Privacy Concerns vs. Traditions – When the World Changes Around You

(This is a guest post from the amazing Jessamyn West, who we’re lucky to have with us this year as a Research Fellow.)

I live in a town of 4500 people. Like most towns in Vermont we have an annual Town Meeting. We vote by Australian Ballot on things like budgets, but there’s time at the end of the meeting for Other Business. This year we discussed whether Randolph should become a sanctuary town. Another topic was the annual publication of the names of people who hadn’t paid their taxes at the time of the town report’s publication. I can remember being a kid and seeing these names in my own hometown town report, often of our town’s poorest residents. I always found the “name and shame” aspect of it troubling, though I know that others feel this is a necessary sanction to insure that taxes get paid promptly.

At this year’s Town Meeting we discussed whether the town should continue to publish the names of people with delinquent taxes in the town report. Delinquent taxes make up about 3% of the town’s tax revenue. You can see the list yourself, it’s on page 35 of this 37 MB document. People had varying opinions of the positive or negative aspects of this practice. A few people said “We’ve always done it that way.” I rarely speak at Town Meeting–I feel my opinions are often already well-represented–but this time I asked to speak and said “We may have always done it this way, but the world has changed. The town now puts the PDF of the town report online which it has been doing since 2010. This means it’s potentially indexed by Google which has been indexing PDFs for the past few years. People who are late on taxes are now perpetually Googleable as scofflaws.”

Jessamyn West
(Photo by Ramsey Papp. Used with permission.)

I should note at this point that I am aware that there are technical solutions for avoiding Google indexing that are not realistic within the scope of how our town manages their web content.

I went on to say that the people who show up on these lists are often people having trouble; two of the listings from this year are a man and his estate, clearly a person who has died. Most of the people in my area, especially my older, poorer and more rural neighbors, have almost no online footprint. This would give them one, a bad one. I concluded “We should not do this to them.”

The vote was close, the voice vote wasn’t conclusive so we had to do a standing vote. In the end we recommended that the selectboard look into discontinuing this practice. We might even wind up with some sort of compromise solution like the names being posted in the Town Hall but not on the internet. The fight for privacy, online and offline, is taking place everywhere. Make sure you speak up when you see a way that you could help.

LIL Talks: Ania

We were fortunate to have Harvard scholar (and LIL friend) Ania Aizman talk to us about Anarchism. She clarified what it was, discussed some of its different branches and how they overlap with familiar groups/events like the Occupy movement.

We discussed “mic checks” and dug into the emergence of anarchism in Russian history. Her absorbing talk took us right to the end of our available time – thanks Ania!

LIL Talks: Adam

Adam shared two different topics on February 24, 2017 — Mardi Gras and how to be deposed

Adam grew up in New Orleans and it was clear from his talk that the gravity of MG still pulled on him. 

Adam reviewed the history of the yearly celebration and highlighted the fascinating tradition of the social orgs that fuel the celebration – the krewes

The thing that stuck with me a week later as i reflect on Adam’s talk — Mardi Gras is different things to different people. For wild, party seeking, spring breakers, it’s one thing. And, for families that march as high school band members, and for community leaders (in and far away from the French Quarter) that network by shaking a ten thousand hands —  it’s another thing.

Hard Right Turn — It’s a two for one talk today!!

Adam also used his experience as a practicing litigator to instruct us on how to behave when being deposed. Fascinating!! Adam shared his guidelines — something like,  1/ tell the truth  2/ take your time when responding to the question  3/ only respond to the question by being focused in your response

We watched three entertaining and engrossing depositions — Joe Jamail, Lil Wayne (oh, I wish he had a library rhyme. please, please, please toss us a bone Lil wayne!!), Donald Trump — and enjoyed king cake and coffee!

LIL talks: Andy

We started a weekly series where members and friends of the LIL team teach us about something they are interested in.

Last Friday, Andy showed us how to make homemade mayo and aioli:

Awesome Box was an Amazing Experiment. Thank you!

Awesome Box was a highly successful experiment that helped LIL explore new ways of enabling peer to peer reading recommendations in libraries.



The Awesome Box was a physical box that a library would sit next to the library’s regular returns box and if you thought the book was mind blowing, you dropped it in the Awesome Box instead of the regular returns box. The librarian then has the option to scan the book into the Awesome Box website to enable digital sharing of lists of awesome items. Or, the librarian can keep things no-tech and put the item on a shelf labelled Community Recommendations.

Annie Cain and I created the Awesome Box after hearing about a similar idea functioning in a European library. In 2013, we developed the web app, received a little grant funding from Harvard’s Library Lab and the Arcadia Foundation, and started collaborating with libraries at Harvard, Somerville Public (first Awesome Box in the wild!!) , Cambridge Public, and Brookline Public here in the Boston area.

Annie and I (with Annie doing the lion’s share) worked hard to develop the Awesome Box community by quickly replying with advice when emails arrived and talking about Awesome Box at several conferences and gatherings of librarians.

I learned a ton about product development and adoption with the Awesome Box, but two big things that stick out after much reflection — make the thing you’re building fit with the patterns of the folks that will use the thing (people are returning books anyway, they just need to choose a box), and you have to sell, sell, sell! Awesome Box is fun and free (as in open source and as in no money) and we still constantly talked it up and pushed it for three years. I’ve found that it’s hard to find success with a project if you just dump on the web and expect people to use it — you’ve got to wire people to your project.

Awesome Box is certainly one of the most successful projects I’ve been lucky enough to be part of. And, arguably, one of the most successful projects to roll out of LIL. Thank you so much to all the libraries that joined together to make Awesome Box so much fun! If you’re a library and you didn’t have a chance to export your Awesome items, please drop me an email and I’ll get your data to you.

Awesome Box was an experiment. It’s done and the servers have been powered down. During it’s glorious run, the Awesome Box supported 512 private, public, and academic libraries across the US. The members of those libraries dropped 104,715 items dropped in the Awesome Box from 2013 to 2016.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Physical Pitch Decks

I’ve been playing with physical pitch decks lately. Slides as printed cards.

PowerPoint, Deck.js, and the like are fantastic when sharing with large groups of people — from a classroom full of folks to a web full of folks. But, what if easy and broad sharing isn’t a criteria for your pitch deck?

You might end up with physical cards like I did when I recently pitched Private Talking Spaces. The cards are surprisingly good!! Just like non-physical slides, they can provide outlines for talks and discussions, but they’re so simple (just paper and ink), they won’t get in the way when sharing ideas with small groups.

The operation of the cards is as plain as can be – just take the card off the top, flip it upside down, and put it to the side. 

n cards = n screens in the world of physical pitch decks. I wish we had multiple projectors in rooms! In the photo above, I pin my agenda card up top.

I drew the slides in Adobe Illustrator. They’re six inches square and printed on sturdy paper. If you’d like to make your own, here’s my .ai file and here’s a .pdf version.

It feels like there’s something here. Some depth. If you’ve had success with physical pitch decks, please send me pointers. Thanks!!

pockets of people

we hosted a bunch of amazing visitors earlier this week (knight prototype workshop!) and we were fortunate enough to gather everyone for dinner. after drinks were served, i used my phone’s camera and swooped into each booth aka pocket of people.

swooping into these pockets of people is surprisingly meaningful and rich — i very much get a distinct sense for the vibe/mood/energy at each table. this swoop in and pan pattern is deep.

what should i do with these clips? feels like there’s some coolness here but i can’t seem to grab it. ideas?

Nuremberg Tribunals Project Launches New Website



The Nuremberg Tribunals Project is excited to announce the launch of its new website.

Our team at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and the Harvard Law Library’s Department of Historical and Special Collections has been working hard the past year to create a new, rich, flexible and visually appealing discovery and viewing experience for our 750,000-page Nuremberg Trials archive.  The archive materials comprise the full document record for all 13 Nuremberg Trials, held at Nuremberg 1945-49.  Of those, so far the project has been able to process the materials for 5 of the 13 trials and make them available online.  The documents include all trial exhibits, source materials from which most of the trial exhibits were selected, and the full day-to-day proceedings for each trial as recorded in the trial transcripts.  Also included are several hundred annotated photographs taken of the trial proceedings.




The Harvard Nuremberg collection is one of the few comprehensive document sets available for these trials.  While many institutions possess materials relating to the International Military Tribunal, relatively few have significant archives relating to any or all of the follow-on 12 National Military Tribunals adjudicated by the United States.  Aside from the U.S. National Archives, Harvard is unique in offering access to the full set of materials generated by all 13 Nuremberg trials.

The new website replaces our previous online presence dating from 2003.  Its beautiful, elegantly functional design was created by Frances Duncan and implemented by Emma Cushman, whose open-source project code is available at GitHub.  It offers through its new design deep, faceted document and photograph search and full-text keyword transcript search.  Document page images are viewable at a variety of zoom levels, and the transcripts are rendered as both plain text and scanned page images.  All document and transcript page images and transcript full text are downloadable and printable.  The website also offers rich introductory materials to the subject matter of the Trials and document archive as well as detailed introductions to each trial, supporting our goal of making the site useful for the general public as well as researchers in the field.

The Project and website are profiled in the Harvard Gazette.

The Web project is a multi-year, multi-phase, on-going initiative.  We have completed the digitization work of scanning all the materials into digital format, have completed the conversion of a third of the transcripts into full-text searchable format, and have finished the analytical work of describing in detail the documents for 5 of the 13 trials.  We are actively pursuing outside funding to support expanding the exposure of this unique collection to the world in a fully open and accessible way.

Ars Electronica Highlights 3

I’m sharing more highlights from this year’s Ars Electronica Festival. See parts one and two for even more.



The future of the lab – I saw Ivan Poupyrev talk about about the future of labs. He said a whole bunch of interesting things, but the thing stuck most with me is his advice on staffing a lab. He said something like “Bring in people that are focused on solving a problem. If they have a project you want to support and grow, bring them in and give them space to build that thing.” Totally sold on this idea. Projects often need the stamina and focus of a single person (two people feels good too) to jam it through to success.


Jllr by Benjamin Maus, Prokop Bartoníček – A beautiful, relaxing, rock sorting machine. An instrument floats over the top of a bed of rocks looking at each one. After examination, it picks up a rock and moves it to a place in a grid of rocks sorted by geological age.



Parasitic Symbiotic by Ann-Katrin Krenz – A machine that draws on trees. 😃🍃



Running Cola is Africa by Masao Kohmura, Fujino, Kouji, and Computer Technique Group – A classic piece of computer art from 1968. An algorithmic creation of frames starting with a running person, route through a bottle of cola, and end in the shape of the African continent.