A lab is where experimental and research-focused tools, methods, and services are incubated. The starting premise for a lab is often wanting to spur change and make space for new practice and new people. Yet calling something a lab can also signal separation between traditional services and new approaches. Labs, and innovation in general, can seem like a passing fad that promotes shallow thinking such as in the context of the application of digital technologies. Considering the limited resources and lack of cutting-edge technologies available at most galleries, libraries, archives, and museums (GLAMs), should GLAMs consider opening labs and if so how should they be set up, maintained and enabled to flourish? Answering these questions and capturing and sharing the knowledge, wisdom, successes and failures of over more than a decade of GLAM Labs around the world was the catalyst for this project and the premise of the book.
The International GLAM Labs Community formed in 2018 at an event on global ‘Library Labs’ held by the British Library in London. One year later, in September 2019, 16 members of this community, all digital cultural heritage professionals working in and with galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) Labs, arrived in Doha, Qatar, to write a book in 5 days. Open a GLAM Lab is the result – a handbook for anyone interested in running or sustaining a lab in the cultural heritage sector. To quote Seb Chan’s review of the book in October 2019,
‘This book is an essential read for cultural institution leaders looking to understand why their organisation might need a GLAM Lab, and also for those workers who are making the case for one. Each chapter clearly lays out the reasoning, benefits, challenges, and ways forward and the case studies are clear and compelling. I look forward to a further blossoming of labs in our sector.’ .
The book represents everything labs hope for in the context of the future of their GLAM institutions: it is experimental in its construction (it used the ‘booksprint’ methodology to create it), radically open in its publication (CC0) and transparent and generous with its institutional knowledge (all participating institutions gave their staff’s time to participate in the booksprint and the event was sponsored by a number of organisations – University College London Qatar, Qatar University and Qatar University Press, Booksprints Ltd, British Library and Library of Congress).
The book introduces GLAM Labs, what they are and why their experimental nature is necessary to the future of cultural heritage. It further suggests how to start and position a GLAM Lab within your institution, how to put together a Lab team and how to create a nurturing environment for the Labber. The Labber, a neologism created by the booksprint authors, is key to a Lab’s success. A Labber can be both a person working in the labs team and a person from the labs community. Acknowledging that these Labbers often work and experiment at the fringes of what is traditionally acceptable practice in GLAMs it is important to recognise and support the human element of Labs, of people engaging and experimenting with cultural heritage data and (often) pushing for change within the sector. Further chapters discuss rethinking collections as data, transformation (in, through and by GLAM Labs), and sustainability and funding of Labs. The last chapter explores the fundamental link between labs, labber type practices, audiences and the future of GLAMs. As passionate GLAM professionals (and enthusiasts) the collaborative co-authored call to action at the conclusion of the book was simple: Open a GLAM Lab! The dedication and drive of the GLAM Labs community and the firm belief in the necessity for experimental lab practices within cultural heritage organisations has seen five translations of the book currently underway (Arabic, Bulgarian, Russian, French and Spanish). The book has been welcomed enthusiastically by the GLAM community, viewed over 5300 times and has resulted in the further diversification of the GLAM Labs community – growing it to over 250 members from more than 60 organisations in over 30 countries worldwide. The process of the booksprint and the resulting book have further been described in various international blog posts:
- Labbers of the world unite to write a book in 1 week through a Book Sprint. 20 September 2019, by Mahendra Mahey. Digital Scholarship Blog, The British Library.
- Open a GLAM Lab book, October 30, 2019, by Paula Bray. State Library, NSW. Australia.
- Open a GLAM Lab – a book in five days. October 30, 2019, on KB Lab blog.
- Experiment & Innovate: ‘Open A GLAM Lab’ Book Launched. October 30, 2019, by Lotte Wilms. LIBER (Ligue des Bibliothèques Européennes de Recherche – Association of European Research Libraries).
- A Book Sprint for the GLAM sector. 30 October 2019, by Julianna Secchi. BookSprints.com (facilitator)
- Open a GLAM Lab book: a rich experience. 31 October 2019, by Gustavo Candela on BVMC Labs blog.
- Also available in Spanish: El Libro Open a GLAM Lab. October 31, 2019 by Gustavo Candela on BVMC Labs blog.
- Sprinting toward a Lab: defining, connecting and writing a book in five days. 31 October 2019, by Abbey Potter on Library of Congress blog The Signal.
- Curious about how the Open a Glam Lab Book had been created? 1 November 2019, by Milena Dobreva, UCL Qatar.
- Open a GLAM Lab & the International GLAM Labs Community. 4 November 2019, by Kristy Kokegei, History Trust of South Australia, Australia.
- Sprinting Toward a Lab: Network Building, Knowledge Sharing and Transforming Communities in Galleries, Archives, Libraries and Museums Through a Book Sprint. 3 January 2020, by Caleb Derven, Coalition for Networked Information.
- Innovation through GLAM Labs. 14 February 2020, by Milena Dobreva, Europeana Foundation.
The book and its driving force (the International GLAM Labs community) has been presented at multiple conferences and events, such as Digital Humanities in the Nordic countries (DHN 2020), March 2020 in Riga, Latvia, a LIBER webinar January 2020, the 7th Estonian Digital Humanities Conference in Tallinn (December 2019), British Library Labs in London (November 2019), State Library of New South Wales in Sydney (November 2019), the WikidataCon October 2019 in Berlin, From Archives to Arch-Lives in Cairo (October 2019), Research Libraries UK in London (October 2019), webinar for the Open Preservation Foundation (October 2019), Hong Kong Baptist University Digital Scholarship Symposium (October 2019), Public talk at the Australian National University in Canberra (October 2019), History Trust South Australia in Adelaide (October 2019) with further events planned in the Europe, USA, Africa and Australia.
In Australia, the book has been a catalyst for formalising an Australian GLAM Labs community of practice with an Australian-wide Digital Humanities webinar on 11 December 2019 showcasing the book and bringing the community together.
Finally, it is was second runner up for the 2019 DH Awards in the category “Best DH Public Engagement”.
At a time where long term archiving is a major challenge, the GLAM Labs community believes that the best way to preserve cultural heritage is to stimulate and foster continuous innovative use and experimentation of its collections (especially digital) and that labs are an environment to do just that. The authors of ‘Open a GLAM Lab’ hope that this book will become a work of reference and inspire existing, planned and envisioned labs worldwide. To publish the book fully free and under a CC0 follows the core principle of GLAM Labs – radical openness. We hope that the GLAMi award will bring even more attention to the book and as such to help us help other GLAM Labbers and those interested around the world.