Who decides when something goes digital?: This week Paul Ford and Rich Ziade talk to Kate Zwaard and Abigail Potter about access to information. We delve into crowdsourcing, the link between curiosity and creating cultural memory, how kids are changing the way we store information, and the importance of partnering with artists and archives to accurately represent communities. To Rich’s disbelief, Kate also finds GWAR’s Undergound Videos in the Library’s archive!
[Intro music] 00:16 Paul Ford Hello! You’re listening to Track Changes, the podcast of Postlight, the digital product studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City. My name is Paul Ford. I am the co-founder at Postlight and the co-host of Track Changes.
Rich Ziade And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder and co-host of Postlight. Sounds like equal footing, Paul, cuz the whole world thinks I’m like your Ed McMahon.
PF I don’t think — let me tell you something I just learned: people don’t know that this is a Postlight podcast, they think it’s about you and me. They skip over the ad every time.
RZ Is that true?
PF I think we should tell a secret right now.
PF Like, I will give you five dollars if you — no I’m not gonna do that.
RZ Don’t do that.
RZ We’ve got a couple of great guests here.
PF But before we tell anyone about our great guests, we should actually remind people of what we do even though they’re not listening.
RZ We’re a digital product studio based in New York City. Uh we design and build and architect and stand up great platforms: web, app, everything!
PF We design ‘em! And that’s an important thing. Like we think a lot about the infrastructure and the technology but we make things look and feel really good. User experience is a big part of what we do [yes]. And so if you have the need to make a big thing, you should get in touch with us and we will help you do it. Alright! So, Rich!
RZ Yes, Paul?
PF Uh our guests are from the Library of Congress.
RZ That just sounds big.
PF It is!
Kate Zwaard It is big.
RZ As soon as you say it.
1:50 PF It’s a hell of a library.
PF You ever been there?
RZ I’ve never been there. I’ve been by it. It’s big! And it’s just — not just physically big, it just lands big.
PF It does. It’s no foolin’ around. It’s the Library of Congress. So let’s actually introduce who these human beings are across from us. We’ve got Abbey Potter.
Abbey Potter Hello.
PF And we’ve got Kate Zwaard.
PF Um, what do you people do with taxpayers’ money? [Laughter]
RZ Oh boy! Heavy.
KZ Only good things. Only good things.
AP We run a thing called the Library of Congress Labs.
AP My title is Senior Innovations Specialist.
KZ My title is Chief of National Digital Initiatives.
PF K. What — ok [boisterous laughter]. So let’s break that down a little bit. Alright, so, let’s start with Abbey, what’s your actual job?
AP Day to day it is trying to convince people to use our digital collections. Most of that work is making sure people know about them, how to get to them, what they can do with them.
PF And Kate, what about you?
3:01 KZ My job is um I think more direction setting. And I think of it mostly as enabling the Library to try new things in an environment that controls for risk. And in contributing to and learning from community driven projects.
PF Which is very meta but you used to also — like I know you used to be a developer, right?
KZ Yeah I was a developer on the digital library um side of the Library of Congress. Um so I wrote the code that helps us ingest the storycorps.me files and um I helped shape the way we architected our digital library system.
PF Ok so this is you — you used to do that and now you’re sort of at a metalevel helping more of that happen?
KZ Um so a founding mother of our profession, software end libraries’ Henriette Avram had this great quote: “I’m an information technologist by training and a brainwashed librarian.” I think that’s where I am.
PF Tell me what people need to know about the Library of Congress cuz I think a lot of our listeners are not thinking about the Library of Congress everyday. So in the context of I’ve got two digital Library of Congress people here, what should everybody know?
AP We’re very friendly [laughter]. I think a lot of people feel intimidated dealing with the Library of Congress um I know my own self I didn’t know, before I started working there, that you could just go, anybody over the age of 16 can just go and get a reader’s card and that we’ve got lots of stuff online that’s really interesting and cool. And we’ve got a couple of neat APIs and data sources that you can use if you’re a programmer and that if you need help or you get stuck, you can email us and we’ll help you. That we’re here for you, that this is America’s library and it’s intended for the use of the American people.
RZ So let me be a laymen for a second. I have an assumption, which I think many people do about the Library of Congress, that everything’s in there. Beyond books, what’s in there?
KZ Yeah, beyond books, that’s great. Um so a lot of the collection is books. Those tend to come in through copyright deposit but we also have a bunch of really interesting special collections. So we have a great maps collection, manuscript collection, the American Folklife Centre collects information about American folk art and culture, a lot of music, a lot of moving images and sound –
RZ Now is all music in there?
AP It’s a selective collection. So librarians make determinations about what should be in the collection but it’s a lot.
It doesn’t have everything but it is the largest library that’s ever existed on planet Earth.
5:30 KZ Yeah it’s meant to be a universal collection. So when Thomas Jefferson was one of the key people in the growth of the Library and he donated his own collection to sort of restart the Library after it burnt down in the War of 1812. And his collection was sort of based on universal knowledge and that there would be no subject that our lawmakers wouldn’t have to consult in making the laws of the nations. So it is organized by what are the three?
AP Memory, reason, and imagination.
KZ Right, so those are sort of the big [RZ exhales heavily] buckets.
RZ That’s heavy.
KZ And uh –
PF That’s a hell of a mission statement.
KZ It doesn’t have everything but it is the largest library that’s ever existed on planet Earth.
RZ I’m not surprised. Ok. The fact that librarians are picking music I think is fascinating on that alone. I mean I don’t want us to dive into that. But I just imagine it’s only like Crosby, Stills & Nash.
PF Wow that’s a deep librarian burn [laughter].
RZ I didn’t mean it that way!
KZ That’s kind of unnecessary [laughter].
RZ Gwar! Is Gwar in the Library of Congress?
KZ I betcha it is.
PF Yeah probably.
RZ Really? That’s — see that’s cool. Now we can move on [laughter].
KZ I can find out for sure but I think it’s a good bet.
AP Yeah, I mean we could search right now –
6:49 RZ Ok so there’s all sorts of stuff beyond books. And throughout most of history it just existed in physical artefacts, right? [Yup] So I think it would be helpful to hear the spawning of sort of digital and how it sort of took hold and how we got to today.
KZ I think digital libraries really started with digitization of tangible assets. So with the idea we have all these books and maps and manuscripts that are not in copyright and could be viewable from anywhere in the world, so why don’t we scan them and put them online? The Library of Congress was one of the first libraries to have a website and so they put up these like very nineties looking um like you know purple background with links to things. Um and then as we sort of — this collection got bigger, we started putting that in a modern web framework So that’s on loc.gov, all of it is, you know, searchable. And then as information developed our collecting methodologies had to change too. So um now we’re publishing online a lot. Um so we have this robust web archiving program to selectively collect stuff on the web. I think one of the most interesting things to your audience might be our web culture’s collection. So the Folklife Centre which collects information about American folk culture and folk art collected a series of websites about the culture of the web. So they Know Your Meme and things like that.
RZ By ‘collected’, just copied it and put it somewhere else?
AP Yeah, so –
RZ So you can access it as if it was live? Cuz stuff dies on the web, right?
KZ Yeah so I think there was two — two goals: one is to preserve it for, you know, the future of our country. So that researchers in the future can use it. But the other is that, a key part to what librarians do, which is organizing information and making it suitable for research. So collecting these things, contextualizing them with each other, making them findable, and then we have experts on staff who can answer reference questions. So if you google ‘ask a librarian’, that a service the Library of Congress provides to researchers who are looking for information about a particular topic.
RZ A human . . . is going to respond . . .
KZ A human.
RZ . . . to ‘ask a librarian’?
RZ That’s amazing! For free? ‘Ask a librarian’?
KZ That’s right! ‘Ask a librarian’ for free. And if they um — if your question is more suitable to your public library, they’ll put you there. If we have a collection about it that can give you more information about it — um that’s our job! So Abbey likes to say, “Libraries are not book museums,” and um it’s true. What libraries are are people, people who know the collections and can help you, and can help you frame research questions, and find information you wouldn’t have been able to find on yourself.
9:20 AP We do have Gwar!
RZ That’s amazing!
AP We have a ‘Gwar underground videos’ –
RZ That is so cool.
AP — that you can request. Here’s the MARC tag if you wanna look at it.
PF Oh my goodness! So while we were talking, Abbey was actively looking up at the Library of Congress on her phone –
RZ We need a screen grab of this [laughter] –
PF Yeah, can you take a screenshot?
RZ — this needs to go — we will put this on social media. That’s amazing.
PF Um ok so, Rich, you stereotyped –
RZ I did! And I got crushed!
PF You got destroyed [laughing].
RZ I got destroyed.
KZ That’s what we’re here for [laughter]. I should actually mention the National Recorded Sound Registry. So this is a registry the librarian puts out every year of significant um sound recordings that we should preserve. And on that list are um Metallica, U2 — um so I mean there’s folk pieces and definitely artists you would never had heard of but also artists that are, you know, very important to our pop culture as well.
Libraries are not book museums. What libraries are are people, people who know the collections, and can help you frame research questions, and find information you wouldn’t have been able to find yourself.
PF Who decides when something goes digital inside the library?
KZ There’s basically a board that decides and some of the criteria they use are: what’s the state of the tangible item? So if that is becoming not usable or they don’t wanna serve it in the reading room because it’s fragile, they’ll digitize that. But also they digitize things of public interest. So we just put the Hamilton Papers up. Um –
10:39 PF Cuz everybody’s very Hamilton focused.
KZ Yeah, I mean not that we wouldn’t otherwise but it’s also kind of um –
RZ Top of mind.
KZ Top of mind, yeah.
AP Well with our huge collection there’s also — with that comes how — you know, how do you decide what to — what goes first. There’s a lot of discussions around it and a lot of people have different priorities. So we have a system that tries to be rational about how to use our limited funds on how to digitizing things. I think a lot of people would like to see a lot digitized but you know we only have a certain amount of money to do that with and so we have to prioritize.
PF So it’s very related to mission.
AP And if it’s, you know, if we can serve it online publicly, so if it’s out of copyright, that stuff, you know, usually goes first. If the original is unique or damaged or fragile then, you know, that also matters.
PF What is the coolest thing either one of you have seen at the library?
KZ Um, we have wax cylinders. Um, recordings — some of the first recordings that were ever made and uh they degrade every time you play them. And so there’s an effort in our preservation office to um scan them at a really high fidelity and then use code to play that sound back.
PF Oh so visually scan them?
KZ Visually scan them.
KZ And then use the peaks and valleys of the scan to make sound.
12:04 RZ That is cool!
PF Because everytime you play them — so this is a way to get the audio out without degrading and altering the original.
KZ That’s right.
RZ That’s a cool project. That’s badass.
AP Alright, I have one. And I only saw it recently because we have an Innovator-in-Residence, Jer Thorp, and he’s been sort of taking a tour around the library and one thing um that we looked at the other week was it was a contest run after the Civil War. It was a handwriting contest for left handed people who were previously right-handed [PF mm hmm] who were injured and can’t use their right hand. So they [PF sheesh] it was a contest in a newspaper –
PF [Laughing and laughter] this is the most depressing and amazing thing. This is amazing. Ok.
KZ They’re all dead, so –
PF I understand. It’s not really, yeah, it’s fine.
AP But um and we have all the [KZ don’t worry about them, don’t use that] and uh and you can see, you know, the handwriting which is — they had one for — they had different prizes for language, and then beauty and artistry. I mean I would just — didn’t know something like that existed, number one, and then it was just very cool to actually see these peoples’ actual handwriting, and these are just sort of everyday people, veterans. And that stuff being in the Library of Congress is pretty cool. And it’s online, so you can see it online too.
RZ That is really cool.
KZ Paul Ford? [Light laughter] What is the most amazing thing you’ve seen at the Library?
PF Ooh! We had a good tour of the Library when I went down there. Um the most amazing thing I saw at the Library it’s kind of an abstract thing but was the map collection. The map collection is several football fields in size of those really big flat drawers and it’s not organized — or it’s very organized but they don’t know all the maps. The maps are just in the drawers. Millions of them.
KZ I think two million. I think.
13:51 PF And they organize them by place. So you’re like, “Hey, I need a map of France and it’d be great if it was a little bit like this.” And then a person goes to the France maps, looks through the maps, and is like, “This one looks good -” or two or three –
KZ The oldest is on the bottom so.
RZ Can you just open the drawer?
PF I mean –
KZ You can.
PF If you’re in there but the room is so big that it’s like you sort of — it has a vanishing point.
PF And it’s just this — it’s a like a tribute to this form of organization because you just walk past this area and it’ll just be ‘Vietnam’. And you realize, “Oh ok this is where we worked out Vietnam like as a country.” Um it’s very easy in our part of the world to be like, “Digitize everything!” You know? And then you realize there’s — that information may be one percent of it is probably, or less, is actually available online somehow [RZ right] and then the other 99.9 percent or whatever is in filing cabinets that are organized by age and geography [RZ right]. And there’s no easy path to get those football fields of maps into our world of easy digital access without probably what feels like 100 million dollars or more.
RZ Yeah, is that a mission? To digitize the maps?
KZ Yes, I think the mission is to digitize as much of the material that we can make publicly available as possible. But the scanning is actually a small fraction of the cost because you have to then describe it and ingest it to, you know, the web application. And the cost in the programmers alone is high. To get all of that material online, yeah.
PF Well you gotta get a room to put everybody in cuz you’d be doing so much scanning and like OCR would only catch a certain number of cases because they’re maps.
RZ Oh sure! What are you guys working on today that you’re most excited about?
What I think is really exciting about the [Citizen Historian] transcription project is not the data we’ll get out of it, but it’s getting people to collaborate in the making of cultural memory. One of the most important constituencies of the Library is the informed and curious. People who want to read things and want to know stuff. Having a framework for them to just come upon a random item from the past and understand it deeply, I think, is really, really fun.
AP Probably the crowdsourcing –
KZ Yeah, the crowdsourcing is the most exciting to me.
AP — is a big, exciting thing cuz I think that is one way where we can open up our collections to anyone who, you know, can use a website. So this crowdsourcing platform that we’re working on is a way to have the public access and dig into our collections while we get some sort of useful data out of the interaction too.
16:16 PF Does the crowdsourcing platform have like an internal name that you use to describe it?
RZ A code name?
KZ It does [laughs].
PF [Laughing] can you share that with the Track Changes listeners?
KZ I can. I can. So it’s official name is the Citizen Historian [PF mm!]. We’ve been calling it Chic.
PF So Chic –
KZ Chic [laughs].
PF — is a framework for sort of putting scans on and letting people tell you things about the scans?
KZ That’s right. So it’s a framework for inviting people to transcribe scans or tag scans and then a peer review process for accuracy. Um but what I think is really exciting about the transcription project is not just — not the data we’ll get out of it but it’s getting people to collaborate in the making of cultural memory. So I think one of the most important constituencies of the Library in my mind is the informed and curious, people who are just — wanna read things and wanna know stuff. And having a framework for them to just come upon a random item from the past and understand it deeply, I think, is really, really fun.
PF Ephemera is magical. Like, you know, the — I think what’s great about digital collections is that they let you play with and explore things that were ephemeral or seen as relatively low value, as opposed to the more formally like catalogued, structured stuff. And then when you get in it and it’s very educating. You’re like, “Oh, look at this ad. This is a scam. This is — this was — wow, they cared about this. That doesn’t make sense to me.” And you realize — it’s one of the things like where you realize that most of history is just a nicely constructed tale filled with big, bold names. And most people actually experienced it as like crappy classified ads and, you know, silly cartoons that were kinda racist and you know.
KZ I think the New York Public Labs Menu Project is a great example of that. So like just reading old menus. Like what were people eating? What were meals structured [RZ oh that’s cool] like? It’s really neat and it gives you a sense of what it was like to live at that moment in a way that reading Thomas Jefferson’s papers doesn’t really give you that sense.
18:20 RZ Right.
Ephemera is magical. What’s great about digital collections is that they let you play with and explore things that were ephemeral or seen as relatively low value, as opposed to the more formally catalogued, structured stuff.
PF It’s also you can’t really stumble across Thomas Jefferson’s paper [light laughter], you know, everybody knows where they are [mm hmm]. And there’s been a national debate as to how things went with Thomas Jefferson and when you go and you see like, “Hey, we’re gonna — we’ve got aspic covered, you know, calf’s head at Delmonico’s” –
KZ That’s actually what I had for breakfast [laughter].
PF That’s right. That’s big in Williamsburg right now. They’re trying to bring back –
RZ They’ll do it.
PF — aspic and sort of brains [continued laughter]. Um ok so people can come and add information to collections and that’s nice cuz that feeds into the global or the national commons [mm hmm] around these digital assets. That’s a really good thing. Like it’s hard to — I usually am able to find a negative or critical thing to say about almost anything [laughter] –
AP Well and we’re — the platform we’re hoping will be sort of content agnostic. So we’re really interested in audio transcriptions and how to do that in sort of a crowdsourced way and we’re hoping this platform can handle all types of format. And since we’re developing it open source, hopefully other cultural heritage organizations can learn from what we’re doing and use similar tools.
KZ So what’s available now is a proof of concept application called Beyond Words that invites people to identify and transcribe cartoons and images in historic images in the World War I era and what we’re working is the content agnostic tool that Abbey described um for all um written collections.
PF Ok so Chic could expand to be videos or could expand to be audio or could — ok.
KZ That’s my hope, yeah. Mm hmm.
I have two little kids and the way they think about information and the way they see information, it’s just little bits that are disposable forever, everyday, all the time … Have you guys thought about this? And thought about how to insinuate all of this great stuff that you have into future generations?
RZ I wanna ask a little bit about — I’m gonna sound like an old man for a second, Paul. We do this a lot. Um, young people. I have two little kids and I interact with young people sometimes and uh the way they think about information and the way they see information it’s just little bits that are disposable forever, everyday, all the time.
20:24 PF Their life is ephemera. I see it with my kids.
RZ Yeah. It’s just like what is worth storing away? Right? Or even the notion of storage! Um I grew up, you know, with an old Commodore 64 and I saved up money to get a hard drive. Um a five and a — was it five and a half inch?
PF Floppy drive, you’re forgetting.
RZ Floppy drive! Thank you.
PF Yeah it was the 1540.
RZ So that stuff was meaningful! Even though it was digital, it was meaningful to find great things and hold onto them. And now that’s sort of gone. And how — have you guys — well, two part question: have you guys thought about this? And thought about how to sort of insinuate all of this great stuff that you guys have into a, I mean I wanna say future generations which sounds corny but feels like future — like the future!
PF That’s the thing [RZ laughs] it’s actually it’s appropriate to say it in this context.
RZ I think yeah. I feel like I can do this now. So, have you thought about this?
KZ Oh definitely. We definitely — and our librarian is specifically interested in opening up our doors more to like teens and younger folks um –
PF I think it’s worth saying — when you say ‘our librarian’, you’re talking about The Librarian of Congress –
KZ The Librarian of Congress, yes.
PF Whose name is?
KZ Carla Hayden.
PF Ok so Carla Hayden is a federally appointed Librarian of Congress.
KZ That’s right. Yes.
PF Who is your boss.
PF In a couple of levels up, I’m guessing, it’s a pretty big org.
PF Ok, ok.
Libraries have been rethinking what libraries are.
21:51 KZ Um but the good news is millennials are actually huge library users. Um the younger genera — if you go to a university library now, it’s packed with people.
KZ Yeah, they’re huge library users.
RZ Sitting on computers?
KZ Uh, sitting on computers, sometimes their own, and I think libraries have been rethinking what libraries are, right? In terms of space, like physical space, and what programming we can offer, and how people can use the collections. Um and I think the other thing about the ephemerality of the material as far as the young people think about what they create. It think actually they don’t think about it as ephemeral. They actually trust the world to keep it [RZ mm]. So they don’t think about their photos as disposable but they don’t think about storage. They’ve actually abstracted that, right? That’s someone else’s problem. And to me that’s actually very good. I think reconstructing an archive from someone’s cloud services is very possible.
AP But I think there’s been sort of mixed messages to kids about, you know, if you put a photo on the internet, it’ll follow you for the rest of your life. In some ways, you know, that can happen. But what most often happen is that either a service or a storage service will go away or a um [RZ sure] you’ll forget to pay your hosting bill. You know sort of by human accident or not accident, a lot of this data will not stay live if somebody doesn’t pay for it or manage it.
RZ It probably won’t.
PF Right and I mean that’s it for your SmugMug account, right?
PF Yeah I have a lot of my stuff in the cloud and I’ve been thinking a lot about it’d be nice to have it at home. I’d like more optionality, you know especially for the day when the big hack comes and it’s like, you know, something terrible –
RZ [Laughing] everything’s gone!
PF — like Gmail, yeah. It’s all — and I just want it. And what I realize is that to do it right you basically need a kind of dev-op, sys-admin, API focused, programmer set of skills which I have. So I’m like, “Ok -”
23:43 KZ Lucky you! [Laughter]
PF No, no exactly. And I’m in the extreme minority with that set of skills and they’re really hard to teach and train, too. So it’s not like I can like, “Here’s how to backup your life.” The way to backup your life is to become a programmer.
KZ Yeah. And actually –
RZ And I don’t think — I mean you nailed it, Kate, which is I don’t think they view — like, “What does backup mean?” Like, “What are you talking about? I starred [PF yeah]. That’s enough. I’ve starred the thing. That means it’s been taken care of into the star bucket.” Or whatever.
PF What’s gonna happen with those cloud services in the Library of Congress? Like, is that — that’s not your mandate, right? Like, that — is that just sort of –
KZ Well, I think, in some ways if you think about the, you know, Thomas Jefferson papers that we have now. Those are all, you know, on paper. And uh like we were talking about earlier, our sort of output and intellectual sort of record is not on paper anymore. So what we wanna collect in the future, so even I dunno five years from now there’s a famous artist who we wanna collect their papers, we’re not — we’re gonna be collecting their hard drives [PF right]. And then their — you know a lot of people collect passwords for their Gmail or their cloud services but it’s not — it’s very much an influx practice right now. There’s some tools, sort of forensic type tools for uh going through hard drives and identifying files and trying to identify PII and what we can save and what we can’t.
PF What’s PII?
KZ Personal Identifying Information.
PF Oh ok.
KZ Uh so –
PF That’s a good one. I’m gonna start using that. “Guys, there’s PII all over the place!” [Laughter] Um ok so there’s a whole new set of things. So people out there listening if you have like good ideas about personal archiving, this is — nobody has the answers yet.
KZ People are working on it but um [PF sure] but it is not a solved thing.
25:39 RZ I think it’s all going away. I don’t think anything’s gonna — I mean if I needed to get my stuff off of a floppy, an old Commodore 64 floppy, there’s probably services you send it out to, they’ll charge you –
PF Not even for C 64s.
RZ They’re not even out there?
PF No, you get in touch with like Jason Scott or Ben Fino Radin who like — they’re archivist specialists who work with museums now [RZ ok] and that’s, I mean there must be somebody.
KZ Yeah, there’s a community. There’s a tool called BitCurator and there’s a community of people who work in museums in libraries who are actively working on this [RZ got it] and trying to build tools around it but it’s not for Consumer Joe Public [RZ got it]. This is for institutions.
RZ You mentioned Jason Scott. The Internet Archive is obviously the real deal. I mean it’s practically as the quasi official archive of the internet even though most of the links are busted.
PF Well the Library of Congress partners with them.
RZ Yeah, I was gonna ask: what is the connection to the Library of Congress?
KZ Well we’ve been partnered with them for years. We use their tool to do our web archiving. We contract with them to do our web archiving. So um we’ve worked with them very very closely for many years.
RZ Shouldn’t it be in there? Shouldn’t the Internet Archive be inside?
KZ In the Library of Congress?
RZ Mm hmm.
KZ So the Library of Congress is a selective collection. So we have librarians who are trained and some who are experts in certain subjects who decide what we’re going to have [RZ I see]. So it’s not — we don’t collect everything in any direction –
RZ It’s not a dumb backup of [KZ right, right] the internet. Ok. I see.
AP Yeah so like web archives, we have a lot of election based archives, [RZ got it] we have a lot of event based archives where we go much deeper than the archive goes but that’s a curatorial choice that we’ve made [RZ got it]. But we work very well with them and it’s — I would say it’s best to have both. You know there’s the broad crawl that the Internet Archive does and then there’s us and then there’s many other libraries that do web archiving at a deep level and it’s sort of how all libraries and archives have worked where each — everybody sort of collects their own way and their things and hopefully we get a representative sample as a community.
There’s the broad crawl that the Internet Archive does and then there’s us, and then there’s many other libraries that do web archiving at a deep level. It’s sort of how all libraries and archives have worked, where everybody collects their own way and their own things and hopefully we get a representative sample as a community.
27:52 PF These are also very different cultures. Like I’m just laughing to myself like putting the Internet Archive inside the Library of Congress would be like letting Timberwolves loose a little bit [RZ yeah]. They’re on a real mission and it’s great — here’s the thing I’m actually kind of — I’m poking fun but there’s a thing that really changed. Remember about eight years ago it was hard to get information out of the Library of Congress and I was really interested and it was relevant to my work and there was stuff about — and there were sort of a lot of fights in public as to what should and shouldn’t be out. And it was weird that a government organization was kind or erring on the side of an extreme level of lockdown. And it was a — sort of a weird time and when I started to have a conversation with the two of you and you know and went down and gave a talk, it was a very different organization just in how it was reaching out, what it was — you’re erring on the side of making stuff available. And uh it really struck me. I mean it was just sort of like, ok, wow, the Library of Congress really, really wants things in the commons for people to use and reuse. And I was like, “Can I hit this API?” I think I was emailing with Kate and you were just like, “Yeah, whatever, go. See what happens.” And I was like, “Well what about?” And you were, “No, no, no big deal. Just make yourself at home.” And that’s a great message for a taxpayer funded organization to send. Like it didn’t used to feel that way and it does now which is great. I know that that might not be the easiest thing for you guys to talk about but I just — it’s worth noting for other developers in the cultural common space, some of whom are listening, that this is a very accessible organization now.
KZ I’m so delighted that you think that and I think that we’ve, you know, under the new leadership have made a huge effort to make things more available and to be more welcoming. And you know it is your taxpayer money. Like, you have paid for this. And I think being accessible in all different ways of using it um I think part of our job in the Library of Congress Labs is to be an advocate for the developer community who’s interested in using our material and to help when people get stuck or the formats that we were making things available in are not super friendly web formats because that’s not the formats they were created in. We really do want people to feel at home.
PF Um as we close this out, you know, one of the things we like to ask people is what do you need? Who should get in touch? Who are you — are you trying to fill jobs? Are you looking for specific kinds of people? Are you looking for people to use your services or like what would be good?
KZ Oh that’s a great question! I got lots!
PF Ok go!
KZ We actually um — we are looking for partners. We are looking for people who wanna do stuff together. If you wanna host an event related to hacking on collections material or if you wanna do a project together, you wanna do an audio transcription project, we wanna do that too. Let’s find a way to do it together. We’re very open. We’re looking for people to make stuff: make stuff with Library stuff. You know we have a whole page on labs.lsu.gov which is called LC for Robots where we lay out all of our APIs and our book data sources. Make stuff and talk to us about it! Like that’s what we’re here for. We want people to use the material. Um we are — the Library of Congress is working on developing its philanthropy. Um so we’re looking for funding. So if people know of people who are interested in supporting financially different programs, digital or analogue. They should come talk to us. And we’re looking for friends, so if there’s people we should be talking to or things that we should know about, please let us know. We’re very friendly and we’re looking to be a part of the community.
31:38 PF Great! Abbey, anything?
AP Um [boisterous laughter]
RZ That was pretty thorough! [More laughter]
AP All the things. I want all the things.
PF Can I have another cup of coffee? [Laughter]
AP Well we’re uh — I mentioned the Innovator-in-Residence program — we’re working on a mechanism to try to, twice a year, bring people to the library to do interesting and new things with our collections and sort of highlight them and showcase them publicly. So we’re um we’re gonna hopefully announce something soonish, in the next year, of how that will work and how we can um sort of get people in on that path towards sort of officially working with us on something public.
KZ I should also mention we have a Congressional Data Challenge right now. So we’re uh — we have a contest where we’re inviting people to make something, make something digital with congressional information, and you can find that on the Labs website as well. Um [faint music fades in] and if people are interested in other stuff that we’re doing they can follow us on Twitter @lc_labs, they can subscribe to our new email list [AP laughs].
PF Um, ok, great!
RZ Kate, Abbey, this has been a lot of fun. Really interesting. I wanna go now. I walked by it the last time.
AP You are invited.
RZ I wanna go in the next time. Thank you for coming.
32:55 KZ Thank you so much for having us. This was really fun.
AP Very, very fun. Thank you.
KZ And, also, in the interest in of accuracy, the Library of Congress actually has five point two million maps in our maps collection.
PF Oh not two million?
KZ Not two million.
PF Wow! Not quite an order of magnitude! But bad.
KZ Yeah, very bad. Very bad.
RZ A terrible mistake [laughs].
AP Before you come we have to get the Gwar video –
RZ Please, hell yeah!
AP — so you can watch it.
PF Well, Rich, I’m gonna head down to DC and do some hacking on MARC data.
RZ When are you coming back?
PF I’m not coming back [RZ and PF laugh]. It’s great. That’s all I’m gonna do with the rest of my life and I’m gonna be happy [RZ nice]. 25 million book titles is like the data set of my dreams.
RZ I know. That’s happy.
PF I don’t know how to tell that to the people in my life.
RZ Don’t tell it to the people in your life [laughs].
PF We’ll just leave it here, privately on our podcast. Um, let’s tell the people about Postlight.
33:47 RZ Well, this has been Track Changes, the official podcast of Postlight.
PF A digital product studio at 101 5th Avenue in New York City. You know what we do! We make amazing web stuff and platforms and then we power it and it’s really good and we work with big companies and big NGOs and media companies and all that stuff.
RZ All that stuff!
PF So you can trust us, you can get in touch. You can send an email to [email protected]light.com [RZ yes]. You can give us five stars on iTunes, if you’re in the mood, up to you.
RZ Thanks everyone!
PF Bye! [Music ramps up to end]