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"...some of the most innovative digital library work anywhere." - Dan Cohen, Executive Director, Digital Public Library of America

"...showing just how much of a force for awesome experimentation a library can be today." - Dan Sinker, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, founder of Punk Planet

"...working industriously to bring things that others think impossible to reality." - Dongfang Shao, Library of Congress

"It's all part of drawing the public into the library's work." - Jennifer Howard, Chronicle of Higher Education


Based at The New York Public Library's landmark central branch on 42nd Street, NYPL Labs is an experimental design and technology team working to re-imagine The Library for the Internet age. Labs developers work closely with librarians and curators to create imaginative tools, apps and experiences around library content and services, often engaging the public directly directly in the work of improving, organizing or remixing library data.

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Labs is hiring! Help The reinvent ebook access for libraries (plus a bunch of other cool stuff):

Coming up:

Recent news and talks:

Recent publications:

  • NYPL Labs: Hacking the Library (pdf) by Labs Manager Ben Vershbow - electronic peer-reviewed version of an article published in Journal of Library Administration 53(1) (January, 2013): 10–26 - Special Issue: Digitial Humanities in Libraries – New Models For Scholarly Engagement. The article is also available at Taylor & Francis Online. Alt/Open Access table of contents of full issue available here.
  • Cover story in Library Journal (September, 2012)


Building Inspector

Our latest collaboration with the Map Division, Building Inspector is a mobile-friendly web app for improving information extracted from 19th century New York City insurance atlases. Out of a recent hack event, we developed a computer vision process that can identify building shapes and other data from georectified atlas sheets (kind of like OCR for maps). The output is good, but not perfect, so Building Inspector crowdsources the quality control, inviting users to check the computer's work, building by building. Kill time, make history. It's easy (and addictive).

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NYPL Digital Collections

Labs has been working with NYPL's Digital Repository team on a new interface for the Library's vast digital collections website. Currently in beta, the new service is powered by NYPL's recently opened Digital Collections API and over time will become the Library's central access point for digitized and born-digital materials of all formats.

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NYPL Archives and Manuscripts

The most comprehensive discovery system for archives and manuscripts ever produced by the Library, with over 9,000 collections. This evolving platform introduces several innovative approaches to the presentation of finding aids on the web including an intuitive single-page interface, component-level search, and access to digitized materials. Produced in close collaboration with the NYPL Manuscripts and Archives Division, with generous support of The Polonsky Foundation and The Hermione Foundation. 

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What's on the Menu?

The Library has been collecting restaurant menus for over a century, amassing one of the largest culinary archives in the world. To open up the collection online, we've enlisted the public's help in transcribing the actual contents of the menus: dishes, prices and other information of great value to researchers that, due to handwritten lettering, idiosyncratic typography and layouts, has been difficult to extract mechanically. The resulting database provides a powerful tool for researching the tastes, appetites and social fabric of the past. Thousands have participated in what is already one of the most successful documented library crowdsourcing projects, and the growing data set is now available via NYPL's first public API. A collaboration with NYPL's Rare Book Division, funded generously by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Library and Museum Services

Winner of 2011 Roy Rosenzweig Prize for Innovation in Digital History from the American Historical Association!

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Direct Me NYC: 1940 

After 72 years, the National Archives has released the full set of records comprising the 1940 Federal Census - a milestone event for historians and genealogists studying documentary material of New Deal and Depression-era America. But finding a name among the millions of handwritten records is like looking for a needle in a haystack. In response, Labs worked with the Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy to build Direct Me NYC: 1940, a site that invites users to construct targeted searches of the census data via addresses found in 1940 New York City telephone directories. Patrons are also invited to share stories about the people and addresses they've searched, building a cultural memory bank directly out of the pages of the phone book.

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Inspired by a library user's art project, the Stereogranimator is a browser-based tool for transforming over 40,000 historical stereographs into shareable, screen-friendly 3D formats. 19th century photography collides with early internet folk art as users remix vintage stereos into animated GIFs, bringing the past tantalizingly in reach with an eerie wiggle effect. 3D afficionados can also create red-blue anaglyphs, which, with the right glasses, recreate the incredible depth effect of these images. The site also features hundreds of stereographs from the Boston Public Library.

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Map Warper

The NYPL Map Division is working to build an unparalleled resource for researching New York City history. The Map Warper is a tool suite, used by library staff but also open to the public, to align (or "rectify") historical maps to the digital maps of today. Tile by tile, we're stitching old atlas sheets into historical layers, that researchers can explore with pan-and-zoom functionality, comparing yesterday's cityscape with today's. Along with other tools, such as one for tracing building footprints and transcribing address and material information found on the maps, we are laying the groundwork for dynamic geospatial discovery of other library collections: manuscripts and archives, historical newspapers, photography, A/V, ephemera (e.g. menus) etc. Join our citizen cartography corps and help build this virtual atlas of New York City (and other parts of the world). Built with generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Recently honored as a 'Cutting-Edge Service' by the American Library Association!

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Music Theater Online 

Based at Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), Music Theater Online is a digital archive of texts, images, video, and audio files relating to musical theater. The best printed editions of musical theater texts cannot fully provide the experience of simultaneous expression of verbal, musical, and terpsichorean languages so necessary to understand the art form. Using the multimedia capabilities of the modern web browser and mobile devices, we hope to create a better framework for studying these important works of drama. With generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts, MTO's work expands this year at NYPL with the serial release of free, multi-format electronic editions of twelve historical musicals.

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The Shelley-Godwin Archive

In its initial planning stages, The Shelley-Godwin Archive will present key works of British Romanticism by Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley. The Archive will draw primarily from the two foremost collections of these materials, those of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle at NYPL, which together hold an estimated 90 percent of all known relevant manuscripts worldwide. With the Archive’s creation, manuscripts and early editions of these writers will be made freely available to the public through an innovative framework based upon the Shakespeare Quartos Archive. First among these is the manuscript of Mary Shelley's iconic novel of 1818, Frankenstein; and second will be the working notebooks of P.B. Shelley, which are scattered amongst five partner institutions from California to England. The Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) will create the project’s infrastructure, with the assistance of NYPL Labs. The Shelley-Godwin Archive is made possible by generous support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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A companion website to the exhibition Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout, which tells the story of Lauren Redniss, an artist, writer and former Cullman Center fellow, who drew on the vast collections of The New York Public Library to create a new work of art. NYPL Labs collaborated with a talented group of students at Parsons the New School for Design who, with Redniss as their guide, created an innovative website showcasing a dazzling array of new works inspired by the visual and narrative universe of Radioactive.

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Theatrical Lighting Database

In partnership with the Lighting Archive and legendary designer Beverly Emmons, the Theatrical Lighting Database is a proof-of-concept version of what is aimed at being an extensive digital archive of original lighting documents. Modern theatrical lighting is a uniquely American art form, which until now has been exceedingly difficult to study due to limited access to original lighting documents. This collection contains actual plots, focus charts, cue sheets and much more from four landmark productions digitized from the collections of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. For the first time, these masterworks can now be studied in theaters, classrooms, libraries and homes far from the archives that hold them.

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Candide 2.0

Launched in conjunction with the Library’s 2009/10 exhibition, Candide at 250: Scandal and Success, Candide 2.0 was an experiment in public reading and communal annotation. In the spirit of Candide’s famous closing line “let us cultivate our garden,” we commissioned readers, or “gardeners,” from a wide variety of backgrounds (professors, novelists, playwrights, translators) to plant seeds of commentary in assigned chapters, preparing the ground for a fertile public conversation. The experiment ran for two months and amassed over 200 comments, suggesting what might be possible were the library to host more robust social editions, for scholarly, classroom or creative communities.

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Ben Vershbow (Founder/Manager) - @subsublibrary
Brian Foo (Applications Developer) - @beefoo
David Riordan (Product Manager) - @riordan
Matt Miller (Applications Developer, Archives) - @thisismmiller
Mauricio Giraldo (Interaction Designer/Developer) - @mgiraldo
Paul Beaudoin (Applications Developer) - @nonword
Trevor Thornton (Senior Applications Developer, Archives) - @trevorthornton

Labs doodle by Michael Lascarides

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