Digital Gov

LOC launches digital labs

Shutterstock image: library of congress from a distance. 

The Library of Congress launched labs.loc.gov on Sept. 19 as a vehicle to encourage developers at all skill levels to find ways to exploit the library's vast digital holdings.

Kate Zwaard, chief of Library's National Digital Initiatives, which runs the website, described it to FCW as "a space where the Library experiments with the digital collection and also invites other people to do so."

One such opportunity for experimentation is the "Beyond Words" feature, which lets users identify, tag and caption images found in historic newspapers. This data will be stored for future online searches, ultimately enabling users to sort and group certain images by time.

Zwaard said such a crowdsourcing program is useful as "the Library learns from users, but it also invites people to page through the collection in ways that they probably wouldn't."

The library will also look to the winners of its legislative data challenges as a source for ideas. Using publicly available data, participants in these competitions can create solutions with the goal of improving access to and modernizing the legislative process. These competitions were first announced by LOC CIO Bud Barton at the Legislative Data and Transparency Conference in June. Winners can expect to see their projects featured on site.

The Labs site also features a section called LC for Robots that offers examples on how automated tools can be used to explore the digital collections. The site supplies tutorials on how to use APIs and other machine-to-machine technology to access library materials.

"What we're trying to do is leverage the power of technology to lower the technical barrier to access," Zwaard said.

The library also announced that "data artist" Jer Thorp was joining the library as innovator-in-residence. The residency program is part of the larger effort to bubble up content from the library's digital holdings to the public.

About the Author

Ben Berliner is a former editorial fellow at FCW. He is a 2017 graduate of Kenyon College, and has interned at the Center for Responsive Politics and at Sunlight Foundation.

He can be contacted at [email protected].

Click here for previous articles by Berliner.


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