[mp3 here]

Last week, Andrew Odlyzko [wikipedia] a mathematician and historian, and former head of the University of Minnesota’s Digital Technology Center, posted a research paper that concludes that the data suggest that libraries are losing their competition with the publishers of academic journals. Andrew is a long-time open access advocate, so he’s not saying this is a good thing. But he is a data-driven historian.

So I gave him a call, and we talked for about 25 minutes about the paper, and more generally about the role of curators in an age of free or cheap abundance. You can listen here.

Here’s Andrew’s abstract:

Discussions of the economics of scholarly communication are usually devoted to Open Access, rising journal prices, publisher profits, and boycotts. That ignores what seems a much more important development in this market. Publishers, through the oft-reviled “Big Deal” packages, are providing much greater and more egalitarian access to the journal literature, an approximation to true Open Access. In the process they’re also marginalizing libraries, and obtaining a greater share of the resources going into scholarly communication. This is enabling a continuation of publisher profits as well as of what for decades has been called “unsustainable journal price escalation.” It is also inhibiting the spread of Open Access, and potentially leading to an oligopoly of publishers controlling distribution through large-scale licensing.

The “Big Deal” practices are worth studying for several general reasons. The degree to which publishers succeed in diminishing the role of libraries may be an indicator of the degree and speed at which universities transform themselves. More importantly, these “Big Deals” appear to point the way to the future of the whole economy, where progress is characterized by declining privacy, increasing price discrimination, increasing opaqueness in pricing, increasing reliance on low-paid or unpaid work of others for profits, and business models that depend on customer inertia.

We recently rolled out more Awesome Boxes here at Harvard. We now have boxes in Widener, Langdell, Lamont, and Cabot.


We have a couple of other boxes waiting to be delivered to their new homes after the new year.


We put together a special box for our home base, Langdell Library here in the Law School.


It’s an Arduino equipped box. A small photoresistor in the floor of the box detects light change. When the change is 35% greater or smaller than the last time it took a reading, it sends power to three LEDs tucked in a piece of plexiglass in the sign.

The physical boxes have been fun to build and share, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re a minor part of the Awesome Box project. The Awesome Box project is concerned with allowing members of the community to share what they found awesome. You don’t need a flashing box to do that. A no-tech solution works just as well and maybe better: Use masking tape to partition an area on the returns desk. When something is placed there, put it on a featured shelf.

We’ve seen an uptick in awesomeing after we rolled out the additional boxes. We went from about ten items a week to five to ten per day. (These numbers are rough and the sample size is tiny — don’t put much stock in them.) So, more boxes yields better community penetration yields results. If you want to have a look at these results, pop over to http://hrvd.me/awesomebox and follow the Twitter stream.

If you want an Awesome Box for your library, we’d love to hear from you. Email us.

Karen Coyle has come to the rescue for those of us who have tried (often unsuccessfully) to wrap our heads around linked data.   Her recent post gives a simple example of how to tag linked data and talks about how to use linked data to expose information about libraries that has previously been overlooked.

We had our first meeting of GSD Seminar 09125, Library Test Kitchen.

Video by Ben Brady

We made ourselves a new Library Test Kitchen website too (based on LiL’s site structure).



The staff:

Jeffrey Schnapp from metaLab

Ann Whiteside, Director of the Loeb Architecture Library

Ben Brady, GSD graduate and LTK Spring 2012

Jessica Yurkofsky, GSD graduate and LTK Spring 2012 and current LiL resident.

and me.


We had a great turnout and are looking forward excitedly to what the Fall will bring.

new brains on library problems = eye-opening

Follow the goings-on at http://www.librarytestkitchen.org/


On off moments over this summer, Annie and I have put together our new site.  You know, splashed some water on our face.

That’s what you’re looking at.  LiL, freshened up.

The goals:

  1. Freshen up our look
  2. Mobile-friendly
  3. Make it really easy to add stuff, but no big-time CMS nonsense
  4. Fun
  5. Shareable

1) We’d built the original site about two years ago — a long time in internet time.  It worked, but it was a bit heavy and very fixed.  We wanted to lighten up things a bit.  Annie ended up on 2×4′s website and that started everything off.

As you’ll no doubt see, our homepage is HEAVILY inspired by 2×4′s work.  Ours is less refined, but gets at the general idea of a long pane of scattershot (but underlying grid adhering) images.

2) By now, a lot of the web has been Twitter Bootstrapped — folks everywhere have built their websites using Twitter’s recently open source web framework, Bootstrap.  There are a lot of reasons for this, but the primary one is packaging.  They’ve thrown in nice buttons, cross-browser fixes, and a good responsive grid to make your site work on mobile.  The elegant mobile handling is really why we started on this framework.

3) We wanted the site to be able to change a lot.  And frequently.  At the same time, neither of us wanted to muck around in the CMS worlds of drupal, etc. It’s just too complicated.  So we took the wordpress-as-CMS route.  Each project gets its own wordpress “page” that we link to.  Easy to update, manage, etc. We restyled a great, free wordpress theme called WordPress Bootstrap by 320 Press to make the blog look a lot like every other page.  That way a blog page (which is easy to author) can double as a project page and look pretty natural (nice hack Paul!).

Even cooler, Annie came up with a clever system to add all content — people, projects, etc. — info into one, easy-to-understand file (we’ve called it ingredients.json).   And then those assets ripple through all the pages.  She’ll go into it in another post.

4) Everybody seemed to like the mouse-over about us page from our last site.  So we took that and ran with it.  Some, not all, images come to life with a hover.  And some more than others – Jessica’s been dabbling in animating some .gif’s.  The hover state is not one that ports to mobile.  Any ideas port the fun to these devices?

5) I’d say this is the big point, we wanted to give our site away.  Take it. Run with it.  Modify it. Whatever. I got obsessed with the idea of sharing sites whole hog.  The site meets our needs as a lightweight wordpress CMS.  Wordpress was complicated enough. Maybe you find yourself in that position — or just want a pretty simple site that makes hovering things fun. It’s on github.  It ain’t all polished and buffed under the hood, and lot’s more documentation to come, but our site’s out. Make it your site, or improve it so we can add your changes to our site.

The site will take on more and more of its own character over time, but we’ve rebooted.  And it seems like it’s time.