You are here

Scaling Innovation Initiative Launches First of Eight New Patron Services

Inscriptio—an online study carrel reservation system. 

Inscriptio screenshot

July 1, 2014—The Harvard Library Scaling Innovation Initiative launched Inscriptio, an online study carrel reservation system. The platform, with functionality similar to selecting an airplane seat, has been in use at Widener and Pusey, and is now available for libraries across Harvard.  Inscriptio allows patrons to make carrel reservations more quickly and provides more efficient management of carrel reservations.

Ann-Marie Costa, head of Access Administrative Operations, was involved in Inscriptio from the start. She and former colleague Cheryl McGrath had discussed an airline seat-type carrel management system; when an open call went out for proposals for the Library Lab, they submitted a proposal.

The 317 carrels at Widener & Pusey Libraries serve up to 900 patrons and staff, and reservations were formerly managed via a shared Excel document; patrons could not make reservations or modifications themselves.

“It was heavily staff-mediated,” Costa said. “The new system has empowered them,” she explained, adding with a smile, “Not that we’re not here to help.”

Designed to eliminate hassle for patrons and reduce staff burden, Inscriptio has done so “beautifully,” according to Costa. Eliminating printed information packets and plastic carrel cards is more ecologically friendly, and the team can now track carrel usage.

Once Inscriptio was funded by Library Lab, developers from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society worked on the project, and a pilot launched in Widener Library in 2011. Following approval from the Innovation Working Group to scale the project, it is now supported by Library Technology Services.

Library Lab was integral to the entire process, and Costa said that a benefit of the experience is that her department would be more likely to take on innovative projects moving forward.  “Library Lab helped spur a culture of innovation within the Library, and staff members like Ann-Marie will continue to demonstrate the benefits of the program, not just through new tools like Inscriptio, but also through a willingness to take risks in order to improve services,” said Sue Kriegsman, associate director at the Berkman Center, who managed the Library Lab in a previous role at the Office for Scholarly Communication.

The project is open-source and the code is available on GitHub. Harvard Library staff can explore adoption in their library by contacting Ann-Marie Costa, and other institutions can download the code or clone the repository to adapt to their libraries.

The Harvard Library Scaling Innovation Initiative implements a process and practice for assessing, selecting and scaling experimental and pilot projects with the generous support of the Arcadia Fund. The initiative is enabling wide usage of eight projects that were developed completely in-house from an idea to a stable viable product, including a handful developed through the Harvard Library Lab, another program supported by the Arcadia Fund that seeded 57 projects over three years.

“The Scaling Innovation Initiative focuses on bridging the gap between a successful experiment and a fully supported, widely available service,” said Abigail Bordeaux, the program manager for Scaling Innovation. “The projects we’re working with all map to the Harvard Library’s strategic goals and help break down barriers, even small ones, to effective research, teaching and learning at Harvard and beyond. We want to eliminate friction around processes to enable users to focus on their learning experiences and allow staff to work effectively and efficiently.”

Additional projects in the Scaling Innovation pipeline include:

  • Archives and Special Collections Class Request Tool: A web application for instructors to request assistance, space and time for teaching with primary sources.
  • Course Reserves Unleashed: An API for course reserves data that allows libraries and others to present course reserves data on a web page of their choosing and streamlines student access to course reserves.
  • Geotagging Library Data: A project to geocode HOLLIS records with location and contribute them back to Library Cloud. See a demo of how this data can be used.
  •  HOLLIS Links: A program to generate user-friendly link lists for digital objects belonging to a parent HOLLIS record (e.g., a record for a digitized multi-volume set or periodical) and allow searching across the full text of the listed items (e.g., 70 years of a digitized periodical).
  • Link-o-matic: A tool to automate the process of linking digital resources held by Harvard libraries and archives and stored in the Digital Repository Service (DRS) with associated metadata in discovery systems such as HOLLIS and OASIS.
  • MapIt: A lightweight application that shows the building level and range that is home to a given item in HOLLIS and displays a map with that range highlighted.
  • ETDs[at]Harvard: A Harvard-wide open-source tool for electronic thesis and dissertation submission and management, including embargo requests, license selection and submission of the dissertation and supplemental materials to their school. The system will push files and metadata to DASH for access, to Acme Binding for printing and delivery to Archives, to DRS2 for preservation and elsewhere as requested by the individual schools.