graphical access to data (metamorworks/Shutterstock.com)

Opening the Library of Congress to cloud-based computational research

To better understand how large-scale computational access to its collections can improve research and preserve the nation’s cultural heritage, the Library of Congress (LOC) is looking for ideas on how to support digital research in the cloud.

With a $1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project, LOC plans to test ”a cloud-based approach for interacting with digital collections as data,” it said in a broad agency announcement.  It’s looking for four researchers to experiment with the tools, cost structures, and technologies that will make its massive collections widely available to data-driven research.

“This grant is designed to help with a relatively simple problem,” Eileen Jakeway, an innovation specialist on the LC Labs team, wrote in a blog post shortly after the grant was awarded. “The Library gets requests for custom slices of our data that we are currently unable to provide. Sometimes, people want bulk access to a single collection in a form that we currently do not offer while in other cases, they want to run computing processes against data that crosses collection and format boundaries.”

Currently, meeting those researchers’ needs would be difficult and expensive, she wrote. Before investing in any large-scale solution, however, LOC needs more information about the costs, challenges, and potential benefits and harmful outcomes. The Computing Cultural Heritage in the Cloud project is designed to help LOC understand how large-scale computational access can be applied to library collections, whose formats include image, audio, web, video, text and structured metadata.

LOC wants to explore three program areas and is asking the four researchers to submit project proposals that have broad disciplinary and public impact and that make use of computational methods that require large-scale access to collections and computational power. The three areas are:

Early-stage exploratory research that requires experimentation and support from LOC, such as a new form of computational project or one that requires development of more technical expertise to answer the research question.

Advanced topical research that attempts “to bring a computational method to a particular collection or multiple collections in the hopes of answering a historical or disciplinary question about content within Library collections,” the BAA stated. Such a project might analyze audio or video of a particular media genre or historical period or explore of library collecting practices across forms for a particular topic. While computational methods such as text mining, computer visioning, network analysis or machine learning techniques may be developed or used in these projects, LOC said it expects they will also impact scholarly and public understanding of a particular time, place or discipline.

Advanced technical research that applies computer science, human computer interaction or critical algorithmic analysis to better understand how information is described and organized.  Projects might develop new ways to use metadata or apply computer vision or artificial intelligence across formats to connect LOC collections data to other large datasets.

Researchers awarded contracts through this BAA will have access to a set of LOC collections, computational resources in cloud infrastructure and research expertise from librarians experienced in digital scholarship. Results of the research conducted under the contracts will be captured in a report that will be made public ally available.

Responses are due Nov. 30.

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