LifeTime Library thought to be the first nationwide

September 15, 2011

The LIFETIME LIBRARY will provide digital storage throughout a graduate’s lifetime

LifeTime LibraryHow often have you asked yourself, “What did I do with that report I presented during my days at the university? Did I save it on my laptop, on a CD, to my cellphone or is it on a computer I no longer have?” Or after graduating, have you sadly remembered that you saved a special photo in your folder on the university’s server only to realize it was now gone forever?
Now imagine keeping those items all together and staying permanently connected to your university with the gift of digital storage throughout your lifetime.

For the first time, that wish will come true for students entering the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through a new project called the LifeTime Library

The students are the first at UNC, and perhaps the world, to use a new Web-based LifeTime Library, the brainchild of Gary Marchionini, Ph.D., dean and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor at the school. He believes the service will be the first of its kind at any university.

Since he arrived in Chapel Hill in 1998, Marchionini has pondered ways to allow students to keep their digital files where they can access them whenever they need them for as long as they need them, before and after graduation.

“The vision is for students to be provided with storage facilities that would persist after they graduate,” said Marchionini. “This would include public space as well as private space to keep files, photographs, personal health records and legal downloads of music – all in one place.”

Anything the library user wanted to make private would be password-protected, as long as it falls within the University’s terms of service agreement for use of computing resources. Even so, users can search the Internet for medical information filtered by their private health information. Graduates could access their projects and class work for job interviews and career projects.
For students transitioning from university life to the world of work, they would be able to access their projects and classwork for easy reference. Marchionini says that as years go by personal information becomes more important. With the LifeTime Library, personal records would be easy to store and access.

“The LifeTime Library would mean having a place where you are assured and trust that it will be persistent for your lifetime,” says Marchionini. “It will also connect alumni with the school and the university in yet another meaningful way.”

The LifeTime Library Pilot Program

In fall of 2010, Marchionini launched a pilot program to develop and test the environment of the LifeTime Library. Most universities, including Carolina, delete students’ computer files after they graduate to free server space for new students. And saving college work and memories in notebooks and scrapbooks are past practices, notes Arcot Rajasekar, Ph.D., a school professor and member of the Data Intensive Cyber Environment (DICE) supercomputing group, which helped develop the LifeTime Library: “Paper is all gone.”

Students take notes, write papers, do research, store photos and keep up with Facebook friends all on laptop computers. Sure, those items are stored on their laptops, but computers and applications become outdated and inaccessible; hard drives can crash.

Several students from SILS and the UNC at Chapel Hill School of Journalism were invited to participate in a pilot to test the environment by identifying language, layout and functionality issues and to determine what kind of files students would like to maintain at the university. Beginning on a small scale, the plan was to identify what the issues are – working through terms of service policies to understand what issues needed to be worked out.

Michael Hughes PhotoSILS graduate student, Michael Hughes (in the photo on the left), became involved with the project at the invitation of Daniel Beaver-Seitz, a student who has been helping develop the LifeTime Library through a CRADLE fellowship.

“The program strives for an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop interface, in keeping with recent trends in application development,” said Hughes. He identified issues with the program accepting files, cloud-based storage, interface aesthetics and functionality to improve the program.

One of the access methods currently being tested includes the iDrop Client which allows the side-by-side capability of dragging and dropping files. A Web client will allow access from anywhere at any time. Another feature includes “watched folders” or those folders students wish to have backed up. During the pilot phase, instead of the onyen (login name) all students are given to access server space while actively attending classes, a new user name will be assigned to access the LifeTime Library. One of the goals of the developers is to allow file synchronization with multiple devices.

“We’ve been designing it to be as user-friendly as possible,” says Mike Conway, a master’s degree candidate in the school who helped create the library as part of his work with RENCI – the Renaissance Computing Institute, a collaboration by seven North Carolina universities including UNC. For new users, “there won’t be much of a learning curve.”

Users can fine-tune their libraries, setting up policies and new capabilities, and therefore Marchionini expects the libraries to provide new learning experiences for the school’s students. Eventually, researchers would like to see it synchronize with multiple devices.

Associated Costs of the Lifetime Library

Two years in the making, the LifeTime Library has benefitted from research projects funded by the National Science Foundation and other prestigious sources. The Data Intensive Cyber Environment (DICE) group is spearheading the software development and cloud storage aspects of the project, which coincides with their research efforts on massive large scale storage.

The costs of creating and maintaining the Lifetime Library is a factor that Marchionini considered first and continues to consider. SILS made the initial investment with the Lifetime Library by sponsoring the pilot program—providing storage and development time on a small scale. The goal is to have the campus join in after the pilot is completed with industrial partners working with the school and university throughout the years.

“Currently, people use free services supported by advertising or pay monthly fees to vendors who offer storage space for keeping track of their personal repositories,” said Marchionini. “The LifeTime Library is not intended to compete with those businesses, but instead create a model that is economically viable from a public university perspective that will provide students and alumni with skills and ongoing trusted storage to manage their digital lives and remain connected to lifelong learning opportunities at little or no cost to them.”

Discussions about the LifeTime Library have taken place at various professional conferences, with deans of other iSchools, with various campus colleagues, as well as with members of the SILS Board of Visitors. Interest from several technology companies has been demonstrated with the hope of developing partnerships.     

UNC at Chapel Hill Old WellThe Value of the Lifetime Library

In addition to providing a rich personal library that will develop over the course of a lifetime, the LifeTime Library has the potential of providing access to the intellectual and social sides of life on campus.

Social software, such as Twitter feeds, Facebook interactions and blogs may become part of the personal library as well. Alumni will have their active library in a secure, reliable space—the university. Because the LifeTime Library will also include public spaces, data and event streams of interest to many people can also be made available. Students and alumni may choose to virtually participate in the many great events taking place on campus any given day. More and more events are captured by video and recordings – all of which can be included as ways for alumni to stay in touch with Carolina throughout their lives.

“What we have in the digital age is the possibility of making significant portions of our knowledge base explicit and saved in a more assured way through digitalization,” said Marchionini. “Our digital archive and trusted connections to public archives allows for yet another layer of knowledge.”

Beaver-Seitz is excited about the possibilities the LifeTime Library brings. He says the LifeTime Library is on its way to being something really significant.
“This is where my intellectual life lives,” says Beaver-Seitz. “When I graduate and move on with my work life, I want to take UNC with me.”

With the Lifetime Library, he can. 

Members of the LifeTime Library Project Team

  • Gary Marchionini, project leader of the LifeTime Library (LTL), dean of SILS and Cary C. Boshamer distinguished professor
  • Reagan Moore, director of the DICE Center, and SILS professor - provision of LifeTime Library resources including 30 TBs of disk space
  • Arcot Rajsekar, DICE group member and SILS professor - implementation of information resource objects that integrate external information resources with the LTL
  • Scott Adams, SILS Information Technology - SILS infrastructure
  • Mike Conway, SILS master's student, development of an interface to support data sharing, data synchronization, and data movement
  • Antoine de Torcy, DICE group member and SILS researcher - management of the data grid infrastructure, including disaster recovery mechanisms, automated data replication, audit trails, quotas
  • Terrell Russell (Ph.D. ‘11), Test and Build Engineer with the iRODS@RENCI group, evaluation of interfaces to the LifeTime Library
  • Fred Stutzman (Ph.D. ‘11), post-doctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University,evaluation of interfaces to the LifeTime Library
  • Daniel Beaver-Seitz (MSIS ‘12), LTL administration
  • Alpha testers contributing during the pilot included students: Laura Briskin, Elizabeth Coleman, William Cook, Elizabeth DeBold, Sarah Dooley, Ellen Duncan and Michael Hughes

The LifeTime Library supports the Innovate@Carolina Roadmap, UNC’s plan to help Carolina become a world leader in launching university-born ideas for the good of society.

                                    Innovate Carolina
Pictured in the top photo are Dean Gary Marchionini, center, with LifeTime Library developers, from left Arcot Rajasekar, Daniel Beaver-Seitz, Terrell Russell, Reagan Moore and Mike Conway.

Photos of the LifeTime Library members and the Old Well are by Dan Sears. Photo of Michael Hughes is by Wanda Monroe.