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DuraSpace News: Library of Congress Survey: Are You Ready to Provide Long-term Access?

Tue, 2016-11-29 00:00

From Barrie Howard, Internship and Fellowship Programs, Library of Congress

Washington, DC  How prepared is your organization to provide long-term, durable access to its mission-critical digital content? What skills and experience do staff need to address the digital preservation needs of your organization?

DuraSpace News: AVAILABLE: DSpace-CRIS 5.6 and DSpace-CKAN

Tue, 2016-11-29 00:00

From Andrea Bollini, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer,4Science

District Dispatch: Spotlighting the value of libraries in Washington, DC

Mon, 2016-11-28 23:26

On November 17, the American Library Association (ALA) partnered with the Internet Association to hold a public session on advancing economic opportunity, targeted to the policy community in Washington, D.C. The session, chaired by ALA President Julie Todaro, was held at the Google DC office. The panel discussion was moderated by a reporter from The Hill and included representatives from Yelp and the Internet Association. The audience included a broad cross-section of Washington policy folks. The event was a great opportunity to educate an important national audience on the role and value of libraries in society.

ALA President-elect Jim Neal was a speaker at this session. In his remarks, Jim concisely articulated the many ways that libraries contribute to national goals and how library values strengthen libraries’ ability in serving the nation’s communities.

“Here Comes Everybody” panelists (left to right): Ali Breland (moderator), The Hill; Chris Hooton, Internet Association; Jim Neal, ALA; Laurent Crenshaw, Yelp

Here are Jim’s remarks based on his presentation and responses to questions at the session:

Libraries, 120,000 of all types, public, school, academic, government, corporate, are an essential component of the national information infrastructure, and are critical leaders in their communities. We stand for freedom, learning, collaboration, productivity and accessibility. We are trusted, helping to address community concerns and championing our core values, including democracy, diversity, intellectual freedom and social responsibility.

By bringing together access to technology and Internet services and by providing a wide range of information resources, community knowledge and expert information professionals, 21st century libraries transform communities and lives, promote economic development, bridge the digital divide in this country and are committed to equity of access.

Libraries are centers for research and development. Libraries support literacy, in all of its elements. Libraries are spaces for convening, collaborating and creating. Libraries help people find training and jobs. Libraries are at the core of education and scholarship. Libraries provide access to basic and emerging technologies and the education which enables their effective use.

It has been the practice of the American Library Association to evaluate priorities, and program and funding opportunities in the context of a new Administration and Congress. We must sustain and grow federal funding for universal service, for broadband and wireless deployment in schools and libraries. We must create funding for library and school construction and renovation. We must focus these efforts on underserved communities, in our cities and in our rural areas. Individuals without dependable and open Internet access and without digital skills are clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to economic opportunity and quality of life. We must maintain and expand federal investment in our nation’s libraries.

People come to libraries physically and virtually for a variety of reasons. To read, to learn, to do schoolwork. To find job training and secure employment. To file taxes. To research community services, and health concerns. Libraries support developers, freelancers, contractors, not-for-profit organizations, small business owners, and researchers. Libraries provide materials and services for the print-disabled. Libraries serve the homeless, veterans, immigrants, prisoners, and the many individuals who are seeking to make transitions and to improve their lives.

Libraries need to look beyond the programs and the funding. We must forge radical new partnerships with the first amendment, civil rights, and technology communities to advance our information policy interests and our commitment to freedom, diversity and social justice. We must prepare for the “hard ball” of the policy wars. We must fight for net neutrality, for balanced copyright and fair use, for privacy and confidentiality in the face of expanded national security surveillance, for intellectual freedom and first amendment principles, for voting rights, for the transition of immigrants to citizenship, for the dignity of all individuals. We must fight against hate in all of its bigoted manifestations.

Libraries are about education, employment, entrepreneurship, empowerment and engagement. But we are also about the imperatives of individual rights and freedoms, and about helping and supporting the people in our communities.

The post Spotlighting the value of libraries in Washington, DC appeared first on District Dispatch.

Karen Coyle: All the Books

Mon, 2016-11-28 16:41
I just joined the Book of the Month Club. This is a throwback to my childhood, because my parents were members when I was young, and I still have some of the books they received through the club. I joined because my reading habits are narrowing, and I need someone to recommend books to me. And that brings me to "All the Books."

"All the Books" is a writing project I've had on my computer and in notes ever since Google announced that it was digitizing all the books in the world. (It did not do this.) The project was lauded in an article by Kevin Kelley in the New York Times Magazine of May 14, 2006, which he prefaced with:

"What will happen to books? Reader, take heart! Publisher, be very, very afraid. Internet search engines will set them free. A manifesto."
There are a number of things to say about All the Books. First, one would need to define "All" and "Books". (We can probably take "the" as it is.) The Google scanning projects defined this as "all the bound volumes on the shelves of certain libraries, unless they had physical problems that prevented scanning." This of course defines neither "All" nor "Books".

Next, one would need to gather the use cases for this digital corpus. Through the HathiTrust project we know that a small number of scholars are using the digital files for research into language usage over time. Others are using the the files to search for specific words or names, discovering new sources of information about possibly obscure topics. As far as I can tell, no one is using these files to read books. The Open Library, on the other hand, is lending digitized books as ebooks for reading. This brings us to the statement that was made by a Questia sales person many years ago, when there were no ebooks and screens were those flickery CRTs: "Our books are for research, not reading." Given that their audience was undergraduate students trying to finish a paper by 9:30 a.m. the next morning, this was an actual use case with actual users. But the fact that one does research in texts one does not read is, of course, not ideal from a knowledge acquisition point of view.

My biggest beef with "All the Books" is that it treats them as an undifferentiated mass, as if all the books are equal. I always come back to the fact that if you read one book every week for 60 years (which is a good pace) you will have read 3,120. Up that to two books a week and you've covered 6,240 of the estimated 200-300 million books represented in WorldCat. The problem isn't that we don't have enough books to read; the problem is finding the 3-6,000 books that will give us the knowledge we need to face life, and be a source of pleasure while we do so. "All the Books" ignores the heights of knowledge, of culture, and of art that can be found in some of the books. Like Sarah Palin's response to the question "Which newspapers form your world view?", "all of them" is inherently an anti-intellectual answer, either by someone who doesn't read any of them, or who isn't able to distinguish the differences.

"All the Books" is a complex concept. It includes religious identity; the effect of printing on book dissemination; the loss of Latin as a universal language for scholars; the rise of non-textual media. I hope to hunker down and write this piece, but meanwhile, this is a taste.

Karen Coyle: All the Books

Mon, 2016-11-28 16:41
I just joined the Book of the Month Club. This is a throwback to my childhood, because my parents were members when I was young, and I still have some of the books they received through the club. I joined because my reading habits are narrowing, and I need someone to recommend books to me. And that brings me to "All the Books."

"All the Books" is a writing project I've had on my computer and in notes ever since Google announced that it was digitizing all the books in the world. (It did not do this.) The project was lauded in an article by Kevin Kelley in the New York Times Magazine of May 14, 2006, which he prefaced with:

"What will happen to books? Reader, take heart! Publisher, be very, very afraid. Internet search engines will set them free. A manifesto."
There are a number of things to say about All the Books. First, one would need to define "All" and "Books". (We can probably take "the" as it is.) The Google scanning projects defined this as "all the bound volumes on the shelves of certain libraries, unless they had physical problems that prevented scanning." This of course defines neither "All" nor "Books".

Next, one would need to gather the use cases for this digital corpus. Through the HathiTrust project we know that a small number of scholars are using the digital files for research into language usage over time. Others are using the the files to search for specific words or names, discovering new sources of information about possibly obscure topics. As far as I can tell, no one is using these files to read books. The Open Library, on the other hand, is lending digitized books as ebooks for reading. This brings us to the statement that was made by a Questia sales person many years ago, when there were no ebooks and screens were those flickery CRTs: "Our books are for research, not reading." Given that their audience was undergraduate students trying to finish a paper by 9:30 a.m. the next morning, this was an actual use case with actual users. But the fact that one does research in texts one does not read is, of course, not ideal from a knowledge acquisition point of view.

My biggest beef with "All the Books" is that it treats them as an undifferentiated mass, as if all the books are equal. I always come back to the fact that if you read one book every week for 60 years (which is a good pace) you will have read 3,120. Up that to two books a week and you've covered 6,240 of the estimated 200-300 million books represented in WorldCat. The problem isn't that we don't have enough books to read; the problem is finding the 3-6,000 books that will give us the knowledge we need to face life, and be a source of pleasure while we do so. "All the Books" ignores the heights of knowledge, of culture, and of art that can be found in some of the books. Like Sarah Palin's response to the question "Which newspapers form your world view?", "all of them" is inherently an anti-intellectual answer, either by someone who doesn't read any of them, or who isn't able to distinguish the differences.

"All the Books" is a complex concept. It includes religious identity; the effect of printing on book dissemination; the loss of Latin as a universal language for scholars; the rise of non-textual media. I hope to hunker down and write this piece, but meanwhile, this is a taste.

District Dispatch: New judicial rule poses massive privacy threat

Mon, 2016-11-28 13:30

Ever hear of Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure? Neither has practically anyone else, including Members of Congress. Unless Congress says “wait” before Dec. 1, it will grant federal law enforcement authorities sweeping new powers to remotely hack into computers or computer systems – maybe yours or your library’s — to neutralize a cybersecurity threat that they think those computers are helping to distribute.


Congress has until just December 1 to pass a bill delaying that effective date of the new Rule so it can at least hold a hearing on the intended and unintended consequences of this potentially disruptive, privacy-invasive new Rule. That bill is the “Review the Rule Act” (S.3475; H.R.6341), which would delay the implementation of changes to Rule 41 until July 1, 2017.

There’s still time to stop Rule 41 from going into effect without Congressional scrutiny, but not much! Please, tell your Congressperson and both of your Senators to cosponsor and vote for the Review the Rule Act without delay.

(For more details about Rule 41 and the serious problems that its adoption could produce, please see this November 21 article in The Hill newspaper and the letter just sent to House and Senate leaders by ALA and 25 others to which it refers.)

The post New judicial rule poses massive privacy threat appeared first on District Dispatch.

Peter Murray: Want to buy a can opener?

Fri, 2016-11-25 13:25

This has to be among the weirdest pieces of unsolicited mail I’ve ever received. Nigerian prince? That is so yesterday. Virtual pharmacy? Too much effort. No, what we want to sell you is a can opener!

Hi Sir/Madam,

Glad to hear that you’re on the market for can opener.

We specialize in this field for 5 years, with good quality and pretty competitive price. Also we have our own professional designers to meet any of your requirements.

Should you have any questions, call me, let’s talk details.

Yours Sincerely,


TEL: 86-662-3670199 / 3666679
FAX: 86-662-3666679

This came through the general information account at my employer, Index Data. Needless to say, as a boutique software development firm specializing in creating applications for libraries we are not in the market for a can opener.

Curious, I tried to find the company — it is in the center of this map on Fu’an St:

That is a highly packed area! I don’t think what Google thinks are roads are actually there. Looking at the map makes me wonder what life is like in that area.

I searched their website for can openers, but I couldn’t find one. They do have knives and cookie cutters and silicone kitchen utensils, so I wonder if can openers is something they are looking to expand into.

Coral Sheldon-Hess: Russian spice tea

Thu, 2016-11-24 21:17

My house smells amazing right now, because I am making my great-grandmother’s Russian spice tea, to bring to my friends’ Thanksgiving dinner. It’s a delightful winter party drink, and it’s also good to make if you have a household full of people fighting a cold.

And, speaking of cold and flu season, because the recipe was already on my mind, I also made the instant version, so that we can drink it all winter. It’s good when you’re feeling well, but it feels like magic when you are stuffy or have a bit of a sore throat. (You could throw in more cloves for extra numbing effect—who needs Chloraseptic?)

The instant version isn’t something you’d confuse for the real thing. It’s a tasty beverage in its own right, but it is different from the fresh version. It’s good to have on hand, though: I don’t know about you, but I don’t always have the energy to juice 11 citruses. (With arthritis, I don’t actually ever; Dale juiced more than half of the citruses today.)

I’m sharing both recipes here, so that you can also enjoy one or both of these winter beverages. (Fair warning: they both contain a fair bit of sugar.)

Nanny’s Russian spice tea

(with a few modifications by Coral)

  • 8 cups water
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (more would be OK)
  • 3 bags of black tea
  • 3 lemons
  • 8 oranges
  • 2 cups sugar

Juice the citruses. (Keep the peels, and you can use them for candied citrus peels. Don’t listen to Martha Stewart; you don’t have to include grapefruits, and lemon and lime peels are both great, candied.)

Put the spices and the water into a pot, and bring to a boil.

Remove from heat, add the tea bags, and let it stand for 10 minutes.

Add the citrus juice and sugar.

Enjoy hot. If you don’t drink it all right away, it’ll last in the refrigerator for a few days and can be reheated by the mugful.

Instant Russian spice tea

(with a few modifications by Coral)

  • 2 cups of Tang powder
  • 1 pouch of Wyler’s lemonade mix (I used 6 of those little “make a bottle of water into lemonade” pouches, and that worked fine)
  • 1.5 cups of unsweetened instant tea powder
  • 3 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 scant tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1/2 tsp ginger (more would be fine)
  • 3/4 cup sugar

Mix all of the ingredients up. Store in an airtight container (or several — one for home, one for work, etc.).

To drink: Mix two heaping teaspoons per cup of hot water.


(The image from the post header shows both types of Russian spice tea, together.)

Brown University Library Digital Technologies Projects: Django project update

Wed, 2016-11-23 18:09

Recently, I worked on updating one of our Django projects. It hadn’t been touched for a while, and Django needed to be updated to a current version. I also added some automated tests, switched from mod_wsgi to Phusion Passenger, and moved the source code from subversion to git.

Django Update

The Django update didn’t end up being too involved. The project was running Django 1.6.x, and I updated it to the Django LTS 1.8.x. Django migrations were added in Django 1.7, and as part of the update I added an initial migration for the app. In my test script, I needed to add a django.setup() for the new Django version, but otherwise, there weren’t any code changes required.

 Automated Tests

This project didn’t have any automated tests. I added a few tests that exercised the basic functionality of the project by hitting different URLs with the Django test client. These tests were not comprehensive, but they did run a signification portion of the code.

mod_wsgi => Phusion Passenger

We used to use mod_wsgi for serving our Python code, but now we use Phusion Passenger. Passenger lets us easily run Ruby and Python code on the same server, and different versions of Python if we want (eg. Python 2.7 and Python 3). (The mod_wsgi site has details of when it can and can’t run different versions of Python.)

Subversion => Git

Here at the Brown University Library, we used to store our source code in subversion. Now we put our code in Git, either on Bitbucket or Github, so one of my changes was to move this project’s code from subversion to git.

Hopefully these changes will make it easier to work with the code and maintain it in the future.

District Dispatch: Tax Forms Outlet Program deadline approaches

Wed, 2016-11-23 16:41

Source: 401(K) 2012

Libraries participating in the Tax Forms Outlet Program (TFOP) for filing season 2017 should be aware that orders for 2016 tax forms can now be placed. The deadline to submit orders is November 28, 2016.

TFOP participants can submit orders via email to using the Form 8635, Order for Tax Forms Outlet Program (TFOP). To ensure that you receive the products once they have been printed and ready to be released, the IRS recommends that you order as early as possible.

If you need assistance with placing your order, please contact the IRS TFOP Administrator at

The post Tax Forms Outlet Program deadline approaches appeared first on District Dispatch.

Library of Congress: The Signal: Conference Report: Digital Library Federation 2016 Forum

Wed, 2016-11-23 14:54

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) 2016 Forum was held alongside the DLF Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference and Digital Preservation 2016 this year from November 6-10 at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Self-described as a  ”meeting place, marketplace, and congress“ of digital librarians from member institutions and the wider community, the conference, under the leadership of Bethany Nowviskie, set a welcome precedent of accessibility and inclusivity this year. As registration began, DLF released a major revision to their Code of Conduct, expanding the statement to include appropriate models of behavior for the event (such as giving the floor to under-represented viewpoints) and detailing what behaviors may qualify as harassment (such as “sustained disruption of talks or other events”).

Other efforts included publishing a guide to creating accessible presentations, encouraging DLF community members to vote on the program, offering the option to list a preferred gender pronoun on conference name tags and sponsoring an Ally Skills Workshop that taught “simple, everyday ways to support women in their workplaces and communities” that took place on November 8th.

This ethical intentionality set the tone of the forum, whose keynotes and panels resonated around a central theme of professional self-critique and care. What are our responsibilities as digital librarians? What can we do better? How do our actions reflect who we care for and who we don’t?

“Ethics and the Digital Library” session sketchnotes by Kristen Briney on figshare. 

Jarret M. Drake, Digital Archivist at Princeton University’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, opened the DLF Liberal Arts Colleges Pre-Conference with his keynote “Documenting Dissent in the Contemporary College Archive: Finding our Function within the Liberal Arts,” in which he argued that college archives should document student protests and activist efforts that are critical of the campus in an effort to stop re-occurring injustices.

Stacie Williams, the Learning Lab Manager at the University of Kentucky’s Special Collections Research Center, gave the DLF Forum keynote titled “All Labor is Local.” Speaking from her experience as a mother of two, Williams highlighted the necessity of care work in making all other types of labor possible. She called for all librarians to evaluate their organizations, tools and systems with a caregiver’s approach- do they meet basic needs, sustain societal functionality and/or alleviate pain? Williams urged libraries to prioritize our impact on local communities, stop unpaid and underpaid digitization labor and exploiting student labor in general. She highlighted Mukurtu, an open-source content management system that empowers indigenous communities to manage their digital heritage on their own terms, as an example of a care-based project that embodied these ideals.

Bergis Jules,  the University and Political Papers Archivist at the University of California, Riverside library, opened Digital Preservation 2016 with his keynote “Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in Archives,” in which he pointed to a library profession, its archives and funding agencies dominated by white perspectives that have failed to care for the legacies of marginalized groups and who share responsibility for the eradication and/or distortion of these groups. He praised community archive projects such as the Digital Transgender Archive, A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland, and The South Asian American Digital Archive as models we should look to as we evaluate how our own collections represent or silence marginalized groups.

National Digital Initiatives is interested in approaches to computational use of library collections, and we were pleased to see a large representation of digital scholarship themed panels at the forum. Much like the Collections as Data symposium we hosted earlier this year, practitioners focused on people over tools in their presentations. At #t2d: Managing Scope and Scale: Applying the Incubator Model to Digital Scholarship panel, librarians from UCLA, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, University of Michigan and Florida State described their efforts to build digital scholarship communities on campus and facilitate research projects. Programs such as Florida State University’s Project Enhancement Network and Incubator (PEN & Inc.) and UCLA’s Digital Research Start-Up Partnerships for Graduate Students (DREsSUP) programs enroll faculty, librarians and graduate students in collaborative projects that encourage mutual skill-building and perpetuated mentorship. Representatives from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, who have graduated three cohorts from their Digital Scholarship Incubator program to date, also discussed the shared challenge of balancing the need for iterative, responsive support for fellows with a set curriculum.

Paige Morgan, Digital Humanities Librarian at the University of Miami, and Helene Williams, Senior Lecturer at the University of Washington Information School, presented the results of their quantitative investigation of the role of digital humanities (DH) & digital scholarship (DS) during the #t5b: DH panel. Studying job ads from 2009 to 2016, they found skills for these types of positions have changed and expanded significantly over time, from an emphasis on digitization and databases (2010) to data management, analysis, project management and understanding the scholarly communication process (2016). Skills associated with copyright and rights management consistently increased over the period.

Morgan’s tweet featuring the tableau visualization of DH/DS competencies by Morgan and Williams. For the full worksheet, click here. 

Later in this session, Matt Burton and Aaron Brenner from the University of Pittsburgh used adult learning theory to ground their talk “Avoiding techno-service-solutionism. Organizations who want to cultivate DH culture among staff, they argued, should shift their thinking towards one of mutual inquiry and a provision of differences, moving from a bounded set, or “in” and “out”, model of thinking to a centered set that assumes everyone is on a vector heading towards a DH future.

See their slide deck and accompanying references here.

This visualization of membership models  struck me as representative of the forum as a whole. Many attendees at DLF pushed back against a static, inherently exclusive definition of librarianship, illustrating instead either literally or by example a dynamic definition that recognizes we are all on the same vector and must use our work to facilitate meaning-making and care with each other and our communities.

To see NDI’s presentation at Digital Preservation 2016, see this Signal post.

The next DLF forum will be held from October 23-25 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


Library of Congress: The Signal: Initiatives at the Library of Congress (Digital Preservation 2016 Talk)

Wed, 2016-11-23 14:52

Here’s the text of the presentation I gave during the Initiatives panel at Digital Preservation 2016, held in collaboration with the DLF Forum on November 10, 2016. This presentation is about what the National Digital Initiatives division has been up to in FY16 and what’s coming up in FY17. For a report on the DLF Forum, see this Signal post.

Hello! I’m Jaime Mears and I am from the Library of Congress, with National Digital Initiatives, a division of National and International Outreach.

Among our goals, we are looking for strategic partnerships that help increase access, awareness and engagement with our collections. So, as I present what we’ve done and what we plan to do, please think about whether there may be any synergies with efforts at your own institution.

National Digital Initiatives is a small and agile team created in 2015 to maximize the benefit of the Library of Congress’ digital collections. Kate Zwaard, our chief, previously managed the Digital Repository Development team and led efforts to ingest three petabytes of digital collections. You may have come across some of Mike Ashenfelder’s communication work with the Library from The Signal, and Abbey Potter was formerly an NDSA organizer and a program officer for NDIIPP. I’m the newest member of the group and I was hired fresh off of my time as a National Digital Stewardship Resident, where I built a lab for personal digital archiving.

I’m not new to the Library though. Back in 2012, I worked as intern for about eight months in the Manuscript Division, where I had the privilege of helping process the Charles and Ray Eames collection. The Eames’s are makers of the Eames chair and various modern works of art across formats like film, graphic design and architecture.

In an effort to impose order at Ray’s office at their design studio in California, Ray’s team used to clear her desk periodically, put everything in a shopping bag, large envelope, basket, silk scarf or whatever was handy, and slap a piece of masking tape on it with the date. In processing the collection at the Library, the decision was made to preserve these bundles as Andy Warhol-esque time capsules.

It was my job to go through these  bags and essentially help make them accessible for researchers. The strategy was to  group together provocative pieces and pieces that were indicative of the color palettes or design themes she was collecting at the time into arrangements to entice someone to investigate the rest. Sort of like a visual index into the capsules.

Four years, three library jobs and one MLS degree later, I’m back at the Library of Congress and I recognize that even in this new role I’m still doing something very similar with the National Digital Initiatives team: provoking  exploration, getting users to engage with the Library’s material and staff and surfacing important work that often goes unseen.

We try to highlight digital projects happening across the Library. For example, here is the debut of the Library’s new homepage, the first of many roll outs of a massive site redesign.

This is Natalie Buda Smith, the supervisor of our User Experience team that is working on this redesign. I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the Signal last month and we discussed what it’s like to do a redesign like this for the Library of Congress, which has had a website for over 20 years. Because the Library of Congress was such an early implementer of digital collections, the growing pains of refreshing the interface and making the collection easily accessible can’t be understated. One of her goals is bringing a sense of joy of discovery to the user, and part of her team’s strategies for the homepage was to tell a story as a way of showing that we are more than just our holdings.

So what other strategies does NDI use to tell stories, to provoke, to invite? How do we show that the Library is more than just a collection of things in specific subjects?

There are multiple strategies; I can’t call them buckets because they’re not mutually exclusive. In fact they tend to build on one another, bleed together and most importantly all depend on multiple stakeholders both in and outside of the Library to be successful.

We host events, we highlight collections, we highlight our efforts and those of our colleagues internally and externally, we develop programs, we facilitate experimentation and investigation (usually the final product is a report or example project) of our digital collections and we partner with outside GLAM practitioners. In time, we hope to include data journalists, artists, local community organizations and lifelong learners. Our team is dedicated to a “ rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy.

I will discuss six initiatives that we did this year and then — at the end — layout our game plan for FY17.

We began with a basic question – “Who out there was using our collections?” Traditionally, most units have done this through monthly web metrics reports but we wanted profiles that were more detailed, to give us some direction in our outreach. We partnered with our communications office and Library Services, and came up with three priority areas we wanted profiled: two about types of audiences (undergraduate and graduate students, writers and creative professionals) and one about content (who was using our public domain and rights-cleared content).

We hired a marketing firm to build profiles of these priority areas and we learned  important user behavior trends and ways that we could target these groups. We will use the information from the audience analysis to help design and execute a digital-outreach campaign for existing and upcoming LC digital collections.

To facilitate experimentation and investigation of some of our dark archives, we partnered with the Library of Congress Web Services and the Law Library, and the non-profit Archives Unleashed (Ian Milligan, Matthew Weber and Jimmy Lin). Together we hosted the Library’s first hackathon.

Scholars came from around the world and had two and a half days to partner up, form a query, choose data sets to investigate and present their findings. You can read about this event on The Signal.

This was the first time some of our web archives had ever been used by researchers. Here you see a word cloud that one team generated of Supreme Court nominations. We discovered that there was a Justice Roberts and a Senator Roberts, which threw off our text-mining efforts. Law Librarian Andrew Weber was on this team and gave context to the researchers about why they were seeing skewed results in the word cloud. That was a great example of engaging curators with the researchers.

We co-hosted DPLA fest in 2016 with the National Archives and Records Administration and the Smithsonian Institution.

We hosted a summit in September called Collections as Data. You may have seen it on Twitter as the hasthag #AsData. We invited leaders and experts from organizations that are collecting, preserving, using and providing researchers access to digital collections that are used as data. We asked them to share best practices and lessons learned. The event featured speakers such as data artist Jer Thorp of the Office for Creative Research, data curator Thomas Padilla at UC Santa Barbara, Maciej Ceglowski of Pinboard and Marisa Parham, director of the Five College Digital Humanities Project.

Data humanism surfaced as a uniting theme of the day’s talks. Although data is a human invention, and one that is often very personal, it can be used to:

  • dehumanize people through data collection without consent or collaboration
  • create biased metadata and technical barriers for entry
  • produce design that is falsely interpreted as neutral.

Solutions suggested during the day included collecting and describing data sets with creators, cultivating diverse user communities to benefit from the data, and being transparent about decisions taken by libraries as they make these sets available.

So far the archived streamed video has been viewed over 8000 times, so we feel that the conference registered with a lot of people who are thinking about how to support data scholarship.

The day after the conference, we brought together 30 Library of Congress staff members and 30 invited guests to discuss how the Library could improve data scholarship. We are currently working on some of those recommendations and looking into partnerships. We will publish a report on the conference next month by Thomas Padilla, as well as a series of visualizations by Oliver Bendorf.

We opened an internal call for staff to apply to experiment with Library of Congress digital collections on a part-time, temporary assignment.

We had a number of colleagues apply, and chose Tong Wang, a repository developer and Chris Adams, a developer from the World Digital Library, to be our inaugural fellows.

Seeing our developers use the privilege of time to explore the collections and play with them was a really joyous part of this year for us. We hope to expand the program to a wider, external pool of applicants next round.

We asked two outside experts to do a proof-of-concept for a digital scholars lab in partnership with the Library’s John W. Kluge Center. The Kluge Center hosts a number of senior scholars and post-doctoral fellows, including most recently Dame Wendy Hall. Our goal in this pilot is to demonstrate what a lightweight implementation of using collections as data could look like. There will be a workflow to demo with some of our web archives.

If you’ve seen a theme rise out of these initiatives to increase engagement with our collections, you wouldn’t be wrong. Our focus right now is enabling computational use of our digital collections, although we foresee year to year these themes changing depending upon what’s happening in the GLAM community at large or internally at the Library where we could best be helpful.

So what’s happening now, coming up?

Library Innovation Fellowship: As you heard before, we opened this up internally last year, but we  are currently investigating funding approaches and hope to complete the fellowship this year.

Digital Scholars Lab Implementation with the Kluge Center: Final report and pilot for the Digital Scholars Lab will be done by the end of December, and we will leverage those recommendations to begin piloting enhanced support for digital scholarship in the Kluge Center.

Lab Site Visits: We visited MITH, DCIC and the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab, and we will continue to visit labs in libraries, archives, museums and media through the year along the east coast to learn how they are serving collections as data and engaging their communities.

Hackathon: We are currently co-organizing a hackathon for the spring that will include an introductory workshop on analytical tools and methods.

Annual Summit: Following on the success of the Collections as Data summit held in September 2016, NDI will host another conference in a similar style. We’d love to hear suggestions about topics.

Architecture Design Environment Summit: We will partner with other Library of Congress divisions to host a symposium next fall exploring preservation and access of Architecture, Design, and Engineering software and file formats.

Partnership Development: Last and most important, we are looking for opportunities to collaborate. Do you have a lab that we could visit? Are you or your colleagues interested in co-hosting a hackathon with us? Are you also looking to enhance access to your digital collections and want to connect? Talk to us. As you’ve seen from some of the things we’ve accomplished, they have all been through collaboration.

You can email us at You can also check us out on The Signal as we write about our initiatives and other cool digital projects happening at the Library and in the broader GLAM community. Thanks so much.


Open Knowledge Foundation: launches collection of fiscal transparency tools for journalists and civil society organisations.

Wed, 2016-11-23 14:45

Berlin, November 21, 2016 – Today, the beta version of OpenBudgets is officially released to the public. The Horizon 2020-funded project seeks to advance transparency and accountability in the fiscal domain by providing journalists, CSOs, NGOs, citizens and public administrations with state-of-the-art tools needed to effectively process and analyze financial data.

For the beta version, we have developed tools around the three pillars of the project: data analytics, citizen engagement, and journalism. In the realm of data analytics, we present a time series forecasting algorithm that integrates with OpenSpending and predicts and visualizes the development of budgets into the future. As for citizen engagement, the participatory budgeting interface lets users preview the interaction with the budget allocation process. Finally, the highly praised ‘budget cooking recipes’ website highlights the journalistic value of budget data by listing cases in which it has been used to investigate corruption.

Tools, data and stories will be continuously added and improved over the next months as three large-scale pilot scenarios in the domains of participatory budgeting, data journalism and corruption prevention will be launched to gain further insights. These insights will feed into the overall platform for fiscal data. develops tools for the analysis of fiscal data. On the fiscal data platform, users can upload, visualise, analyse and compare financial data. Specific tools will be offered to our target audiences: municipalities, participatory budgeting organisations and journalists. Municipalities can use micro-sites to publish their budget and spending data on designated websites, participatory budgeting organisations can use decision-making and monitoring tools to support the process, and journalists are provided with tailor-made tooling and tutorials. has launched a call for tender for the improvement of transparency and modernization of budget and spending data directed at municipalities, regional governments, and qualified legal entities. Find more information on the website. is a EU funded project run by an international consortium of nine partners:
Open Knowledge International, Journalism++, Open Knowledge Greece, Bonn University, Fraunhofer IAIS, Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, Fundación Civio, Transparency International-EU, and University of Economics, Prague.

Press contact:
Anna Alberts – Open Knowledge Foundation Germany | @OpenBudgetsEU

Read the blog post on the prototype launch of

Press releases available in other languages:

In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Library Lockdown: An escape room by kids for the community

Wed, 2016-11-23 14:00

In Brief

Hoping to bring the unexpected to Nebraska City, the Morton-James Public Library applied for an ALA Association for Library Service to Children Curiosity Creates grant to undertake an ambitious project: build an escape room. In a library storage room. With children. The hope was  by trying something completely different, we could increase interest in the library throughout the community and build a sense of ownership in the participants, while encouraging creativity and having a lot of fun. Library Lockdown was a four-month program that brought several dozen kids together—age 8 to 13—to build a fully-functioning escape room. Their creation, the Lab of Dr. Morton McBrains, is now open for business.


It all began with a “what if?” and a “why not?” Well, really it started with a large storage room and a grant solicitation. The result was a transformation of not only a space in the library, but in the library’s space in the community. In the spring of 2016, we guided a group of kids in building an escape room in the Morton-James Public Library. It was an extraordinarily fun (and time consuming!) project; and while our goals were mainly focused on what the participants and what the community would take away from it, we were the ones who probably learned the most.

We shared some of our reflections in a short Library Journal article (Thoegersen & Thoegersen, 2016), but wanted to share our experiences in more depth. Our hope is that, after reading this, you will be inspired to create your own flavor of Library Lockdown in your own library. But first, a little exposition.

The Place

Aerial View of Morton-James Public Library, Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

Morton-James Public Library serves the community of Nebraska City, in southeast Nebraska. Nebraska City has a population of 7,289 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2014). The population is predominately white (91.5%) and is 10.9% Hispanic/Latino. The percentage of people with income below the poverty level was 15.1%, which is higher than the percentage for the state of Nebraska (12.9%), but comparable to the United States as a whole (15.6%).

Built in 1897 (with additions in 1933 and 2002), the public library building is beautiful and historic; it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Nebraska State Historical Society, 2012). It can also seem a bit of a maze and has lots of nooks and crannies. One such nook was a rather large storage room full of used books, holiday decorations, and a miscellany of craft supplies. This room also had some water damage and moldy carpet that needed to be replaced. It was clearly in need of some love and perhaps a new purpose, as well.

The Project

In August 2015, we became aware of the Curiosity Creates grants administered  by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) division of the American Library Association (ALA). Thanks to a donation from Disney, over seventy $7,500 grants were to be awarded to libraries in order “to promote exploration and discovery for children ages 6 to 14” through programming that promotes creativity (American Library Association, 2015). The grant could be used to grow an existing library program or to develop completely new programming. Grant recipients were notified in October 2015, and they were expected to implement their project and complete a project report by May 31, 2016.

Inspired by the availability and purpose of this grant, the recent popularity of escape rooms around the world, and the breakoutEDU movement, Rasmus hit upon an intriguing idea: What if we turned this neglected storage room into an escape room? And why not give kids a chance to build it themselves?

Interlude: So, what is an escape room?

The escape room concept was created by 35-year-old Takao Kato in Kyoto, Japan in 2007 as a way to have a real-life adventure like those he encountered in literature as a child (Corkill, 2009). Escape rooms are like a real-life video game, where you and your friends are “locked”*1 in a room and must search for clues and solve puzzles to determine how to get out. “In order to escape the room the player must be observant of his/her surroundings and use their critical thinking skills as well as elements in the room to aid in their escape” (The Escape Game Nashville, 2015). Escape rooms come in many shapes and sizes but generally include the following:

  1. A story
  2. Puzzles, clues, and riddles
  3. A time limit
  4. A lot of fun

Library Lockdown

Thus the idea of Library Lockdown was born. The plan was for the program to run during the spring of 2016. The group of kids would meet at the library weekly, first learning about escape rooms and puzzles, and then creating the story, decorations, and puzzles for one of their own. After being awarded the ALSC grant in October 2015, library staff went to work clearing out the storage room. The carpet was replaced with the help of a separate, local grant. Library Lockdown was advertised in person by circulation staff, in the local paper, and in local schools. Potential participants were asked to fill out a registration form and a photo waiver.

Based on the registration forms received, Saturdays were selected as the weekly meeting time. The first meeting was February 13th, and two dozen kids showed up. We had meetings every Saturday until the grand opening on May 25th.2

The number of kids attending each meeting varied from ten to nearly 30; with usually around fifteen present. Nearly three dozen kids participated in at least one meeting, but there was a core group of about ten that attended the majority of the meetings. This provided continuity from week to week.

The format for the meetings was generally five to ten minutes of introducing the day’s activities and forty-five to sixty  minutes of work, followed by lunch (paid by the grant). The first few weeks were focused on having the kids solve puzzles on a theme (appropriately, the first week’s theme was Valentine’s Day).

During week three, the kids selected the theme for the room (zombies), and also decided they wanted to make a zombie movie that would play before and during an escape room run. Then, they began making puzzles themselves and creating different parts of the room. For every subsequent week (except the week we filmed the movie), we planned for at least four separate groups, each supervised by an adult. These groups initially started out very broad:

  1. The tech group was provided with old electronics, a laptop, a couple of Makey Makey kits and a Squishy Circuits kit to use as the basis of a puzzle.
  2. The storytellers brainstormed about the backstory for the room, as well as the screenplay for the zombie movie.
  3. The puzzle group was tasked with coming up with ideas for puzzles.
  4. The “zombiemakers” were given costume makeup and old clothes to practice zombie makeup and create zombie clothes for the movie.

As the weeks progressed, group work became far more specific; they would have a specific task related to a specific piece of the room, e.g. a particular puzzle or props for the room.The final meetings involved pulling everything together and setting up and testing the room.

Creating decorations for the Lab of Dr. Morton McBrains; Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

The grand opening event was on Wednesday, May 25th. The families of all of the participants were invited, along with members of the community. The Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce organization held a ribbon cutting, which was covered by the local paper and radio station (Partsch, 2016; Hannah & Swanson, 2016). The city’s mayor and his family were the official first group to attempt to escape the room, and, while they were “locked” in solving puzzles, everyone else was in the library gallery having a pizza party and solving puzzle boxes that were on their tables. Over 100 people attended the grand opening event, including twenty-two of the Library Lockdown participants. Every participant received their own lock and a family pass to the commercial escape room, Escape This, which opened in Nebraska City just as Library Lockdown wrapped up.

The Library Lockdown escape room is now open for business and is free for anyone to play, though donations are accepted. Groups must book the room in advance by calling the library. The room can be booked any day the library is open from thirty minutes after opening to an hour and a half before close. Generally, only one group may play the room per day, ensuring that there is time to reset the room for the next group and that it isn’t taking up too much staff time. Since its opening, twenty-five groups have played the room (over 150 individuals), and there are currently eight reservations through December 2016. The groups have been families, work groups, school classes, scouting troops, and groups of friends. The escape room will likely remain open until there is a new, interesting idea for how to repurpose the room once again.

Fostering creativity

“Although creativity is a complex and multifaceted construct, for which there is no agreed-upon definition, it is viewed as a critical process involved in the generation of new ideas, the solution of problems, or the self-actualization of individuals…” (Esquivel, 1995, p. 186)

When we discussed what we wanted kids to take away from their participation in Library Lockdown, we relied heavily on a white paper by Hadani & Jaeger (2015) highlighted by ALSC and published by the Center for Childhood Creativity. This paper introduces seven components of creativity:Imagination & Originality, Flexibility, Decision Making, Communication & Self-Expression, Motivation, Collaboration, and Action & Movement. For each component, the authors present a body of research explaining its role in fostering creativity and provide strategies and examples for incorporating each component into projects.

As part of the grant application, we were asked to identify which of the seven components were most critical for the project. We chose to focus on two: Imagination & Originality, and Collaboration. While all of the components played a role in the project, we felt these two were the most vital to success and used the strategies suggested by Hadani & Jaeger for these components as a guide when planning Library Lockdown meetings.

Imagination was key because the kids were starting with an empty room and no story. They had to consider many possibilities and visualize the details of the escape room. Hadani & Jaeger provided five strategies for promoting imagination, which we found to be some of the most valuable guidance, especially during the early weeks of the project.

  • Generate ideas by building on other ideas: This was how we approached puzzle making in the beginning. We created dozens of puzzles for the kids to try out (some thought up by ourselves, many modified from those found through amazing resources like breakoutEDU). We would then ask the kids to build a similar, but new, puzzle. This didn’t always lead to the creation of functional puzzles, but it did help put kids in the mindset of creating their own puzzles.
  • Generate lots of ideas: We used this strategy for determining the theme and story for the room. At the third session, after spending a few weeks having the kids solve and modify puzzles, we had the kids pick a theme for the room. They split into groups and, guided by an adult, wrote down as many possible themes as they could think of. They came up with some pretty awesome themes–like candyland, haunted library, and star wars–before selecting “zombie” by voting for their favorites.

Drafts of the story for the Library Lockdown escape room; Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

  • Plenty of imaginary play and unstructured time: Though we often provided very structured tasks for the kids to work on during meetings, we also included several opportunities for freer, less structured activities. This included giving groups a room full of craft and other materials and puzzle books, and letting them spend the entire time attempting to make puzzles. This time did not result in many strong, functional puzzles, but allowed the kids to experiment and play.

Library Lockdown participants working together to create a puzzle with Play-Dough; Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

  • Encourage new ideas and building on others’ ideas: We generally had kids work in groups of three to six, each led by an adult, which allowed us to guide conversations and ensure each kid was able to share their ideas in a positive environment.

Given the time constraints and the variety of tasks involved, the kids had to collaborate and rely on each other to ensure that the puzzles, props, and story formed a cohesive whole. One of Hadani and Jaeger’s suggested strategies for promoting collaboration was providing “project-based opportunities that are structured to avoid merely splitting of tasks in favor of sharing and co-creating.” Given the number of participants and the amount and variety of work that needed to be accomplished, logistically, we had to split participants into multiple groups, each with a different purpose or task. However, each group had to work together to achieve their individual objectives, and all of the groups fed into the same shared goal.

A good example was a puzzle that involved a robot maze. Using grant money, we purchased Dash and Dot, a set of programmable robots. The group working on the puzzle first worked together to program the robots so that by pushing buttons on Dot, Dash would move. At subsequent meetings, they determined how wide the maze paths had to be for Dash to be able to move easily, designed several iterations of the maze on paper, measured out and colored in where the walls would be, and painted the maze. At every step, they worked on these tasks together. Sometimes this was out of necessity (it’s pretty hard to use a chalk line alone), but mostly they were doing tasks together that they could have done individually. This allowed them to problem solve, share ideas, and create something better together.

Psychological ownership

A major outcome we were interested in fostering was a sense of ownership of the library among the community, especially the youth participating in Library Lockdown. Pierce et al. (2003) define psychological ownership as “that state where an individual feels as though the target of ownership or a piece of that target is ‘theirs’ (i.e., it is MINE!)” The project was embarked upon with the hope that creating a physical space would instill a sense of accomplishment and pride, and the children would develop a sense of ownership over the library. Though we did not attempt to measure the participants’ feelings of ownership in any formal way, many of the participants started referring to the escape room as “their room,” and those who played the room with their family or school groups pointed out the puzzles they helped make and enjoyed watching their teammates attempt to solve them. From being on a first name basis with the library director, to having access to a room off limits to everyone else, to keeping secrets about the project from family and friends (can’t give away clues or answers to the puzzles!), we noticed participants definitely had an increased level of comfort in the library space and were clearly very proud of what they had accomplished.

Engaging the community

Working with groups and individuals in the community proved to be both easy and rewarding. From planning to opening, we sought to involve a variety of groups in the project. Initially, we approached principals and teachers at local schools to advertise and help recruit students to participate. This also led to a few teachers volunteering to help.

When the group decided to make a zombie movie, we approached an acquaintance at the local radio station, who volunteered to direct, film, and edit the movie for free. The city police chief also agreed to be interviewed about the zombie invasion. The city mayor and his family readily agreed to be the first official group to try out the escape room. This drummed up publicity and provided a final, grand opening event for the group to celebrate their accomplishment. Though no one declined the invitation to participate, we had a couple of people who offered to help, but had to back out for various personal reasons.   

Nebraska City Chief of Police being interviewed about the Zombie Apocalypse; Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

Gameplay and game mechanics

The entire project was a clear case of ‘process’ over ‘product’. As we explained above, our main goals involved engaging the kids and inspiring them to be creative. Having an escape room was the secondary goal, and, in order to ensure that the room worked well as an experience for the community, we had to make sure the gameplay was there. Whether you enjoy a game or not, is closely related the flow of the experience (Sweetser & Wyeth, 2005).

Gameplay hinges on both variety and functioning mechanics. Variety means that you aren’t simply solving riffs on the same word-replacement puzzle. Functioning mechanics is that the puzzle can be solved, but more importantly it relates to balance.

When explaining the importance of a balanced experience to the kids, we kept coming back to the video-game metaphor. Imagine a race game. If the track you are racing on is a straight line, he best car always wins and no skill is required. On the other end of the spectrum the track can curve so much and beat even the most skilled driver. Neither of those experiences will be a lot of fun. The first one will be boring and the second one frustrating.

We ran a puzzle in which they had to find a key to a lock. Then we tasked them with creating a similar experience for another group. The first thing we heard was a gleeful ‘they will never find it’. Then you remind them of the video game and the racetrack. We want them to find the key. Impossible isn’t fun.

Structuring creativity

Going into the project, we had intended to give a lot of freedom to the participants. We would create the framework and ensure that the project was progressing according to the timeline, but creative choices would be made by the children. The stories and the puzzles would be their own. However, as the project progressed, we realized we needed to put some limits on where they could express their creativity. Too much freedom resulted in several problems, including paralysis (uncertainty of how to proceed),unfeasible or impractical ideas, and a disregard for time constraints. We realized that, given our short timeframe and the logistics involved, we would need to create a bit more structure around the creativity.

There were two main ways we approached this. The first was what we were already trying to do: give them a wide breadth for creativity, then funnel their ideas into a realistic plan. But this creative brainstorming was more effective for items like story and decorations, less so for puzzle making. We allowed the kids to express wild ideas, and then we took these ideas and adapted them into a realistic plan that we could implement. For example, once a zombie theme had been selected, many kids expressed a strong desire to actually dress up as zombies. Of course, this wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense as part of an escape room that would be open for months. Instead, we made the zombie movie to provide the backstory and ambience for the room and give the kids their chance to zombies for a day.

The second approach become essential in the last weeks of the project: providing a realistic frame that had a creative component. We would present the basics of a puzzle and have specific ways that they could make decisions, be creative and contribute. One puzzle involved mathematical equations on a whiteboard and several zombie head cutouts. We explained the puzzle to the kids. They colored and laminated the zombie heads (the laminator was definitely a favorite!). Using examples from math books, they helped fill the white board with equations. They had a blast doing this  (and slipping their names in there, too).

“Beauty is in the eye of the zombie-holder”, one of the puzzles created as part of Library Lockdown; Morton-James Public Library (CC-BY 4.0)

Our kids responded to having a clear goal in mind that was smaller and more manageable than the room as a whole, but still allowed them to play and infuse their ideas into the project.

Building repeatability, building modularity

As we worked on the project, we thought about its adaptability. How could this concept translate into a variety of contexts, especially considering most libraries would not have $7,500 to spend on similar projects or such a large space and/or staff time to devote to it? In addition, we grew concerned about how best to tie the room and the various puzzles together, as well as how we might make the room enjoyable for a variety of skill levels. We were also conscientious of the time it might take to reset the room and ensure that it was reset correctly.

The solution for all of these concerns was simple: modularity. When initially considering the escape room, we imagined the puzzles would be linear and tie into each other. Imagine, you find a key early on and it does seemingly nothing. Your team struggles on, finds more clues and solves more puzzles until the very end, when someone remembers that key from the beginning, and it all makes sense.

While the temptation to tie every puzzle into a sequence and the bigger narrative certainly was compelling, we learned that a clear division between individual puzzles makes sense for project like this. The end result was ten puzzles separated conceptually, as well as physically. Each puzzle corresponded with a locked box. Each box contained a code to be typed into a computer terminal. Once any eight of the codes had been entered, the terminal provided the code to the safe (which, of course, held the antidote to the zombie apocalypse). Ambitious/completionist players could attempt to solve the final two puzzles for bragging rights if they still had time remaining.

This approach provided benefits both during the creation of the escape room and after it opened as well:

  • Having distinct puzzles simplified the planning process, which was a boon given our time constraints and the age of the kids working on the room (most of whom were nine or ten).
  • Since all of the puzzles are self-contained, it is very easy for staff to quickly check if each puzzle is ready to go when resetting the room for a new group.
  • We are able to raise and lower the difficulty of the room by changing the number of solved puzzles required to win, by changing a number in the computer program where players enter the codes.
  • We can remix the gameplay to accommodate groups of different sizes and skill levels. Recently, the local middle school asked to bring their students totry the room. The groups had about a dozen students and only thirty minutes. We had them ignore the overall goal of the room, divided them into smaller teams, and instructed them to work on one puzzle at a time. Once they solved a puzzle, we helped them to reset it, so another group could attempt it, and they moved on to another puzzle.
  • Other libraries can use the same basic format and modify it to fit their time, budgetary, and space limitations.  


Participants that attended the grand opening event (22 of the 35 total participants) were asked to complete a short survey about their experience in Library Lockdown. They were asked three Likert-scale questions (“How much fun did you have?”, “Would you do it again?”, “Is the library fun?”) to which they provided generally positive responses (average of 4.5, 4.5, and 4.3, respectively). They were also asked what they liked best about Library Lockdown. Three of the answers were very broad (“the whole thing”, “everything”, “building it”); eight answers mentioned making or solving puzzles; and nine mentioned unique, specific items:

  • Computers
  • Working with locks
  • The story making
  • Watching movie
  • The mayor trying to get out
  • Build lego sets
  • The people
  • Making play-dough shapes
  • eating

Our interpretation of these responses is that the group really enjoyed the puzzle-based structure of Library Lockdown, but many of the kids responded to vastly different aspects of project.

We also did informal interviews with parents during and after the project and got some very positive feedback from them on both the project and the final result. In addition, the program was effective overall for creating hype/awareness of library and reminding our community that we are still very much around. The head of the local radio/television station mentioned how the library seemed to have changed recently, stating “You guys are doing all this stuff now.” Most of the library’s programming outside of Library Lockdown during the preceding months was not new at all, but having a flagship event like this seems to have raised our visibility in our community.

Final thoughts

This was a gratifying project, and we really enjoyed working on it. We also learned a great deal along the way. It was a massive time commitment. The group met for ninety minutes every Saturday from February until May. We also spent a combined ten to fifteen hours per week planning, preparing, and cleaning up.  Enthusiasm for the project, for kids, and for puzzles was a requirement. Anywhere from ten to almost thirty kids would attend each session. This made planning and logistics a challenge: How much space and food do we need? How many volunteers or staff members need to be present? How many activities do we need to have ready? During the later weeks, how are we going to bring this all together?!

By the final weeks, we got very good at being prepared. We had structured activities and backup plans. We also ensured we had enough staff and volunteers to have a high staff to kid ratio (1:4), which allowed us to be more flexible when something different happened than expected (or if more kids showed up than expected).

We wanted this project to bring in a diverse group of kids, and in many ways, it did. There was a near 50-50 split of boys and girls, and, though Nebraska City is predominantly white, multiple cultural backgrounds were represented in our group. There were a few areas we wish we had been more successful in.Though we advertised outside the library in hopes of attracting non-library users, we had few participants who weren’t already library users. We also advertised directly to the Hispanic and home school populations in our city. Though several returned the registration forms, none ultimately attended any of the sessions. In future projects, we will attempt to communicate more closely with potential participants in these groups to better understand what kept them from attending.

Though not a major issue for us, it was important to consider any laws that may be applicable to the room itself. We asked the local fire marshal to review the room for any potential issues, and he approved of the use, as long as the door remained unlocked and unobstructed. The Library Lockdown room is wheelchair accessible and navigable. All of the puzzles can be solved by someone with physical limitations or who is deaf or hard of hearing with little or no assistance. The instructions for the room are written and are also spoken aloud. In addition, reservations are scheduled to allow for a staff person to be present in the room and provide assistance as needed.

We were aware that not every puzzle would work out, so we chose to err on the side of having too many. That way, if something broke – which happened – a back-up puzzle was ready to go. We ended up having ten puzzles in the final room.

You will want to do some beta-testing before having the general public go through the room. We first invited some of our volunteers who had not been involved in the project to try it. This gave us a sense of what worked and what didn’t work. It also instilled some confidence in the project as a whole, as they all seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves.

We built the room with the intention of not having an employee/volunteer staffing it. But we found that having someone along to guide the participants and explain the rules made a difference. Hints are totally ok. Good-natured teasing as well. The typical group will make it out of the room with 5-10 minutes left on the clock, which is ideal.

Though we were lucky enough to receive a generous award, which allowed us to purchase many materials for Library Lockdown, we certainly could have undertaken  a similar project on a smaller budget. We took advantage of the resources on breakoutEDU, used easily accessible craft supplies, repurposed items that were already at the library (including various things hiding in the storage room before it was cleaned out), and received donations of food from local restaurants. These are strategies that other libraries can take advantage of if interested in building an escape room of their own.

Library Lockdown was a unique opportunity for Morton-James Public Library to bring something different to Nebraska City. Instead of a one-off program, it brought kids into the library weekly to work together on a major project. Based on informal comments and survey responses, the participants enjoyed the puzzle-based nature and variety of activities that Library Lockdown provided. Local press coverage kept the community interested, and the resultant fully-functioning escape room allows the project to continue to engage (Hannah, 2016a; Hannah, 2016b; Mancini, 2015). It is something that made an impression on these kids and our community, and we most certainly will not forget the wonderful things that can be made by asking the simple question: what if?


Many thanks to ALSC and Disney for the generous grant that funded this project. Thank you to our reviewers, Lauren Bradley and Ian Beilin for helping us revise and improve this article.


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Hannah, J. (2016b, April 9). “Zombies run wild in Nebraska City.” News Channel Nebraska. Last accessed October 31, 2016 at

Hannah, J. & Swanson, D. (2016, May 25). “Bequettes Solve Escape Room Puzzles to Save Nebraska City.” News Channel Nebraska. Last accessed October 31, 2016 at

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U.S. Census Bureau (2014). “2010-2014 American community survey 5-year estimates.” Last accessed November 4, 2016 at

  1. not really, since the fire marshal would not approve
  2. Except for Arbor Day weekend, that is. Nebraska City is “home of Arbor Day”, and most of the kids were participating in the annual Arbor Day Parade.

LibUX: UMich Library tried agile – and they kind of liked it

Wed, 2016-11-23 13:30

Melissa J. Baker-Young writes on Library Tech Talk about experimenting with agile-like project management in the making of Fulcrum.

“We can do that. We’re Agile!”

One can count on this statement to be made at least once during any number of project meetings. True, at the start, it was tinged heavily with sarcasm, and, admittedly, it was me saying it. However, these days, nineteen months into a three year project, while this statement still regularly attends meetings, the skepticism that surrounded it has faded and it’s become a declaration of empowerment.

After several sprints, however, it became clear that we all had to drop the excuses we were using for not populating the board if we wanted to produce a good product on time. While I wouldn’t claim our practices are perfect, I would say that the board serves as the project’s source of truth and the entire team works hard to keep it so.