projects,” said Stuart M. Shieber ‘81, the Welch professor of computer science.

Shieber directs the Harvard Library’s Office for Scholarly Communication, which manages the Library Lab. The Lab supports projects in a variety of ways, he said, providing equipment and money, which in part allows developers to take time off to focus on their projects.

Shieber said the Library Lab also encourages open source applications, consistent with the Harvard Open Access Policy that has been adopted by seven of the University’s schools.

The Library Lab is funded by Arcadia, a United Kingdom-based grant-making fund. The Office for Scholarly Communication’s program manager, Suzanne Kriegsman, said that after the four-year grant runs out, the Lab hopes to continue with University funding.

The program was inspired in part by Harvard Law School’s Library Innovation Lab, which develops software to improve the functioning of the library.

One of the showcased projects was Zeega, an online platform that allows users to link text, images, sounds, and video to create an interactive, integrated sequence of digital media. Jesse M. Shapins, an instructor at the Graduate School of Design and the chief strategy architect at Zeega, explained that Zeega seeks to “turn[] the website itself into a new medium.”

Meanwhile, Thomas Dodson, program coordinator at the Office for Scholarly Communication, and Reinhard Engels, OSC digital library software engineer, have developed a project called Yana, a template that allows open access scholarly journals to create their own mobile device platforms free of charge.

According to Dodson, these free journals often lack the resources necessary to create mobile applications that could increase their accessibility.

“We want to support more journals doing this, rather than [those] limiting knowledge,” Dodson said.

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