Google, Pandora, and Digital Cameras: Innovation at Linda Hall

Up until about six months ago I had never heard of the Linda Hall Library. Despite its location in the middle of the UMKC campus, it is actually one of the world’s largest privately funded and operated libraries. Founded in the 1940s with a gift from the grain Hall family (rather than the greeting card Hall family), it is expressly devoted to science, engineering and technology.

The Linda Hall Library sponsors an annual lecture series, and the theme this year is innovation. I caught a couple of the spring lecture series on the future of innovation, and I’m really looking forward to the next series, which seems incredibly timely and—given the lead time it surely took to book the speakers—prescient.

The title of the fall series is This Time It’s Personal: Innovation in Your Home. This theme fits perfectly with the Google Fiber initiative—which has established Kansas city as a test market for what ultra high-speed Internet in the home might mean.

The opening lecture, by the author of The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry), will take a more guarded approach to Google, in contrast to much of the communal giddiness about the corporate giant’s affection for Kansas City.

Additional lectures are, at least nominally, about the invention of the computer, the digital camera, and Pandora Internet radio. From my experience at the spring lectures, I would expect these topics to be a starting point to explore some pretty interesting and provocative issues around the ideas of innovation and discovery.

And the speakers behind the topics are no slouches—the guy talking about the invention of the digital camera is actually the inventor of the digital camera and the Pandora talk will be given by Pandora’s “Chief Musicologist” emeritus, the guy hired in 2000 to architect the Music Genome Project. (The computer talk is given by novelist Jane Smiley, who also happens to have written a book on the topic.)

I’m not sure how these events are typically marketed. Ivy League alumni clubs were certainly involved in the spring, and that reflected in older, tweedier crowds than I typically see at innovation-based events around town. Remarkably, all these talks are free and open to the public. Tickets are required, and apparently they do sell out. Put it on the calendar, and remember Linda Hall.

And it’s worth noting that, even if you can’t make it to the lectures, the Linda Hall is worth a visit for the rare book room. They have an enormous collection of rare and first edition scientific books dating back to the 15th century. And you can actually handle them and read them! Seriously, if you’re any sort of bibliophile, this place is an absolute treasure trove.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] fall lecture series on disruptive innovation wrapped up at Linda Hall last night with Nolan Gasser, the chief architect and musicologist behind […]

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