The past decades have seen a transition from physical access to library materials to increasingly digital access. However, the experience of searching and browsing digital libraries is lacking many of the unique qualities of physical libraries, including opportunities for open exploration, serendipitous encounters and the tactile experience of handling items. The Visual Navigation Project aims to bridge the gap between the experience of the physical and digital library. This was done via three project streams, described next.
The project started off with exploratory user studies, connected to the physical and digital library space. These studies informed subsequent activities, which were divided into three streams. First of all, the “Visualization” stream of the project created new visual navigation prototypes for library collections, using some of the library infrastructure as its basis. Second, the “Physical Interaction” stream of the project aimed at exploring new ways of interaction in the physical library space. Third, the “Continuation” stream of the project refined and extended existing subject search applications and underlying infrastructure, increasing its value for both end-users and library personnel.
By using this multifaceted approach, outcomes of the project may be useful at several levels: by creating and evaluating new visual navigation opportunities, by improving existing infrastructure, and by experimenting with these approaches in a physical library setting. The main focus of the project is on the physical and electronic book collections of the library, but we also evaluate the feasibility of applying developed project tools to other important library collections, such as research articles.
Stream 1. “Visualization”: Visual Navigation
In the internet age, users have become accustomed to Google-style searches, using few keywords to rapidly retrieve results, and library catalogs increasingly mimic these streamlined search approaches (see e.g. Huurdeman & Kamps, 2015). However, this approach severely limits the ways to perform open-ended book browsing, and reduces the chance of serendipitous “chance” encounters with engaging information. For this project, we take some inspiration from previous “physical” ways to access information in the bookshelves, but also from the possibilities that current catalog data, as well as visualization frameworks on the Web offer.
Using the infrastructure of the third project stream as a backbone, we created new "visual" interfaces for book browsing and navigation (for both physical and electronic books), making use of the opportunities that the data structures and hierarchies of our subject vocabularies offer.
Stream 2. “Physical Interaction”: Experiments towards new ways of interaction in a physical library space
The second, “physical interaction” stream experimented with novel ways of interaction with the library’s book collections, connecting the physical and digital library space. We took into account experiences from previous literature, such as Kleiner et al. (2013)'s Blended Shelf, the Bohemian Bookshelf (Thudt et al., 2012) and Bookfish (Pearce & Chang, 2014), but also various projects conducted in the Science Library before, such as BookMotion, as well as the Collection 42 book browser. In addition, collaborations with Bachelor and Master students conducting Interaction Design projects took place (e.g. during the INF2260 course).
The Visual Navigation Project has shown that integrating digital tools into the physical space of the library, for instance via touch tables, can be used to engage library visitors and passers-by. This is for instance reflected by the fact that over 1,000 sessions were conducted with those applications.
Stream 3. “Continuation”: Extended Emnesøk
The locally developed Emnesøk (subject search) application provides a different approach to finding or discovering physical books and e-books than the standard catalogue search (Oria). Emnesøk is tailor-made for subject searches and integrates deeply with the different subject vocabularies available as open data.
As part of the Visual Navigation Project, the Emnesøk infrastructure was extended with the multilingual MeSH (Medical Subject Headings) vocabulary. In addition, usability testing was done to be able to improve emnesøk at the interface level, and to make it more attractive to the general user.