Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Annie Cain. I was once a librarian and maybe still am. Either way, I currently build web apps. For libraries. I also come up with ideas, help shape ideas and help execute & build non-web ideas.

Setup Annie Cain

What hardware do you use?

My work machine is a giant Mac Pro. Sometimes I bump my knee on it. A big-enough Acer monitor is connected to it. I use a Magic Mouse because the cord was cramping my style. My folding Sennheiser headphones are not audiophile approved, but they suit me just fine.

At home I have a MacBook Air. I think I’m the only one in the world who despises the MacBook Air.

When I go to meetings, I generally bring a Rhodia notebook and Zebra pen along. More often than not I also have a snack and the cheapest clear mug I cound find in Harvard Square, filled with water or tea. I live in fear that Republic of Tea will stop selling their Passion Fruit Papaya blend.

Sometimes I use my window as a refrigerator. I can fit a sandwich between the two panes of glass.

And what software?

MagiCal is the first thing I install on a new Mac.

I constantly use Exposé to find buried windows and access the desktop.

When working directly on the development server (which is all the time, scandalous!), I type code in BBEdit and push images up with Transmit. When I’m not feeling up to typing SQL in the Terminal (which is most of the time, scandalous!), I use Sequel Pro to interact with MySQL.

I use Firefox when web developing. Firebug provides most of what I need to understand what’s going on. MeasureIt and JSONView also help. Heck, I still use some features of the Web Developer extension. For my general browsing and Google Reader perusing, I use Chrome. I go to Byliner if I need a longer reading break.

Photoshop is the only one of the Suite that I know how to operate, so it’s the hammer for all of my graphics nails.

We’re not afraid to share our stuff on GitHub. It’s also super handy for collaboration and tracking code & issues.

Setup Annie Desk

What would be your dream setup?

Better lighting would probably get me a lot closer to a dream setup. Ideally I’d work on a laptop. Maybe connect it to a bigger monitor sometimes. It would definitely have an SD card slot.

A refrigerator would be nice as my window doesn’t stay cool in the summer. A mug warmer to keep my tea steamy would also be super.

Jessica Yurkofsky, The Setup

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Jessica. I just finished up the urban planning masters program over at the GSD. I’m hanging out at the lab for the summer, working primarily on Time/Slice, a project I started in the Library Test Kitchen. The Lab is very awesome.

What hardware do you use?

My most important hardware is my pen, which is a rotring extra-fine fountain pen. It was originally quite long; I had one break in my pocket so I sawed off the end and duct taped it. Now it fits in my pocket much better. My other piece of important hardware is a binder clip, which holds together a lot of printer paper full of my calendar, lists, notes, etc.

I rely on my MacBook Pro (4,1) for most things. It has a vintage 2008 battery that generates excessive heat, which can be nice in the winter. I also have an i5 iMac that I use for heavier stuff (a lot of GIS). My phone is a Nokia 6315i. The antenna broke off (also a pocket-related accident), so it is super svelte now. I have a Kindle Touch that I like a lot more than I expected to.

my pen writes well

What software do you use?

A lot of Adobe Creative Suite, mostly Illustrator, for design. Other than that, I like free things. For mapping I do use ArcGIS, but I’ve gotten really into TileMill recently. It makes maps that are nice and pretty. I use TextWrangler for coding, and Bean for typing words. When I really really need to write something, ommwriter is helpful.

Alfred makes using my computer a lot more enjoyable, as does  f.lux and jumpcut. Dropbox helps me to not lose all my important things. I use GeekTool for keeping important information on my desktop, such as the weather and my new year’s resolutions. My computer counts electric sheep when it sleeps.

I go back and forth between Chrome and Firefox, but with both I love TabCloud and and being able to send articles straight to my Kindle.

What would be your dream setup?
My dream setup would be a fort that could also get lots of sunlight. It would also have a little stop-motion animation setup ready to go at all times. It might be in a tree.

office from Harvard Library Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

Who are you, and what do you do?
Hi, my name’s Jeff. I do design and new ideas here at the Lab. The Lab ROCKS! It’s a great job. Sometimes I help make websites (like this one), sometimes I do classes and right now, even working on some policy-ish stuff with folks from here and the Berkman Center.

What hardware do you use?

I have a mac tower that is cool. I have 2 monitors, that’s good.  I also have a Mac Mighty Mouse

I like the wheel, but gunk does get stuck in it so it requires maintenance.  I’d say the hardware I’m passionate about is the Grado SR60 Headphones.

Now those things actually rock. For those with immediate officemates or a quiet atmosphere they are quite acoustically transparent. The other piece of noise control technology I like is earplugs.

Both of these tools allow me to better get lost in thought…  I’ve been using earplugs since college, so at this point it’s practically associative:  Ear Plugs in = (More) Focus

I also drink coffee out of a jar because I can put it in my bag, SEAL IT, and confidently ride to work without it spilling.

And that brings me to that ruler in the background.  I like the ruler, it has so many uses.

web site width from Harvard Library Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

What software do you use?
Adobe Creative Suite, BBEdit, FileZilla, Outlook cause of Harvard U. buy-in, and Spotify.

What would be your dream setup
I’m curious about that inkling thing. Maybe waiting for version two.

Well.  Now that I think about it, this would be my dream setup

LIL offices are located in Langdell Hall, about 20 feet away from Pound Hall. Part of Pound Hall is currently being jackhammered and bulldozed to make way for a new outdoor common space. Here’s a snapshot of what we see when we enter Langdell.

We’re regular readers of The Setup. We really like it. We like it so much that we’re doing a local version for the Lab. Matt is up first.

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Matt Phillips.

I work in the Harvard Library Innovation Lab. I try to make libraries better, usually by writing software.

What hardware do you use?

While at the Lab, most of my work happens on an i3, 21.5″ iMac. I have a second 24″ Acer monitor sitting next to it. I use an Apple Magic Mouse and a 109 key Apple keyboard. Pretty vanilla.

When I’m not in the office I use an i5, 15″ Mac Book Pro. I love this machine.

We have a few Dell PowerEdge machines sitting in a closet upstairs we use for testing, data crunching, and to serve up our public site. We also have a couple of Amazon EC2 instances we use for Library News and a skunkworks project.

That’s the bigger hardware.

My head spends about a third of its day wrapped in Sennheiser HD 515 headphones.

I occasionally break out of the digital world and scratch things out on paper. This usually happens when I’m trying to architect a piece of system or I’m working through some tough logic. I’ve found that I really like strips of paper for drawing out ideas. 8.5″ x 11″ pieces cut lengthwise are perfect.

Rollerball pens are my go to.

Paper also enters my workspace when I’m proofing a draft of a blog entry or something that I think might reach more than a handful friendly people. Paper and pen are so easy to use. They require very little cognitive overhead. They let you focus on the content and not the tools.

I have a first generation iPad and a third generation Kindle, but I rarely use them. If I want to do computer stuff, I use my laptop. If I want to read a book, I’m generally on paper. I’m not a paper fetishist, it’s just that my library generally lends me non-digital items.

My iPhone 4s gets regular use during the day. I use it for music and for quick pictures and videos.

And what software?

Most of my day is spent in OS X. When I’m working on one of our servers, I’m in CentOS, some Redhat somethignororther, or Ubuntu.

I rely heavily on Quicksilver for application launching.

I have a whole bunch of different user accounts and API keys. I use Keychain to keep track of them.

I manage myself using lists. Lately, I’ve been hot on Trello.

Chrome is the browser I prefer. I’ve bolstered Chrome with the JSONView plugin, the Google Screen Capture plugin, the Readable bookmarklet, the AdBlock plugin, and the Instapaper bookmarklet.

I spend most of my development time in PyDev (which is a Python centric bundling of Eclipse).

If I’m coding and I’m not in PyDev, I’m probably doing some quick proof of concept scripting or doing some PHP/JavaScript/Web development . For this type of work I’ll use TextMate if I’m working locally and vi if I’m working remotely.

We track code using git and push almost all work to GitHub. We use GitHub Issues for project management. We really dig GitHub in the lab.

GitHub encourages Markdown for READMEs and the like. When I write Markdown, I use Jon Combe’s online editor.

Spotify for tunes.

I use Skype and IRC to communicate with those outside the office. IRC happens through Colloquy.

I like to check the weather to see if I’ll be able to spin the bicycle around for a few miles after work. I’m into WeatherSpark for forecasts.

What would be your dream setup?

I could go wild with the dream setup, but I feel like bounding it a bit. Here’s what I think might be feasible in a couple years with a generous office budget.

I want a really great laptop. A third generation, i7, Retina display, 15 inch MacBook Pro. I’d pair it with a 27” Apple Thunderbolt Display. I’d pile all of that on a standing/sitting desk.

I’d also create an ideal office space. No office mates. A glass wall that insulates sound very well. I want to be able to see what’s going on in the common work areas and I want people to see that they can get me if needed, but I don’t want the noise when I’m focusing. I’m sold on the Joel Spolsky office setup.

Quick access to great coffee and water would be nice too.


My name is Jessica and I’m hanging out at here for the summer to work on a Library Lab project called Time/Slice. The idea behind it is that activity and events are part of the “data” associated with a community, but that there is no one responsible for organizing/archiving/analyzing them as such. Time/Slice is a digital bulletin board for a physical place (eg a school or neighborhood) which can be housed in the library associated with that community. It takes event submissions via email with photo/video attachments. It can also pull in video of previous events (from youtube/vimeo feeds, etc.) Everything is added and sorted automatically.

I started the project in the Library Test Kitchen course with Jeff last semester, focusing on the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Loeb Library. I ended up with a prototype that is functional but pretty buggy. You can still check it out here. (The animated blocks are entirely the work of the awesome isotope jQuery plugin.)

time/slice prototype

There were a couple of problems with it that I’m working on fixing now: speed, storing images, navigability, and a whole lot of bugs. There are also issues around how much volume it can be expected to handle, and it needs to have an easy interface for whoever’s in charge to edit content.

current version screenshot

current version as of this morning. not too pretty yet, eh?

I’ll post a link to what I’m working on now when it’s a little more stable.

We’ve been having fun with the Awesome Box lately. Signage work.

We started low-tech for the two prototype boxes we installed last month. Just a little time in Photoshop and a color printer.

The paper sign has some strengths. It’s low cost and easy to reproduce should it get damaged. But, it really doesn’t scream “Awesome.” If I checked out the paper sign from my local sign lending library, I probably wouldn’t return it to the Awesome Box. Let’s punch up the fun.

How about a sign with lights? Yes, please.

We’ve rigged up an Arduino with a photoresistor and wired that to a few LEDs. Those LEDs get routed into a sheet of plexiglass and then sandwiched between a couple of sheets of aluminum. Place a book inside, trip the sensor, and smile.

(The wires and the rest of the circuit will be cleaned up and hidden in the base of the Awesome Box.)

For situations in which the LED-based sign is not a good fit, we’re putting together an aluminum and felt sign. The thick felt will be sandwiched between two aluminum arrows much like the LED sign. Fun and stable.

Stan Cotreau in the Harvard Physics Machine Shop has been helping us fabricate the aluminum and plexi. Thanks, Stan.

Read all about it! Library Test Kitchen made the news!  Well, more accurately, we made the newsPAPER.

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Yes Ma’am that’s right, you counted correctly.  We have 16 full beautiful pages, 8 double-wides, of broadside in grayscale with a spot color of cyan.  These pages describe in words and pictures the awesome projects of the students.  Head on over to the website if you wanna watch the recorded magic.

Linco Printing out of Long Island City NY provided the printing services.  Getting assets encoded and laid out appropriately for a two-color job (black and cyan) in photoshop and indesign isn’t trivially quick.  But now that I’ve done it once….

Next time (it was too much fun for there not to be a next time), I’m thinking about using Nelson Bernard over at Eagle Printing.  They’re prices are good and they’re closer by.  Heading out to the Berkshires is always nice.

I feel like newspapers are the anti-code.  anti-software.

Most importantly, if you would like one for yourself, please send me an email with your address, and eventually, you’ll get one! jgoldenson(AT)law(DOT)harvard(DOT)edu


Here is a letter from our very own Paul Deschner, to the Harvard Library community (and – now – beyond). It was so well received here that we thought it worth sharing more broadly.

Hi all,

During this time of general re-evaluation of library services, I thought
it might be helpful to share a few thoughts from my vantage point as a
software developer at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab regarding the
relationship between our catalogers (we’re in the Law Library) and the
data they create and software development for library applications.

My project work at the Lab has time and again shown the crucial
importance not simply of cataloged records, but of cataloged records
created to a high standard. I work primarily on data platforms,
harvesting bibliographic and related data and making it accessible to
other developers who create amazing tools and services for library

One of the primary challenges in this work is getting data describing
books and periodicals (catalog records) to relate to data from
non-library sources, such as data about book talks on YouTube or to NPR
broadcasts of author interviews or to archival collections. It’s all
about connections in the data. The barer the data, the less described
it is, the more it falls flat.

On the bibliographic side, every new Library of Congress subject heading
a cataloger adds to a record creates a rich set of connective
possibilities downstream for people like me. Likewise, every uniform
title entry inserted into a record allows us to show users of our
software another edition of a given work in the context of all its
editions — a crucial feature for any discovery service in the library
materials space.

No software can create these connections if the underlying data hasn’t
been carefully composed into richly structured records, based on solid
analysis and comprehensive description. The difference is like that
between reading a newspaper consisting of headlines only and reading one
which also has accompanying articles. It is dramatic.

I hope in moving forward that we don’t lose sight of the importance of
this kind of quality analysis and description.

But also: the expertise which catalogers bring to the task of
comprehensive bibliographic description has proven crucial to me as a
reference resource in my work of designing software to harvest and
process bibliographic information. At the Law Library, the catalogers
are a few hallway steps away, and are as crucial to my being able to
create smart software as anyone on my development team. I’ve spent
countless hours, regularly throughout the years, with my cataloger
colleagues exploring the complexities of MARC data structures, uniform
title rulesets, authority record uses, holdings data locations, and much
much more. Having them as a co-located resource has been crucial to my
being able to get my software written.

There are some amazing cross-departmental symbioses here in the Harvard
Library, as well as some crucial, perhaps non-obvious, dependencies
between departments. From where I’m sitting, they comprise a major,
wonderfully effect part of our current ecosystem.

Paul Deschner
Applications Developer
Harvard Library Innovation Lab


UPDATE: Awesome Box is now well beyond the pilot phase. Visit awesomebox.io to learn how to get one at your library.

The Harvard community now has the chance to declare something Awesome. Just by dropping it in a box. Amazing, useful and entertaining library materials can now be returned to the Awesome Boxes in Widener and Lamont.

Check out what’s been Awesomed already at http://librarylab.law.harvard.edu/awesome.

This pilot phase is intended to help figure out how to make the boxes user friendly & intuitive and also how best to integrate the Awesome Box into library staff workflow. Getting the signage right is key to the first goal. It’s been a challenge to perfect the balance between simple and informative.

We want users to understand the following without using too much text.

  • What constitutes Awesome (helpful, mind-blowing, etc.)
  • What happens when an item is Awesomed (it gets marked Awesome, shared with everyone)
  • Placing an item in the Awesome Box actually returns it to the library

Hopefully more Awesome Boxes will get released into the wild soon.  In the meantime, return an Awesome item to Widener or Lamont, check out what’s Recently Awesome, and let us know what you think.

Learn more about the project.