User Experience (UX) Design in Libraries: An Interview with Natalie Buda Smith

This interview originally appeared on the Library of Congress’ The Signal on October 27, 2016. 


Natalie Buda Smith is the User Experience (UX) Team supervisor at the Library of Congress, and most recently worked with NDI to design the beautiful graphic for ourCollections as Data conference. Her team has been busy redesigning, and the new homepage is set to debut Tuesday, Nov.1st.

We caught up over coffee to discuss user experience (UX), storytelling, the importance of design thinking in libraries, and Black Sabbath.

Can you tell me a little about your background and what you do on the User Experience Team?

User Experience is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It is making things easier for people to use and understand. In our case,, and a handful of other digital products. It wasn’t called User Experience 20 years ago or even ten years ago, it has been called Graphic Design, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Web Design and now also Customer Experience.


The profession has changed dramatically just like Library Science has changed dramatically. I actually have an undergraduate degree in film from UNC Chapel-Hill, so I was very interested in not only design but storytelling and interactivity. You wouldn’t necessarily think of film as a good background for interactive work, but timing is just as important as color, content, and composition. Back when I started out, the most popular type of IT job was in computer networking, and my first job out of film school was designing system diagrams where I described LANs, WANs. I had to learn the difference between a router and a brouter, and started to understand computers and networks. This gave me a good foundation for the technology that is used today.

So then I went to design school at North Carolina State University and got my Master’s in Design, and then I decided I wanted to teach. For six years I taught around the world. The last teaching job I had was in Beirut, which was amazing, because their sense of aesthetics is so different from the Western one taught in school. In Arabic, you read from right to left and the letters are so dramatically differently, it makes you look at the world differently.

What were you teaching people to do?

I was very lucky to be able to teach design thinking, the design process, how to solve a problems through creative approaches. In some schools, User Experience or Graphic Design is treated as a vocation, but there are many schools out there that understand how effective design thinking can be. I was able to put together and teach a curriculum that would break down students’ assumptions about design, aesthetics, problem-solving, and then build it back up to a more creative, systematic way to approach problem solving. And often it could take many forms — print, photography, film, multimedia, the beginnings of the web — but I focused on fundamentals of thinking.


Beirut was fascinating because my students, between 18 and 23, spent most of their life in civil war, so this was an opportunity for them to be creative, and bring their own storytelling into it, so it was not just about pushing Western aesthetics. Some of these kids spent many years in bomb shelters, a large part of their time underground in basements, so it was an interesting perspective of the world.

Storytelling is so important. It’s one of the reasons I got into this job and I think many archivists and librarians feel the same. Where does design and storytelling come together in the UX field?

To me User Experience is about structuring things so they are more accessible and consumable, but it also about breaking down problems and understanding what are the many ways to approach it. It’s like having a new set of tools. Take any sort of raw material — be it data, be it photographs — and then think ‘how do I assemble this in a way that tells that story? How do I structure it? Maybe I can transform it in some way?’ And then to understand when you do transform, there’s other layers of meaning that’s added on.

When you take a set of photographs and put them in an order, the order tells as much of a story as the individual photographs. That’s fundamental to design thinking. I would not say that only designers do design thinking, not only artists do creative thinking, librarians, engineers and others do a lot of creative thinking too. Design tends to use framework of systems that art doesn’t have to. Art can be a little bit more free from systems, where design typically has to function in some way, whereas art can be aesthetically pleasing just for its own self.

Librarians are systems thinkers, but there’s a need for design thinking skills that you don’t find in a traditional library education. How would it help us?

Good design programs spend a year or two breaking down your perceptions, and that’s really important. Design thinking is not just about empathy- you hear a lot about empathy for your users or customers – but it’s also a skill, and it’s a journey to get there, if you can break something down and remove yourself from it — get to the real problem and not feel that the solution has to conform to what you initially expected. Really good design thinking is when you’re able to remove yourself from the problem and put yourself into the user’s shoes. It’s a bit like acting; a really good actor can transform into someone completely different.

Let’s say you’re on a group project and you have a really interesting problem to solve and you’re working on a solution. People get emotionally invested — ‘this is an expression of myself, this is what I think, this is what I believe!’ — and the good thing about UX is we have tools to bring the user in to confirm or deny how they understand the problem. A really good designer can recognize ‘I’m emotionally invested in this, why? Let me try to remove myself.’ We learn this through constant peer feedback, and in design school, the critique.


It’s one of the most stressful things for design students, when you take your work and put it on the wall and you have thirty people staring at it and telling you if it’s good or not good and you have to stand up there and defend it. In design school, this happens weekly, if not daily. By the time you end school, if a project team gives you negative feedback, you don’t feel defeated, you say, ok, let me try again because I didn’t hit all the things I needed to get done. It’s less about my personal expression and more about the solution. I haven’t seen this practice of critique used a lot in other fields.

Yes, there’s a movement in our field to expose our work to critique, to show our failures as well as our successes. It seems that designers have understood this for a while, that that’s how you improve. The Library of Congress is special because they have you and your staff of UX professionals in-house. What kinds of UX designers work best in a library environment?

In the Library, because our projects tend to range in size and type of content, I find that you need UX designers that are really well-rounded. You need someone who has a strong visual aesthetic, who knows how to code, someone who knows user research. The people we have at the Library are more experienced because we need that well rounded skill set. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years, and on average the people on the User Experience team at the Library have been doing it also for fifteen, twenty years. You’re exposed to all of these different facets of UX when you have more years of experience. So if someone said to me, who would I hire internally at a library, I would go with someone who was more well-rounded and knows when something is needed versus being really, really good at one particular flavor of UX.

This is my first internal federal job. I spent the majority of my career in IT consulting. In consulting, we would get really large website redesigns, where for example, defining the user experience could take eight months, two years with a dedicated team of eight user experience professionals dedicated to the one project. Here we juggle a lot of projects at once. We’re going through a major UI update to, with a homepage redesign, then we have which is has several sophisticated searches, then we have all these other, smaller things like iBooks and the heritage websites which takes a lot of interaction with other government agencies. It’s all these projects, small to large at the same time. It’s amazing how many UX positions are being advertised right now in the federal space, people are starting to understand the value of making products easy and enjoyable to use.

Is there anyone that has made a career out of UX design in libraries that you know of?

There isn’t a guru we could point to, no. There are several people who are solving interesting problems also, like at New York Public Library and other universities, but no one who has built a User Experience career out of it. People at my experience tend to have a lot of e-commerce experience since that was the driver for so many digital products, so as libraries continue to transform, the expertise will grow. Someone who’s coming out of school right now may be that person, but the opportunities haven’t really been there yet, in the way that it’s been there for e-commerce.

How would a librarian make an argument to their administration about hiring a UX designer?

I’m going to start with the technologies. The mobile device. Over 30 percent of our traffic on comes through mobile devices. More and more people want to view library content on their mobile devices. One thing that UX can assist with is that you can’t put the entire website on the mobile experience — the former desktop experience does not transfer one to one — the technology needs to be updated, it needs to be made more accessible, and also the experience is very different. The context of how you’re using online content can be just as important as going to the site itself.


I think of accessibility. A lot of technologies that we use to make content or collections more accessible online also make it more accessible for other technologies. When you make it more accessible you also make it more flexible, more scaleable, so as new technologies come online and people adapt to them, you are able to migrate it.

Then search. Search is more than just a framework, it’s also about knowing how people search, and the context of searches, what do people expect from search. So User Experience professionals can help define how users expect search to work, not just how to make search function.

We have a web metrics team with two people, and they provide a lot of great user behavior data for us, so we know that people want this item or that item, we can see the paths that they’re taking through these websites. Why not take what they want and move it up higher in their path? From a pure Library Science point of view, catalog prioritization may not match what users tend to want, so there’s some reconciliation there that needs to happen sometimes.

One tool set we also have is user research, and that can include older methods such as surveys or ethnographic studies, moderated testing, live site testing, but then it’s also applying metrics. A lot of times the best understanding of users is not just through one method — you have to use multiple tools and build a holistic understanding about users and what their motivations are, what they really want, and then constantly check back because it constantly changes. What people wanted last year is not going to be the same as what they want this year.

Can you talk about Project One, the Library’s effort to redesign its website?

The challenge for the Library is that it was such an early adopter of the web.The Library started early creating websites for people to have access to this wonderful content, but in a way that is now a burden. That’s similar to something I learned in Beirut.

My students were showing up to class and they had beautiful cell phones, I’d never seen state of the art cell phones like the ones they had, but I couldn’t make a landline phone call. What had happened is they had just jumped over several communication technologies. Why would they install landlines in Beirut, just go mobile. It’s sort of the same burden we have at the Library. So much work, so much content was put online early with older technologies, and now we have a lot of re-work to do. We have to pull up those old landlines in order to make them cellular friendly.

Project One is very iterative. It started off as a concept, how do you build a framework that’s optimized for search, breaking down content to the object level. Everything was flattened with metadata to assist search. It sounds simple but it’s not and it wasn’t. The most basic element is the item, but that in itself is complex because what is an item? Is it a book? Is it the page of a book? You need someone to decide that it’s worthy to apply metadata to it. We’re continuously learning and changing. No longer are you browsing web page by web page, and that was the basis of Project One.

Now we’re trying to build other structures on top of that foundation of search because people are wanting to create and consume context for the collection items. They’ll find an item and want the meaning around it, or we want to take this amazing content and package it in different ways for specific audiences.


So that’s where we are right now. We’re moving to the stage of — how do we do more storytelling? How do we take all of these wonderful elements and start to tell stories in a more engaging way? And the home page is really a great step in that direction, because what we’re trying to tell is that the Library is more than just a collection of things in specific subjects. Let’s start to tell stories about what’s there because that’s the most engaging way to get people interested and understand that this amazing content is a part of the American story. Even if you try your hardest to build the most perfect and graceful system, it’s not going to be simple, because the items we have are not all the same. We’re not making widgets.

For example, take our wax cylinders, books, and then periodicals, photographs, audio, how do you jam those very different forms of content in the same structure? Just in order to make search work you have to have a framework, but it is challenging since there is also so much context around it that if you start to treat everything as the same, you lose a lot of information, so it is very challenging.

What was a takeaway for you from the Collections as Data conference?

I was excited to see the creativity that was being promoted. It’s one thing to talk about data and the best structures for data, but the majority of the conference was about creativity, and what people were doing with data. There was a variety of people doing different things. At the Library, we promote our collections, but having these outsiders present, you start to see oh, there are other ways that you can use the collections and that was exciting. There may be some people who see the Library more as a literal preserver of things, but the new approach is to see that preservation is in making it more accessible. If you want to preserve something, make it available, and when others make more things out of it, it is preserved in a richer way than if it’s just locked away for no one to see.

CollectionsAsData 1A

What was the inspiration behind the Collections as Data conference graphics?

When thinking about the essence of the conference — laying down a influential foundation for the discussion of collection data and the creativity of its potential, I was reminded of a Black Sabbath’s album cover for one of the most influential albums in heavy metal music. I distilled the artwork to its most basic elements then created a visualization of its most elemental forms and colors. It thought it only fitting as the National Digital Initiatives team are in their own ways the rock stars of data.

That’s amazing! Thank you! If a library is updating its online presence, what are the top three things they should consider as a part of their design process?

The first thing is authenticity. One of the things we’re continuously working on at the Library is how we make our content accessible for education. We did some user research with that audience, conducted a focus group with elementary students, which was so much fun. It was a three hours long, but we learned a lot. We did a lot of different activities, but the main activity was to have them conduct research online.


I asked them to pick someone famous like Rosa Parks, and show me how they researched. And the majority of the kids, guess where they went first? Where was their starting point? YouTube. Part of user research is that you step back and you don’t influence, and these kids, they were on laptops, iPads, one was on a desktop, and the majority went to YouTube to research. So one of the most valuable things the Library of Congress can do is say here’s the original, this is authentic, you do what you want to with public domain content, you could draw mustaches on everyone if you want, but you know this is the primary source and you’re seeing it as it originated.

That’s something Libraries can do from a user experience perspective, is make sure that content is presented in a way where users recognize that it is authentic.

Another thing to consider is a robust search, making sure search is easy to use and people understand what they’re getting back in their results. What’s available, what’s not available, and helping them with refining searches. The collections we offer are so complex, but people want things to work like Google.

And the last thing is joy. Helping people enjoy using libraries. I think sometimes we get too focused on the technical aspects, that this has to provide x, y and z. But if you can instill a love of learning and a love of research — to me they’re the same, then you are making the world a better place. So joy is a big part of it, and I don’t hear that goal often enough.


Sometimes we tend to think of joy in terms of eating ice cream or other types of entertainment, but joy can also be in search results, you might find something and go ‘Wow!’

That sense of accomplishment is joy.

Class: Digital Estate Planning

The Case

The user group most in need of personal digital archiving resources at the moment are retirees as they plan for end of life. Many that I’ve spoken with only include physical objects in their estate plans, and the idea that they must also think about their ‘digital estate’ is alarming.

You might think that retirees don’t have many digital assets, but according to a 2015 article in The Wall Street Journal called “How Technology Will Transform Retirement”,  those 55 and up were the highest percentage of mobile smart phone app users (although they tend to use the smallest variety of apps).


From my experience teaching digital estate programs this year, retirees are most interested in the future of the photos on their phone, their email, personal computer, and Facebook. What differs from other age groups is the greater concern for privacy and the wish to delete these assets so that they do not linger after death. As one attendee told me, the idea of a memorial Facebook profile was “creepy.”

In summary, this is an important program for public libraries to run, and to encourage librarians to do so, I’ve put together a packet that includes slides, a review of one of my programs, examples of how they’ve been marketed, and class handouts.

The Class

I taught this class 5 times in the District this year – 4 at library branches and once at a senior center.


Capital Hill Village Senior Center Ad for my class.

The majority of the resources for this class come from John Romano and Evan Carroll’s fantastic website . I can’t rep this resource enough. It aggregates resources and news related to digital estate planning under archival, cultural, technical, and legal themes. Some of my favorite resources include:

90 minute class outline:

  • Begin by making a case for digital estate planning. I discussed this from the perspective of an archivist, but you could also take a legacy or privacy angle in this intro.
  • Review the current legal landscape with the introduction of the FADAA, and emphasize that at this point in time (in DC) nothing about the future of your digital assets can be taken for granted and it really comes down to communicating with loved ones and writing explicit directions in a will.
  • Define a digital asset vs. a digital account, emphasizing that assets are yours but accounts can be trickier due to Terms of Service agreements
  • Review the digital asset management checklist
  • Discuss how to help facilitate the transfer of digital assets and accounts using three examples: Facebook, personal computer, smart phone
  • Review sample statements provided by Romano and Carroll (who are both attorneys) that could be used in a will
  • Discuss available resources
  • Have a 20 minute Q and A

Tips from teaching these classes:

  • Emphasize at the beginning and end of class that you are not a lawyer and are not giving legal advice. You are sharing resources created by attorneys.
  • Demoing how to change the legacy settings of a Facebook profile is very popular
  • Working on the inventory together is a great activity to gauge how well people are understanding what digital assets and accounts are
  • Encourage retirees and their loved ones to take the class together and discuss the check list with each other
  • Assume that tech knowledge will be varied
  • Connect with a local senior center or retirement group to come to the class or go to them

Class Materials


Interested in personal archiving programming? Check out my workshop lesson on Personal Archiving with Facebook!

Week 40: My NDSR Enrichment Session on Education and Advocacy

The following is a post I wrote for the Library of Congress’s The Signal blog.


Digital Curation and the Public: Strategies for Education and Advocacy

This is a guest post by Jaime Mears.

Photo of computers in the memory lab.

On March 4th, 2016, the Washington DC Public Library hostedDigital Curation and the Public: Strategies for Education and Advocacy at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. It was what the National Digital Stewardship Residents program calls an “enrichment session” and the audience was composed of NDSR colleagues and mentors.

Over breakfast I gave informal tours of the Memory Lab, a public-facing digitization lab I created as a part of my residency work. It felt like the project’s capstone, debuting the space to our group and receiving comments and questions from those that have supported me throughout its development.

Yvonne Ng, senior archivist at WITNESS and a member ofXFR Collective, led a workshop exploring methods of promoting digital curation to the public. The presentation began with a powerful case study of Kianga Mwamba, a Baltimore resident arrested in March 2014 for using her phone to video record an instance of police brutality. When she was released on bail the next day her phone was returned but the video was no longer on it. Luckily for Mwamba, it had automatically backed up to her Google account. It was introduced as evidence in a civil suit with the Baltimore Police Department.

WITNESS reaches their activist audience by creating targeted promotional and educational material about digital preservation. Case studies like Mwamba’s are incredibly effective, though they can be difficult to find, especially when the absence of a digital record proves why it should have been preserved. Other methods WITNESS employs include involving local “influencers” in train-the-trainer programs as a way of disseminating information to their communities, and creating engaging educational resources in multiple languages. One of these resources, the Activist’s Guide to Archiving Video, received the Society of American Archivist’s Preservation Publication Award in 2014.

Photo of room with computers.

Ng said that sometimes no matter what you do, it’s effectiveness is a matter of timing. WITNESS tries to avoid reaching people before they’ve amassed enough material to care about preservation. And WITNESS folds preservation education into larger training sessions that address other video activists’ needs, such as video-as-evidence training and post-production work.

After the lecture, Ng asked residents and mentors to identify four or five communities we wanted to support, and to identify the challenges and strategies to working with that community. Although my NDSR project is the most obviously public-facing, the exercise revealed that all NDS residents have had to advocate and educate within their host institutions to successfully meet their goals.

From Senate staff to scientists at the National Institute of Health, digital content creators have to be appealed to. It is a necessary part of effective life-cycle management. Ng reminded us that, besides ensuring that valuable material is preserved in each of our institutions, there are other benefits to such advocacy, including raising awareness about the long-term value of content and educating creators about what archivists actually do.

After the discussion activity, I escorted the group upstairs to our Washingtoniana Room where DCPL Special Collections librarian Jerry McCoy discussed the history of the library’s community archive and the significance of ourMies Van Der Rohe building, slated for a large scale renovation project later this year.

We ended our session with a tour of our Studio and Fabrication Labs. Labs manager MaryAnn James-Daley, connecting back to WITNESS’s strategy of using “influencers,”  discussed how essential a teen volunteer has been in a recent campaign to get more teens into these spaces.

Vancouver Public Library’s Inspiration Lab

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the greatest advantage and challenge of my project is its uniqueness. After  researching and interviewing librarians and archivists who manage all kinds of public-facing capture staions or personal archiving outreach, I’ve yet to find something similar to the Memory Lab’s ambitious one-stop-shop for personal archiving.

But a couple months ago, I found something close.

In May 2015, Vancouver Public Library opened its Inspiration Lab, “a free place dedicated to digital creativity, collaboration, and storytelling.” In many ways it’s analogous to the Labs at DC Public Libraries- its got a sound studio like our Studio Lab, computers with robust production software like our creative computers in the Digital Commons, and collaboration spaces similar to our Dream Lab. Last but not least, they have analog-to-digital conversion stations!!!!!

PNG0505-Inspiration Lab

VANCOUVER: May 05 ,2015. – Peggy Watkins, library technician peruses some digital files as The Vancouver Public Library launches its new digital media hub the Inspiration Lab at the librarys central branch downtown Vancouver on Tuesday, May 5, 2015.VANCOUVER, May 5, 2015. (Jenelle Schneider/PNG staff photo) (for PNGstory by Gillian Shaw). [PNG Merlin Archive]

VPL’s Digitization Stations

There are 8 stations all together- 2 have open hookups so patrons can bring in their own devices to plug and play, and the remaining 6 are outfitted with the following:

  • Epson V700 Flatbed photo/negative/slide scanner station (2)
  • VHS video tape-to-digital conversion station (2)
  • 8mm/Digital 8 analog video casette tape-to-digital conversion station (1)
  • Audiotape-to-digital conversion station (1)

Stations use Elgato converters with CyberLink MediaSuite Software and Audacity Software for their tape-to-digital conversion workflow.

Another characteristic that got me excited was they’d set up the stations to be DIY. A helpful libguide gives step by step instructions with pictures for each kind of transfer, assuming only basic technological skills.


Interview with Erin Rickbeil, Assistant Manager, Inspiration Lab

The following are notes from my interview with Erin, organized loosely by topic. I wanted to include as much as I could for you readers, not knowing what would be useful (although all of it was useful to me!).

-Patrons book the space using the library’s booking system. At first patron’s were sending in emails, but it was determined that an automated system would make it easier for staff to provide faster service to patrons.

-Patrons book for 3 hour spots.

-Patrons log off and on themselves using a library card. They save onto the D: drive, and every morning a staff member wipes all drives to protect patron privacy.

-One staff member floats around the whole lab, so there’s always someone on hand but their time is shared.

-Patrons teach themselves using the libguide, printed handouts, or by attending a once a week “digital drop-in” where they can answer specific questions. Found that the vast majority of people had a specific thing they wanted to digitize, so orientations that covered all formats were not efficient.

-Patrons are moved to editing station for post-production work.

-Haven’t experienced technical problems yet with equipment, but the scanner glass has gotten scratched and they now keep an extra glass pane in stock so that it can be switched out. Scanner cleaning kits are available for patrons to use before and after sessions

-Staff do not screen tapes before they’re put into the machines.

-Not really wedded to particular formats at this point and they are taking ongoing donation requests for equipment.

-Judging file size and how long it takes to save files/ adequately scoping a 3-hour lab session. Staff are working to educate users on the impact of resolution on file size, and just how long it may take to upload or save large files.

-Patrons do not always bring in storage equipment, so staff now sells 16GB USBs.

-Scanning is the most finicky, although the average use time was only two hours vs. three for a/v.

-Unlike other stations in the Inspiration Lab, the digitization stations attract retirees and those who are not as familiar as other patrons with technology.

-The actual digitization is just a small piece of the process. Many patrons desire to incorporate what they capture into a creative project like creating a slide show, etc and want help with that as well or misjudge
how long it takes do create that.

-Staff desires to teach fair-use and copyright and long-term stewardship classes, educate about these issues or put them more seamlessly into the creative classes that are taught.

-Patrons are not digitization everything they are bringing in.

-Patrons have cried or laughed at the stations- it’s an emotional experience

-Very popular. In the first three months, 95 scanner bookings happened and 54 of them were pre-booked.

-VHS and scanning stations are the most popular.

Future Plans
-Next year, they are setting up a smaller version in a neighborhood branch.

-The central library where the Lab currently is sounds similar to our location- Erin is curious about how usage would be different if it’s in a
more neighborhood branch vs. downtown.

How this interview will influence the Memory Lab

It struck me that here at DCPL we were also planning similar workflows with the Memory Lab such as 3-hour lab limits, a libguide to facilitate DIY user behavior, and preventing post-production work in the space. We also had in mind rolling orientations, but VPL’s transition to digital drop-ins is something we will seriously consider.

The open a/v hookup idea is a genius way of broadening the lab’s capabilities without allocating more resources, so I’ll def. be using that idea as well (thanks Erin et al.!)

Most importantly, Erin raised a list of issues that I need to figure out how to prevent. Namely, what can I do to help patrons

  • understand the relationship between resolution and file size?
  • estimate how much memory will be needed?
  • estimate the time required for digitizing and saving?
  • complete their digital project by connecting them to other Lab resources?

Putting Preservation into Digitization

VPL’s Inspiration Lab is an amazingly cohesive space for patrons to work on creative projects from start to finish. That goal of aiding creativity is at the heart of their digitization stations, which are usually the starting place for people’s projects.

Although some equipment and workflows in the Inspiration Lab are the same, the goal for the Memory Lab is a bit different- instead of creation, our focus is on preservation. We are providing free resources for transfer and access as a method of accessible digital stewardship for non-archivists. Although I am aware that patrons will want to do creative projects with their files- such as making movies or slideshows to share with family and friends- the goal is still preservation. How can we give patrons the freedom to create while also ensuring that their seed material is preserved? The success of our Lab rests on this question.

Designing a DIY Lab: Lessons from MakerCon 2015

The following post was written for The Future of Information Alliance. It was published on October 8th, 2015 in their News section

As a National Digital Stewardship Resident for DC Public Libraries (DCPL), my project is to help the public with personal archiving, especially when it comes to digital materials. One strategy is to open a DIY lab where patrons can transfer their home movies off of obsolete media and/or digitize photographs and papers. The “Memory Lab” (as I’m calling it) is the fifth DIY space to open at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library under the umbrella of The Labs at DC Public Libraries.

The FabLab at MLK Library.

DCPL’s Fabrication Lab includes a 3D scanner, 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines.

The DIY trend has been referred to in the past decade as the “Maker Movement,” catalyzed by declining costs of professional equipment like 3D scanners and printers, the increasing amount of open source software available, and a recovering economy that encourages people to build out their skill set and stop paying others to fix things for them. This all comes at an opportunistic moment for information professionals as we redefine our public services and how our spaces are used, and DCPL is not alone in capitalizing on the Movement’s popularity. The Urban Libraries Council lists 43 other public libraries that have labs or “makerspaces,” and higher learning institutions such as the University of Maryland have also gotten on board.

To start thinking like a “maker” and find some inspiration for my lab design, I attended MakerCon 2015, a conference of entrepreneurs, product developers, and community leaders interested in the Maker Movement.


Makers= 300? Archivists= 1

Here’s what I learned from this community about designing a lab for the public:

Have a sense of play. Emilie Baltz, an experiential artist and educator, said during a panel that she included the phrase “and have fun” in the written mission of one of her projects. Users find play engaging, of course, but they also learn through it. What can I do to make my lab more playful?

Don’t make users dependent. Dave Rauchwerk, founder and CEO of Next Thing Co., premiered a $9 computer that he hopes will encourage people to innovate and stop seeing computing as some kind of inaccessible “dark art.”

I’ve thought a lot about making my process building the lab transparent for other librarians, but never considered patrons wanting this information. Maybe some will be interested in building a lab at home? How can I help them?

Try try again. I was inspired by the tenacious work ethic of the many designers at the conference, who go through hundreds of versions of a prototype before it’s ready for the market. One great example is Allan Chochinov’s work, Chair of the MFA in Products of Design graduate program at the School of Visual Arts, whose website 52,000 Knots documents his progress with the incredibly difficult and arcane knotting art of tatting that he taught himself through a series of YouTube videos.


Spring Doily, Round 6. (22,332 knots), from Chochinov’s site 52,000 Knots.

I have also had to teach myself a lot about A/V transfer, and get frustrated when things don’t work. In tatting, one mistake means going back and untying knot after tiny knot in the pursuit of perfection. Whether it’s zen or grit, Chochinov has mastered a state of mind that produces results. I also want to be as patient and deliberate when testing and improving my workflows. In the end, I’ll be making more than a doily (his words!), I’ll be helping people save their memories.

If you’re interested in learning more from this incredible group of people, you can watch the MakerCon 2015 sessions here. And watch for the Memory Lab’s opening in February 2016!

Gettin’ Rowdy with Howard Besser

Yesterday, the NDSR cohort and mentors met for their first enrichment session with guest facilitator Howard Besser, Professor of Cinema Studies and Associate Director of New York University’s Moving Image Archiving & Preservation Program (MIAP) and all around archivist badass.


Photo from The Signal blog post on 10-10-2014

During the Occupy Movement, Howard worked with Activist Archivists to get Occupy members in NYC to archive their photographs and footage of the event. The lessons he shared with us from that experience are applicable to anyone who’s doing a community archiving project or wants to archive a contemporary event effectively.


Howard took this pic at Occupy Wall Street, Liberty Square, Oct 11, 2012

Howard’s Badass Lessons about Effective Community Archiving:

    1. Speak their language. For the umpteenth time, no one cares about metadata, and no one really thinks their things are worth archiving. The way to convince people is to understand what matters to them and how archiving can address their needs. See this Activist Archivist’s flyer as an example.
    2. Build in redundancies. Archivists know that recording an accurate time, date and location on a piece of footage is incredibly important, so they gave Occupy members instructions to set their cameras accordingly before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a redundancy- read a script on camera before filming. Not everyone did, so they built in a third redundancy- name the file using this same information! When it comes to following directions, three time’s a charm.
    3. Weed intelligently. They wound up with a staggering 169,000 videos, so they had to figure out how they were going to reduce them to a manageable size. They grouped videos into categories, and then asked members of Occupy Wall Street Working Groups to vote on their top 5 videos in each category. They also included a random sampling of video in the final collection to avoid contemporary bias.
    4. YouTube blows. Even though the videos they eventually uploaded had Creative Commons licensing, YouTube would not allow the videos to be downloaded. Besser even showed us an example of a public domain film from 1918 that you can’t download. So- make sure you do some test ingests first – watch your back – and watch your metadata. Better options are Internet Archive or Vimeo.
    5. Find the right tool. The app ObscuraCam, developed by and the Guardian Project, uses facial recognition to hide people’s faces in video and photos, and can also remove identifying information like GPS and phone model information.

For more information on this project, read Howard’s paper.