Iterative Collaboration at LC Labs

by Jaime Mears

This is the first post in the BloggERS series on Collaborating Beyond the Archival Profession

Four women around a computer, showing the LC Labs homepage
The LC Labs Team – Abigail Potter, Jaime Mears, Meghan Ferriter, Kate Zwaard (left to right)

The LC Labs team works to increase the impact of Library of Congress digital collections. This includes not only the 2,500,000+ items available on, but also on-site only content and derivative content, such as our 25 million MARC records. We want to increase the variety of ways users engage with our content, and we get there through experimenting and collaboration, ideally setting up feedback loops whereby the work of our Library of Congress colleagues and our users can inform each other. From hands-on approaches such as crowdsourcing and tutorials for using our API, to more traditional avenues into the content such as podcasts, blog posts and works of art, we work with folks to interpret our collections in transformative ways for broader audiences.

Man in front of filing cabinets looks through Stereoscope
Innovator-in-Residence Jer Thorp visits the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs division

Our Innovator in Residence program places an individual from three months to a year with Library of Congress staff and collections to create something inspiring for the public domain. The data artist Jer Thorp is our current innovator, and it’s been a blast over the last couple months showing him what we love about this place. As a part of his residency, Jer is producing a podcast called “Artist in the Archive,” exploring both stories found in our content and the story of the content itself – how it gets here, how it’s maintained, enriched, shared, and listeners get to meet the people doing the work! He’s also exploring Library of Congress data sets (such as using network analysis to identify polymaths in our MARC records), and will create a capstone work.

congressionalchallengeInspired by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Chronicling America Data Challenge and the excellent work we see coming from the data journalism field to make data meaningful, we are running a Congressional Data Challenge in partnership with the Congressional Research Service. This competition asks participants to leverage legislative data sets on and other platforms to develop digital projects that analyze, interpret or share congressional data in user-friendly ways. Anyone can apply, and we’re even awarding $5000 for the first prize, and $1000 for the best high school class entry! We’ll also work with the winners post-challenge to host their product on our labs site.

Piloting applications with the public is our most ambitious effort at collaboration to date. Right now, we’re running a crowdsourcing application built on Scribe called Beyond Words, where website visitors can identify, transcribe, or validate images from WWI era historic newspapers in our Chronicling America collection. The beauty of this application is that it also generates a viewable gallery of these images and a public domain data set for download and use in classrooms, research, or perhaps generating further applications. Not only do members of the public contribute to the gallery and data set (we’ve had 2240 volunteers so far and 685 completed images),  but the data we gather from feedback and metrics from Beyond Words users inform application updates and the design of our upcoming transcription platform (stay tuned!).

Events allow us to create dialogues around issues we care about, widen our network of peers, and work closely with new partners. For the past two years, we’ve hosted a Collections as Data annual symposium investigating the computational readiness, impact, and ethics of library content served as data sets.  Upcoming events include leading the local planning committee for Code4Lib 2018 and co-hosting the 2018 International Image Interoperability Framework (IIIF) Conference with the Smithsonian and Folger Shakespeare Library.

To see more of what we’re up to, go to our site at and follow us on Twitter @LC-Labs. Let’s work together!

Jaime Mears jame@loc.govJaime Mears is an Innovation Specialist with the National Digital Initiatives Division at the Library of Congress. She is a former National Digital Stewardship Resident and holds an MLS from the University of Maryland.

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