January 20, 2022

Library of Congress Labs Announces Launch of “Speculative Annotation” Experiment

From LC:

Created by artist and 2021 Innovator in Residence Courtney McClellan, Speculative Annotation is an open-source dynamic web application and public art project. The app presents a unique mini collection of free-to-use items from the Library for students, teachers and learners to annotate through captions, drawings and other types of mark-making. As a special feature for Speculative Annotation users, the app includes a collection of informative, engaging annotations from Library experts and resources on the Library’s website.

“Annotation is a way to spark a conversation with history and one another,” said McClellan. “The tool offers unique features like a special mini collection, hand cut stamps and contextual aids like staff annotations. We want students to create their own annotations and join history’s record.”

Designed with students and educators in mind, the application is available to anyone with a web browser at annotation.labs.loc.gov. Users can select an item, respond to and interpret what they encounter, and research it further using example annotations from Library staff and linked resources. Users can also pose a question based on their interactions and research using the Ask a Librarian web service.


Featured items from the Library’s collections include a film still from a 1955 Department of Health special announcement about polio, the first known selfie taken in 1839 and a poster from Shirley Chisholm’s 1972 “Unbought and Unbossed” campaign for president of the United States.

“We pursue these experiments with technology to investigate ways to draw more people to explore Library collections,” said Kate Zwaard, director of digital strategy at the Library. “Speculative Annotation engages the imagination, a personal connection to history, and artistic creativity, and we’re excited to see people’s social media posts to learn how they use it.”

The public is invited to a panel webinar with McClellan and several contemporary art and annotation experts on Thursday, Aug. 26 at 12 pm ET.

Read the Complete Launch Announcement

From the Speculative Annotation Website:

Inspiration and Goals

The goals of the project are to:

  • Place K-12 students in direct conversation with primary sources from Library of Congress collections
  • Share these items with contextual aids including lesson plans, curator annotations, and links to the original items on the Library’s website
  • Provide a space for users of all ages to have a depth of experience with a curated selection of free to use Library of Congress items
  • Connect items from history with the day-to-day experience of citizens and application users
About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.