Library Lab To Support Student and Faculty Projects

With the goal of empowering library patrons to create “the information society of the future,” the University Library Council recently approved a new set of financial and infrastructural resources dubbed the Harvard Library Lab to support entrepreneurial projects that improve library functions.

Approved on July 15 by the University Library Council—a group comprised of top librarians across Harvard’s schools as well as officials of the Harvard University Library—the Library Lab will accept student and faculty proposals that create and improve library services. More of a compilation of resources than a physical laboratory, the Lab will also encourage library staff to develop their own ideas and pay them to work on their plans in lieu of some of their normal duties.

Guidelines posted on the Library Lab’s website indicate that it aims to support bottom-up projects conceived by members of the library community that can be shared in such a way that, according to the guidelines, a “reasonable investment can have substantial and lasting effects,” even if the project carries the risk of failure.

“The idea isn’t that all of these ideas are going to pay off,” said Computer Science Professor Stuart M. Shieber ’81, who is also the faculty director of the Office of Scholarly Communication, the office within the Harvard University Library that manages the Library Lab. “We want risky projects. We want people to try things. And they may not work, but that’s the entrepreneurial aspect of it.”

The Harvard Library Lab is a University-wide iteration of a similar venture at the Harvard Law School, which is behind projects such as the Harvard Library Hose, a service that tweets when an item is checked out from a library, and ShelfLife, an application that, once development is completed, could help researchers more easily navigate library collections.


Shieber said that by funding and supporting innovation that could yield more efficient operations, the Library Lab is “in line with the goals” of the Task Force on University Libraries, which released a report on Nov. 12, 2009, that proposed a restructuring of the University’s “labyrinthine” system and an increased use of common systems across Harvard’s libraries.

The funds that support the Library Lab come from Arcadia, a British foundation that made $5 million donations in 2009 to the library systems at Harvard, Yale, and the University of California, Los Angeles. The Harvard University Library has since used some of the money to process and conserve some of its 17th and 18th century collections as well as to support its Open Collections Program, which assembles online collections of information linked by a common theme.

The Office of Scholarly Communication will host a noontime discussion about the Library Lab on Aug. 12 in the Lamont Forum Room, according to Harvard University Library Notes, the library system’s newsletter.

—Staff writer Naveen N. Srivatsa can be reached at


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