Our Awesome Boxes were itching to get their hands on even more books, music and movies so they jumped the fence and escaped Harvard Yard to their first public library home.  A box can now be found at each of the three branches of the Somerville Public Library.


SPL Awesome Box


Take a look at the awesome items in Somerville


This partnership is utilizing the new hosted version of our awesome software.  If your library wants to sign up, just drop us a note (http://awesomebox.io/) and we’ll get you set up with an account.  All you’ll need to start awesoming is a barcode scanner and a box (or basket, or bucket, or barrel).

[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/