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A Library Lab' or LibLab is a hackspace for knowledge proposed design and concept, and demonstration project at the DC Public Library. These labs will become community centers for annotation, classification, creation, curation, digitization; education and publication, reading and writing and media production. The LibLab demonstration project is part of the Digital Public Library of America Beta Sprint initiative.

LibLab has a modular design, with up to a dozen research and collaboration modules. Each module provides the tools and space needed to work on collaborative knowledge production, research, or learning and teaching. They can support digital public libraries, existing physical workshops, and communities without such spaces at all. Different configurations can be installed in unused storefronts, sheltered outdoor areas, kiosks, and existing public buildings.

The LibLab concept is being prototyped at the DC Public Library's Martin Luther King Jr. Public Library, in downtown Washington, D.C., from September to the end of December 2011.


We will define a Library Lab as a standalone hackspace for people to work collaboratively on knowledge - creating, organizing, and sharing it. This will include digitization, annotation, publishing, and use of existing tools for library research and collection-making, particularly for personal and neighborhood projects.

A Lab will be a space for community members, educators, and librarians to learn about new tools, to develop personalized workspaces, and to run classes and workshops for others. It will include physical tools such as cameras and scanners and mixers and computers, and software tools for design, automation, mixing, and working with datasets.

This idea is based loosely on the model of FabLabs, which provide similar hackspace in 100+ labs around the world for engineering/hacking physical objects.

We will develop a prototype lab in Washington DC, co-located at the DC Public Library's Martin Luther King Jr. Library. The lab will run through the end of December 2011. Through course of running the lab, we will test various ideas and concepts, and seek feedback from public users and librarians.


The Boston Wikipedians and Wiki Society of DC are working on this project over the summer of 2011.

Other partners include the DC Public Library and Noll and Tam, Architects.

Related programs and efforts[edit]

  • The Uni Project - an open-air reading-space initiative starting in NYC and Boston. This could define 2-3 of the modules available to a LibLab.


Potential partners[edit]

These groups may have space or ways to support a Lab.

The Boston Public Library has a good bit of usable space.
San Diego
The Escondido Public Library has some interest - perhaps they could combine forces with the San Diego Library network
New York
NYPL has many innovative programs, extensive branch libraries, and is both tech savvy and interested in collaborative work

Lab design[edit]

This is a set of pods for use with a Library Lab. Each should be expanded to include implementation guidelines for making it effective, and design guidelines for getting the necessary materials. Each should list a minimal, normal, and great version of any hardware/furniture, as well as other major variations in use in different labs.

A separate section will describe layouts of a minimal, normal, and great lab, demonstrating possible combinations of pods into particular labs.

Please update with images and links to blueprints and specs for possible gear.


Hanging out (space)[edit]

Lounge furniture, comfortable space

Workshops (space)[edit]

Reconfigurable Projection / connectors / sound Sound baffling?

Uses: run intro workshops, show multimedia, large-group collaboration

writing/whiteboard (space)[edit]

Easels, whiteboards, glass walls & dryerase crayons

Req's open space to pace and work in a group

Activity centers[edit]


Simple flatbedS. Camera.


Audio recording (booth)[edit]

Mics & mixers, playback, headsets

Video recording (booth)[edit]


Camera(s), tripods
Greenscreen, backgrounds

Playback: projection? translucent wall?

Book binding[edit]


Analog tools: presses, cutters
Papers, bindings

Cleanup tools


Speedy copiers/printers. (only B/W high-speed, to avoid overuse?)

Plotter (for printing on var. media)

Espresso machine (option)


Software activities[edit]

(many interchangeable stations)

multimedia work[edit]

---> connected to recording booths

curation, collection management, publication[edit]

---> next step after digitization and uploading

naming, classification, organization[edit]

---> connected to scan and digitzation centers

script and database development[edit]

Set up as a software development testbed.

backups and file storage[edit]

A complement to existing library systems - for local backup and storage of any materials generated in the Lab. A station for making and managing backups, and a service to the rest of the lab.

digital design[edit]

sketchup. cad/cam.

see HacDC digital design classes


Welcoming, access[edit]

Oversight of small common needs: usb keys?

Direct people to first steps/pods

Gear checkout[edit]

Hardware: laptop/tablet/reader/recorder, gps/camera checkout

Laptop plugins: webcams, displays, &c.
Disposables (usb keys, dvds)

Coordinate with existing library carts


Steelcase makes some good furniture for multiple people to collaborate on single screens.

The demo space is surrounded by glass walls that could be used to write on

Use cases for a lab[edit]

please add to this list!

  • Support for month-long projects, a place to store work in progress.
  • Large-group workshops and community projects, in the library and the community (community mapping, journalism, archiving)
  • Hackathons, bringing together the DC techies and library folks
  • Group reading space, open reconfigurable space for 1-10 people to sit together
  • Reference and discovery and curation work: raw 'content' organization and publishing.
  • Creating you own Wikimedia "books" via the books extension, printing them out, basic binding/drilling
  • Printing/binding PD texts via OpenLibrary or class materials
  • Digital restoration of special collections [not the initial digitization, but the cleanup]
  • Classification of image and map archives
  • Collection bulding: gathering local books and other materials
  • Using a gps and camera / videocamera. mapping, taking geotagged photos; updating OSM and Commons.
  • Recording center (semi-soundproofed) for interviews and other recordings.
  • Recording kits that can be checked out; see StoryCorps kits
  • Multimedia center for media remixing
  • Local news, podcasts, oral histories
  • Arts and crafts station and materials
Digitization, archiving
  • Bulk scanning and OCR of books, uploading the results to wikisource via bot.
  • Digitizing tools for migrating older media, including analog audio
  • Archiving tools for migrating older digital media, including access to a large fileserver [via network?].
  • Work with local museums to digitize and categorize materials
Other Tools
  • Access to a wide variety of hardware tools, to check out and learn to use properly
  • Access to a wide variety of software tools, to use on a few dedicated stations
  • Equipment checkout : making use of carts and local reputation
  • An accessibility center
  • ...

Workshops and activities[edit]

  • OpenStreetMap mapping parties & workshops
  • Wikipedia newbies workshops
  • Wikipedia editathons
  • MediaWiki tech topics
  • Using social tools in the library. (e.g. [1])
  • Hackathons - BookShare, DevHouseDC, maps/geo hackathon, GLAM-tech hackathon (?) or others
  • Wiki Mondays (?)
  • Please add ideas

July update[edit]

A quick update on the project:

I. Location[edit]

We have a confirmed lab venues in the main branch of the DC Public Library. It is a lovely glass-walled space in the main-floor reading area, very visible and spacious. A perfect place to lay out many different modules and try them out.

Other confirmed lab venues wanted - please continue to send in ideas.

II. Design[edit]

Chris Noll of Noll and Tam Architects is taking a lead on the design work.

Ideas for blueprints, modular furniture, whiteboards; space for discussion and hacking, for machines, for solo work. Specific use cases and sketched ideas are welcome. If you know interested architects or designers, please invite them to get involved.

III. Timeline[edit]

0. Identify suitable [short-term] physical spaces for a lab.

1. Design and planning meeting with some designers in DC. Draw on YOUmedia[1] and FabLab[2] models. Discuss with colleagues @ the Association of Science-Technology Centers, IMLS, and FabLab DC.
Goal: a draft list of hardware, space, network, and other requirements, plus possible configurations of the space.

2. Define a set of projects / workshops for a potential lab. Start with existing projects that could use such a space, find out what they need.
Goal: 100 projects covering a spectrum of research, creation, and culture-sharing activities, with examples of similar projects.

3. Submit a grant proposal by August 15 to an IMLS/Macarthur "library lab for youth" grant.[3]

4. Finalize a statement of interest for future implementers to sign, indicating they have capacity to maintain a lab.
Goal: publish a list of interested implementers, invite them to join an appropriate mailing list [which one?]

5. Iterate on the design process, draft DPLA report/submission.
Goal: A modular lab, with cost estimates for different components, and basic guidelines for maintaining each one / developing a critical mass of people using it

6. A second lab underway in another city [depending on who has space and time]

7. Sep 15 - DPLA report submitted.

8. Oct 15 - DPLA exhibit in DC. [possible field trip to bring the group to visit the lab]


IV. Volunteers needed[edit]

Needed: tech / teacher / organizer volunteers!

Libraries and other venues often have space but lack staff to man a potential lab. We have one volunteer to organize the space so far (thank you!), and could use 5-6 more who are free at least part of each week.

We need volunteers to oversee the lab during open hours (at least in the afternoon every day), run introductory sessions for newcomers, and facilitate use of the space by the various projects that may pass through. For example: in DCPL, they have a project working with teens to make and publish news pieces and radio, a neighborhood program to digitize community histories. The people currently running those projects will need introduction into the lab and some initial guidance in using it. Both of those projects might want to learn how to generate and publish wiki materials. There are also community archiving projects run by the Building Museum who might be a good fit.

If you enjoy showing people how things work, people who become interested will need to be shown how to use all of the tools, and how to run their own workshops showing others how to use their favorites. Ex: there are dozens of summer volunteers around the public libraries in the summer, some might choose to work in the lab. A good guide for running such tutorials could become standard for labs across the country.

V. Design/usage research needed[edit]

We need design and use-case research to help us develop reusable modular designs.

There are some examples from FabLabs, YOUmedia labs, CCTV centers, hand-on museums, "creation stations", high-throughput scan centers. How could a combination of these work well together? We can learn from people who have done this, or organizations dedicated to this. [see the Association of Science-Technology Centers]


A virtual LibLab was developed in 2017 on YouTube in collaboration with the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. The YouTube Series, LIB LAB: Library Laboratory is hosted by A.J. Fillo, Ph.D. and presents science concepts to children in YouTube videos with accompanying science experiments on the topic to perform at home [LIB LAB: Library Laboratory]. This show has been highlighted in the APS Division of Fluid Mechanics (Fall 2017)APS. There has been some renewed interest in this virtual science education since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Further reading[edit]

Here is some material about similar (loosely defined) library spaces: