Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A survey of Library Virtual Shelves - 8 examples

Since we implemented our discovery service, I noticed that increasingly we are asked by users if there was a way to use Summon to browse , clearly users new to a topic were overwhelmed by the number of results they were getting and besides recommender systems, browsing can be seen as a way to navigate - "knowing it when I see it".

Curious I looked around to see what libraries are doing for online browsing and the main way of doing it is still to create virtual bookshelves. Here are some examples.

1. LibraryThing for Libraries

This seems to be the easiest and perhaps most common method. LibraryThing for Libraries is a catalog enhancement that you can add to your opac which adds many features to each catalog entry by pulling in tags, reviews, "similar books" and more.

It also includes a beautiful Shelf Browse feature.

Example above is using VirginaTech's Addison

The display is an example of  "skeuomorphic" design, mimicking real wooden shelf, some say it's going out of fashion with ios7 abandoning it, but personally I like it.

2. The Related Items Bookshelf developed for Polk Library, UW Oshkosh by Maccabee Levin 

Syracuse University Library also has a Virtual Shelf Browse in their classic catalog. The display is straight forward, no attempt to pretend it is a bookshelf, just rows of book covers, including a link to Google book.

This is actually using the Related Items Bookshelf widget that was developed for Polk Library, UW Oshkosh by Maccabee Levine and is released as open source software that works for Voyager WebVoyage Opacs.

Images are drawn from Syndetics and Google Book Search cover images , and google analytics can be used to track usage.

3. NCSU virtual shelf browse

The ever-innovative NCSU Libraries as usual has their own virtual shelf browse.

According to the video here, this virtual shelf browse is needed to complement the Automated Book Delivery System they have,

Webinar about it here, code4lib article, open source code

4. University of Huddersfield Virtual shelf browse in opacs and Summon.

Dave Pattern of University of Huddersfield probably gets more mentions on this blog than any other person, because he is just so innovative.

It's no surprise to note, way back in 2008 , he already had a virtual shelf browse feature in his OPAC. No big deal to him, which he described back then as a "crappy prototype"

In 2009, he posted a chart showing number of clicks on the virtual browse and it was surprisingly high, over 8,000 clicks per month during the peak period.

But of course all this is old hat to him, while others have embedded virtual browse into their webopac, as usual Dave has gone a step further and has now embedded the shelf browse into Summon the web scale discovery service they are using.

For those unfamiliar with Summon  or web scale discovery services, many web scale discovery services will show items from the catalogue in the discovery search, but clicking on the result will bring you to the classic catalogue (web opac).

This is often very jarring to users who are suddenly dumped into a much older interface and may get confused if they continue their search there.

So how do you avoid that issue?

Solutions like Primo Central, get around the problem because they are provided by the ILS company itself Ex Libris which already provides the catalogue Primo, while Ebsco Discovery Service partners with ILS with III's Encore, so you can get article results in your default catalogue.

Alternatively if you have technical expertise, you can use open source software like Vufind as a catalogue as well as the API to pull in Summon resultsFavey Memorial Library at Villanova University is a well known example of such a approach.

Summon provides yet another option with the optional catalog details page that serves as a catalogue record.

While the default Summon catalogue details page is pretty good, Dave Pattern has managed to customize it (I believe with jQuery), to bring in features he has worked on for his opac. This includes the virtual shelf browse feature.

I would also add that the default Summon catalogue details pages, does not include tabs, though it does bring in book reviews.

Remember the book recommender I mentioned before that university of huddersfield had in the past in their opac? The example above doesn't show it because it probably didn't have any recommendations but here's one that has recomendations, which can be found under "more like this" tab.

As a sidenote Dave is currently engaging in what he calls Operation Dump the OPAC, what I see is really fascinating , with a scope beyond just the search including a planned MyLibrary page that looks really cool as well as integration of recommendations in the Summon search results itself.

5. Curtin University Library's Virtual Book Shelf

The virtual book shelf by Curtin University is a relatively new development and it recently won the Library Board of Western Australia Award for Excellence

Like some of the entries here the code is shared, you can request for it here

Curtin University library is using Primo Central another discovery service, so they can easily embed the shelf browse feature via a tab "Browse shelf"  into their discovery service as it serves both as the catalogue and (article) discovery service.

This virtual book shelf has many "manifestations", besides the shelf browse on the library search, it includes New Books display , mini-carousel  etc. It's pretty impressive, I encourage you to check them out.

6. Harvard Library's StackLife 

Something slightly different.

By Harvard, this is probably the most sophisticated in terms of browsing features, I am still trying to wrap my brain around it.

This is a fairly complicated visualization, with the depth of the color telling you how much use it got and the thickness of the book, telling you how many pages it has. The length is the actual length of the item. You can switch contexts by subject headings etc . It also covers more than just books, also includes CDs and DVDs.

Cornell also has a implementation of it.


I've focused mostly on academic libraries, but for public libraries virtual shelf browse features might even be more common. For example libraries on Bibliocommons such as NYPL's has this feature.

NLB's recently released catalogue from Spydus, also includes 3 browse methods, "similar titles", "titles by this author" and "people who borrowed this also borrowed". 

Together with University of Huddersfield's recommender , NLB's recommender was also mentioned in the same blog post, and it was found in their NLB Searchplus interface (Primo).

I would add both searches now coexist , with NLB Searchplus interface providing accessing to eresources and books (basically it's catalogue + federated search), and the catalogue just the normal catalogue items (but enhanced with facets etc so counts as a next generation library catalogue).

However, and I could be wrong here but I think the "people who borrowed this also borrowed" feature in this catalogue seems to be drawing from a different recommendation system, or so it seems to me as I get totally different results comparing the two?


The main issue is that currently these methods work only for physical items with a call number or in best case scenario ebooks, but not articles (which are the largest source of results in discovery).

But how would one browse articles? By citation data? subject headings? Authors? Visualization wouldn't be quite as fun, since you don't get those nice book covers. 

PS : This will probably be my last post before Google Reader finally dies. See you on another RSS reader, in case case thank you dear readers for your support of my blog since 2009! 

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