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Published onOct 29, 2019

About this book

In late September 2019, our group of sixteen people from around the world gathered in Doha, in the State of Qatar. We were filled with the anticipation of reconnecting with colleagues, excited to meet new ones, in awe of the efforts of the coordinators Mahendra Mahey and Milena Dobreva-McPherson, and grateful to our hosts from UCL Qatar and Qatar University. We were naive but undaunted by the task in front of us: to write a book in five days! A book that we hoped would capture the pioneering spirit of Labs and the pride we have in contributing to this growing movement of GLAMs.

Making this book was hard but it was also very special. The themes you see reflected in this book: being open to experimentation, risk-taking, iteration, innovation, and transformation, also capture the methodology of the Book Sprint. The process of extracting ideas from sixteen heads and making a coherent narrative under extremely tight deadlines sometimes got messy. There were highs and lows, moments of brilliance, feelings that we'd never finish, and very late nights. We had to push each other to keep going, be uncomfortable, debate, disagree, come to a decision, and move forward to finish. Sometimes we didn't do this well, but we were always able to come together again over the many cups of coffee or the plentiful lunch buffets.

A book produced from scratch in five days can never be perfect, it can only ever reflect the thoughts of the people in the room, which was admittedly limited in terms of diversity. But, we brought a lot of inspiration with us. Our colleagues at our home institutions and our partners around the world were a big influence and we hope we characterise their work, and the movement in general, correctly. Any errors in the book are all our fault: please correct us. Our intentions are to offer a practical, but not boring, book about opening a GLAM Lab. We want you to learn from our experiences and to give you a running start. We also want to support and inspire each other to keep pushing our sector for broad access to our collections and services and to keep finding new ways for our institutions to remain relevant for people now and in the future.


Thank you to Laia Ros for guiding us through this unforgettable process and for helping us to gather and combine our knowledge into one book.

A big and warm hearted thanks to Mahendra Mahey and Milena Dobreva-McPherson for organising the event and for spoiling us with tours of incredible libraries (Qatar University Library, UCL Qatar; Qatar National Library); mindfulness; delicious food; an amazing cake; and insight into Qatari culture.

A big thanks to Qatar University, Qatar National Library and UCL Qatar for the tours of your organisations and for adding some wonderful people, now our friends, to our group: Aisha Al-Abdulla; Armin Straube; Dania Jalees; Somia Salim.

To the Mövenpick Hotel staff: a huge thanks for making sure that we did not run out of coffee (you made all the difference).


This book has been inspired by the International GLAM Labs Community, that was born in 2018 at the event on global 'Library Labs' held by the British Library. The event was attended by over 70 people from 43 institutions and 20 countries and followed up by a second global GLAM Labs meeting at the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen in Spring 2019. The community has now grown to 250 people, from more than 60 institutions, in over 30 countries. Based on the huge interest and need for sharing knowledge about growing Labs at GLAM institutions, a Book Sprint was planned. You are now looking at the results.

A note about hyperlinks: the digital version of this book contains hyperlinks; these don't appear in the print version.


Defining a GLAM Lab

A Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) Lab is a place for experimenting with digital collections and data. It is where researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, educators and the interested public can collaborate with an engaged group of partners to create new collections, tools, and services that will help transform the future ways in which knowledge and culture are disseminated. The exchanges and experimentation in a Lab are open, iterative and shared widely. This book describes why and how to open a GLAM Lab and encourages participation in a movement that can transform organisations and the communities they partner with.

Building a GLAM Lab

Building a GLAM Lab involves defining its core values to guide future work, fostering a culture that is open, transparent, generous, collaborative, creative, inclusive, bold, ethical, accessible and encourages a mindset of exploration. The Lab should be grounded in user-centred and participatory design processes and its staff should be able to clearly communicate what the Lab is about. It's important to think big but start small and establish quick wins to get up and running.

GLAM Lab teams

There are recommendations for the qualities and skills to look for in Labs teams, how to go about finding allies within and outside the institution, and ideas on how to create a nurturing environment for teams to thrive in. Labs teams have no optimal size or composition, and its team members can come from all walks of life. Teams need a healthy culture to ensure a well-functioning Lab which might be augmented intermittently by fellows, interns or researchers-in-residence. For a Lab to have lasting impact it must be integrated into the parent organisation and have the support of staff at all levels.

User communities

GLAM Labs will need to engage and connect with potential users and partners. This means rethinking these relationships to help establish clear and targeted messages for specific communities. In turn, this enables Labs to adjust their tools, services and collections to establish deeper partnerships based on co-creation, and open and equal dialogue.

Rethinking collections and Data

The book discusses the digital collections which are an integral part of Labs. It provides insights on how to share the collections as data, and how to identify, assess, describe, access, and reuse the collections. In addition, there is information about messy and curated data, digitisation, metadata, rights and preservation.


Experimentation is the critical core of the Lab's process. Insights about how to transform tools into operational services are demonstrated. It shows that experimentation can prepare the organisational culture and services for transformation. There is an examination of funding and the advantages and disadvantages of various models through discussion of the different mechanisms and options that an organisation can apply to Lab set-ups.

Funding and Sustainability

We share insights on how to plan for a Lab's sustainability as well as a step-by-step guide for when an organisation is retiring or decommissioning a Lab.

Labs have a pivotal role in the transformation of GLAMs and the book highlights the critical importance of Labs in changing the future of digital cultural heritage.

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