I received an overdue notice a little while back.  I’ve received them many times.  But I looked at it and I realized it was pretty complicated.



  • Did I really need to know the Barcode number?
  • The date and time I originally took it out.
  • Why was the title so buried?
  • etc…

So here’s just an idea, implementing such a thing into our ILS would be difficult and demand sign-off all the way up the food chain.


But what if it could be simple HTML?




Maybe we could add a 1-click renew button.  Or, maybe a courtesy auto-renew.  Perhaps in the future we could add opt-in events listings or book recommendations, etc.

Overdue notices are the primary correspondence between the library and its community.  We should give them their due attention.



Last week we launched what we think is a useful and appealing way to browse books at scale, timed to coincide with the launch of the Digital Public Library of America. (Congrats, DPLA!!!)

StackLife DPLA (a version of what we use to call ShelfLife) shows you a visualization of books on a scrollable shelf, which we turn sideways so you can read the spines. It always shows you books in a context, on the grounds that no book stands alone. You can shift the context instantly, so that you can (for example) see a work on a shelf with all the other books classified under any of the categories professional cataloguers have assigned to it.

We also heatmap the books according to various usage metrics (“StackScore”), so you can get a sense of the work’s community relevance.

There are lots more features, and lots more to come.

StackLife DPLA is an intersecting set of functionality with StackLife Harvard we’ll be releasing the Harvard version this week. The DPLA version mashes up the books in the Digital Public Library of America’s collection (from the Biodiversity Heritage Library) with books from The Internet Archive‘s Open Library and the Hathi Trust. These are all online, accessible books, so you can just click and read them. There are 1.7M in the StackLife DPLA metacollection. (Development was funded in part by a Sprint grant from the DPLA. Thank you, DPLA!)

Here are some links:

StackLife DPLA: http://stacklife-dpla.law.harvard.edu
The DPLA press release: http://library.harvard.edu/stacklife-browse-read-digital
The DPLA version FAQ: http://stacklife-dpla.law.harvard.edu/#faq/

The StackLife team — along with the fabulous Caleb Troughton —has worked long and hard on this. We’re pretty durn proud. And we’re very excited about the launch of the DPLA, too!

LibLabStampSmallThe Harvard Library Innovation Lab is looking for a highly creative and motivated developer to dream up and develop innovative projects that chart the future of libraries.




We are a tightly knit team of six and are passionate about solving problems, having fun, and improving lives through libraries.  Join us!


This is definitely a dream job for somebody out there.


The best way to get a feel for what we do is by looking at our projects.


A sample of our work

Awesome Box is current project in the Lab


StackLife, our soon-to-launch Library Browser



Library Test Kitchen is a course we run in the Fall, in it we launched LABRARY, a Pop-Up Library Experiment


What you’ll do

* Work on a range of software projects, from large to small, that can bring immediate benefit or prototype the future.

* Make stuff with modern web technologies.  Some will be larger LiL projects, others are your own.

* Work alone with a good bit of freedom, which means a great deal of initiative is required.

* Work collaboratively on long-term and short-term projects.

* Rely on your good design sense and user-centricity.


Two possible misnomers

* While we are part of the Harvard Law School Library, which is awesome, our mission and work applies to the entire Harvard Library and academic and public library worlds.

* Our vision of the library is a flexible and ever-changing one.


We are open to a wide range of skills, from a front-end “wow the user in the browser” nerd, to a back-end “organize the world” geek. If you build cool things and can show us products that you’ve shipped, we want to talk to you.

Chat with us at lil @ law.harvard.edu or apply directly to job ID 28133BR at http://www.employment.harvard.edu/careers/findingajob/

We’ve created an embeddable widget for the Awesome Box. This widget allows Awesome Box members to share items that have been awesomed without forcing their patrons to visit the Awesome Box site.


Here’s an example of the embedded widget:


This is cool in a blog post and would be so much cooler on your library’s site.

If you’re interested in becoming an Awesome Box partner and geting your own Awesome Box widget, let us know at http://awesomebox.io

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.