The Library Laboratory A think tank and network for the development of new library services

The Library Laboratory is a Norwegian project financed by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority. The aim has been to create a network of persons interested in libraries and technology with a view to encouraging ideas and prototypes leading to improved access to library data.

A year ago the Library Laboratory was established as a result of cooperation between the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority and the Faculty of Library and Information Studies at Oslo University College. The original idea came from an enthusiastic librarian with a particular interest in Web 2.0 technology who suggested establishing a network and a milieu to discuss various aspects concerning Web 2.0 technologies in relation to libraries. This suggestion was taken up by the Archive, Library and Museum Authority and a working group was created consisting of people from the Norwegian library sector with a particular interest in technology. A manager was also appointed to oversee the project’s technical and practical progress.

Web site

We immediately agreed that the central working basis for the project would have to be a web site and this was set up at http://www.biblioteklaboratoriet. no. As it was vital to involve all those with an interest in libraries and technology, we also decided that the web site should have a so-called community portal where everybody could present their ideas for new making it possible for anyone to register and contribute their suggestions. In addition the standard web site is built around a blog facility which can be used by all members of the working group.

As of now the community portal has four main categories. Under ‘How’ one can describe personal experience in implementing and using various technologies; ‘What’ provides a librarytechnological wordlist; ‘Services’ offers a survey of relevant services, while ‘People’ gives the names of contributors to the Library Laboratory. So far some 100 articles have been posted and statistics show that the web site has 150 -200 regular users.

Although social technology has provided a basic impetus to the establishment of the laboratory, the working group has at all times endeavoured to steer clear of technology for its own sake.While wishing to open the web site as a virtual playground, we have nevertheless at the same time retained the belief that it is important to continue to discuss and try to identify how today’s library system can be improved within the old ‘1.0’ reality.

Competitions and workshop

During the autumn of 2007 we arranged three competitions. Two of these were based on the ‘mash-up’ of library data. Participants were challenged to implement or to propose good ideas with a view to coupling data retrieved from the library system with the metadata of other systems. The third competition, focusing on library interface with users, asked participants to provide answers to the question, “What should a library look like on the Internet?”

In connection with these competitions we arranged a two-day workshop in Bergen with the aim of giving those interested in the project the opportunity to meet in person and to develop ideas for library systems of the future. Each day started with lectures and panel debates, where topics included the standards required for interface and functionality in new OPACs, an introduction to technologies for harvesting data and simultaneous searching, also a practical introduction to the installation of search engines. Introductions were also given by representatives of the library systems BIBSYS and Bibliofil. The 35 participants then went on to work in groups, coming up with several good ideas.

Prototype development

One of the aims of the Library Laboratory has been to create services and solutions at a ‘prototype’ level with a view to their further development. The winning idea in the ‘mash-up’ competition has now been granted financial support by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority precisely in order to fulfil this aim. The project is being organised by the Deichman Library in Oslo, but the intention is to develop a system-independent solution. A further requirement is that the modules developed should be accessible by means of an open source code to other interested persons wishing to make a contribution. The Library Laboratory’s working committee will act as reference group for the project and will also arrange a workshop to get the initiative off the ground. The project will also make use of the Library Laboratory’s community portal as a starting point in its efforts to attract contributors both within and outside the library sector.

The idea behind the project involves the integration of bibliographic metadata, music and film. The intention is to research the possibility of combining information at a working level so that an item of literature, for example, can be connected not only to printed versions of the document (already partly implemented in today’s library catalogues), but also to any audio version or films based on that particular book.


As mentioned earlier, it has been important for the working group to further the progress of the project within the framework of existing technology and standards for metadata. One particular challenge in this respect is the development of an interface for library catalogues. The catalogues of today are predominately created without any involvement of the end-user. When developing and designing library web sites, one is often caught between the practices followed by the mother institution (a munici-pality in the case of public libraries, and universities or colleges in the case of academic libraries) and the library systems themselves. As a result one often ends up with solutions which fall short of the optimal requirements of all concerned. This is an awkward problem, since the objective is for the library to be integrated with the mother institution’s web site. At the same time the core content of the library needs to be made available to the user in a better way than at present, preferably through the medium of user-friendly design. This means that the employability of the web site must be regularly tested during the design stage to ensure that the end-user will intuitively understand how to gain access to the most important products on the site and how to make best use of it to carry out central tasks.

The Library Laboratory has recently been granted renewed financing by the Norwegian Archive, Library and Museum Authority to cover a further year’s work. We expect this to lead to wider interest and a consequent strengthening of the network. All those who wish to contribute are most welcome to do so at

Nils Pharo
Associate Professor
Oslo University College,
Faculty of Journalism,
Library and Information Science

Nils.Pharo AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

Associate Professor Oslo University College, Faculty of Journalism, Library and Information Science