Over a century ago, The New York Public Library was founded with a basic purpose: to provide free access to information, literature, and cultural resources for the enjoyment and enrichment of all New Yorkers.
In the late 19th century, this meant accumulating vast collections spanning all subjects and languages, erecting beautiful buildings to store these books, and hiring brilliant, dedicated librarians to serve them to the public. But what would it look like if we founded The New York Public Library today?
Look around you and you’ll notice that knowledge organizations of the early 21st century look radically different from their 19th and 20th century forebears. Twenty-first century institutions aren’t only marble sanctuaries, they’re also distributed networks. In addition to managing printed materials and catalogs, they compile big data and user relationships. Rather than only centralizing authority, they make it porous, and welcome collaboration.
At NYPL, we’re engaging the 21st century by reimagining the public in our name. Inspired by the accomplishments of the open source software movement and collective efforts like Wikipedia and OpenStreetMaps, NYPL wants to tackle some of its thorniest (and most interesting) challenges with your help. We began by buildingparticipatory websites and crowdsourcing apps to involve users more closely in the improvement of our collections. Now we’re calling directly on engineers, hackers, tinkerers, designers, data scientists, new media artists and creators of all types to help find inspirational, yet functional solutions to some of our most future-oriented problems.
To test the waters, this summer we will be issuing a series of deadline-driven tech challenges. These will be open to all, with prizes for winning submissions. The winners may directly create or inspire new tools and services at NYPL, with the potential to impact libraries everywhere. There are a number of possible areas we could focus on, but in the spirit of the endeavor, we wanted to ask you first.
In the list “Hardware hacking: Build smarter tools for on-site use”