Posted on October 02, 2019

UCL Qatar, Qatar University Library and the British Library produced the first international guide on setting up Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs following an intense Book Sprint workshop. The week-long race to create the guide brought together authors, academics and experts from around the world to share their experiences in setting up, using and running Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs.

An innovation lab is a semi-autonomous organisation that engages diverse participants in open collaboration for the purpose of creating and sampling radical solutions to pre-identified challenges. Over the past few years, the creation of Innovation Labs inside cultural heritage institutions has enabled new audiences to access these institutions’ data and digital collections for research, experimentation, inspiration and enjoyment.

Considered as one of the pioneers of Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs, British Library Labs (BL Labs) has been operating since 2013. Throughout that time, BL Labs has helped grow the network of cultural professionals from across the globe who are interested in launching and running such labs. To that end, workshops in London in September 2018 and Copenhagen in March 2019 identified a need for guidance around running innovation labs rooted in the collective knowledge of the international labs community. 

UCL Qatar was one of the main organisers of the Doha edition of the Cultural Heritage Innovation Labs workshop organised to craft the guide, building on the university’s expertise in knowledge management and cultural heritage.

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Commenting on the event, Dr. Milena Dobreva, Associate Professor of Library and Information Studies at UCL Qatar, said: “There is currently a lack of coherent written guidance on how to set up and maintain a Cultural Innovation Lab in Qatar. Hence, we wanted to address this gap by bringing together experts from around the world to create a publication in an intensive five-day Book Sprint session. UCL Qatar is proud to leave behind such a significant legacy – the result of our session is a first-of-its-kind book that will benefit current and future cultural professionals in Qatar and around the globe for years to come.”

The Qatar University Library’s Director, Samia Al-Shiba, added that as part of its annual planning, the organisation has studied a project proposal for establishing an innovation lab within its premise, in order to keep pace with the development of services that academic libraries are offering today. Through its sponsorship and participation in the preparation of this guide, the Qatar University Library found that it could contribute to the preparation of an excellent plan for the establishment of this laboratory, particularly due to the participation of specialists and representatives from QU’s Digital Repository section in the event. She added that a copy of the guide will be available in the library’s digital repository and made available without financial or technical restrictions, to ensure maximum use.

Event participants included Abigail Potter, Senior Innovation Specialist at the Library of Congress Digital Innovation Lab, Caleb Derven, Head of Technical and Digital Services at the University of Limerick, Ditte Laursen, the Head of the Digital Cultural Heritage department at the Royal Library of Denmark, Mahendra Mahey, Manager of British Library Labs, Kristy Kokegei, Gead of Engagement at Heritage Trust, New South Wales, Australia and Aisha Hassan Al-Abdulla, Section Head of Digital Repository and Archives at Qatar University Library, among others.

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Aisha Hassan Al-Abdulla, who has a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences from UCL Qatar and is the Section Head of Digital Repository and Archives at the Qatar University Library, said: “I am very proud of the collaborative nature of the work that was conducted during the five-day session. With the help of other professionals, we have created a valuable resource that will encourage the creation of unique environments where creativity, information sharing, and problem solving can thrive.”

Organising a Book Sprint creates a unique environment that relies on maximum commitment from participants to generate content against a non-negotiable deadline. To support participants during the demanding week, UCL Qatar introduced mindfulness slots to help participants maintain productivity and focus. Commenting on their work with the Book Sprint event, Doha Mindful Community organisers said: “The Doha Mindful Community is excited to collaborate with renowned authors and UCL Qatar to create a space that encourages mindful practices which support the creativity, focus, and intention needed for a Book Sprint.”

The event was sponsored by UCL Qatar, Qatar University Library, the British Library, the Library of Congress and Books Sprint Ltd. – which founded the concept of Book Sprints and has been running them for over 20 years. The book produced during the session will be presented during Open Access week events set to take place at Qatar University from the 21st to 27th of October.