Ingenious beta catalog interface—good for academics and other serious users—in newest Beta Sprint video from DPLA

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Via the Berkman Center

In this video from the Harvard-based Digital Public Library of America, you can see an ingenious catalog interface that should please many an academic.

ShelfLife lives up to the visual metaphor, even though I’d hope that DPLA Beta Sprinters would offer another, even simpler option for casual users at both academic and public libraries. Harvard-simple isn’t necessarily public-library simple. Feedback welcome in LibraryCity’s comment section.

imageMaybe I’m aiming too high in the simplicity department. I will say that current public library e-book catalogs tend to err in the other direction—too dumbed down for the research-minded. Meanwhile keep in mind that the interface to the left is just a demo version and that the cat will sensibly cover different media, not just books.

The video features Kim Dulin and David Weinberger of the Harvard Library Innovation Lab, Tom Blake of the Boston Public Library and Karen Cariani of the WGBH Media Library and Archives. With help from Dan Jones, Berkman Center summer interns Ben Naddaff-Hafrey and Meredith Whipple created a polished, informative segment, well-worth your time.

Also of interest: The Beta Sprint’s Web page, more videos on the Sprint project (I’ll avoid the initials), and a complete list of other project participants.

imageIn other news: The DPLA will hold a public plenary meeting in Washington, DC, on October 21—details to come—and meanwhile I’ll keep rooting for the organization to open up its routine meetings.

On Oct. 11, a separate DPLA-related conference at Columbia University in New York will be sponsored by the Washington-and-Moscow-based International Library and Analytic Center (this isn’t an official DPLA gathering). Among the topics: “Digital libraries in Russia and their availability to the public.” Some fascinating comparisons ahead?

Given the reliance of librarians and publishers on each other, I’m pleased that the forthcoming New York conference will include Tom Allen (photo), president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers, among other speakers. Time for a publisher to be appointed to the DPLA steering committee? Although pro-library and in favor of less restrictive copyright laws, I think the DPLA will be in for some nasty surprises if it fails to understand the publishers’ side.

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6 comments to “Ingenious beta catalog interface—good for academics and other serious users—in newest Beta Sprint video from DPLA”
6 comments to “Ingenious beta catalog interface—good for academics and other serious users—in newest Beta Sprint video from DPLA”
  1. Exactly why is this interface, in your opinion, pleasing for academics but not for public library users? Besides you saying that it is???? You give no reason.

  2. Have you seen the already-supplied evidence—the video? You’re welcome to your opinion, but to me, the interface isn’t as easy for a typical public library patron to use as a regular text-oriented cat. If nothing else, the screen is too busy with so many titles, etc., showing at once. That’s the way I myself like it, and this could be catnip for academics, but all those choices could intimidate some casual users at public libraries. Beyond that, for public library use, the look could be more colorful, more OverDrive-like, with greater prominence given to, say, cover art. The good news is that this is only a beta. I’ll look forward to future versions and the possible creation of an *option* better suited for casual users. Here to choice! Many patrons might actually prefer a Google-style interface. Even many academics might–perhaps as a way of catching up with information that eluded them when they were using a more complex interface. I’m also curious about the use of yet other possibilities for sophisticated users.


    • Yeah I watched the video, and I still don’t see what you’re talking about….

      “That’s the way I myself like it, and this could be catnip for academics, but all those choices could intimidate some casual users at public libraries.”

      All those choices??? Its a virtual book shelf…. and I still don’t understand what you mean by academics liking this more than public library users. Academics would like a very complicated search based interface, not a visual book shelf. Take it from an academic.

  3. Well, Jim, even as a nonacademic, I’d personally love to see a search-based interface option, with a number of choices. Here’s to useful complexity!

    Now—about the actual DPLA beta. It offers just too much info on the screen at once for civilians. My opinion? Yes! At any rate, I could easily see many academics enjoying this approach even if it isn’t your own favorite. Would welcome feedback from other visitors.

    For now, I think it would be wonderful if the DPLA tried the interface(s) on actual public library users of different kinds—everyone from K-12 students to mostly recreational readers looking for the latest bestsellers.

    Who knows, maybe as long as the DPLA is willing to shake things up, it could try a mix of a Google-y approach and topic clusters displayed in a sidebar, so people benefited as much as possible from seeing the possibilities in context. DPLA’s laudable focus on tagging would make the clusters more meaningful than ever.

    In real life, zillions of students are going for Google rather than relying on lib cats as they exist now; isn’t that sending a message? And the topic clusters could help as long as the look wasn’t too cluttered. People could see the basic clusters first and drill down.

    The bookshelf metaphor is easy to grasp, but I’d hate to see the DPLA lock into it for sure right now, however much promise it holds.

    If nothing else, the Google/cluster approach might reduce the number of steps in searches, complete with an option to use tags to limit searches—thereby simultaneously benefiting from the functionality of the bookshelf metaphor (maybe tags in colorful rectangles would pop up as people typed search words). Just keep the trimmings optional so people can enjoy a Google-clean interface if they prefer, without the clusters even. No rectangles inflicted on the unwilling! Only when people selected “Advanced” might the fun begin, and even then they could chose different levels of complexity.

    For now, bear in mind why Google succeeded, beyond the algorithms. It didn’t overwhelm the civilians–the bulk of users–with a lot of options.

    Let the users choose how much info is thrown at ’em. And remember the limits of visual metaphors and other analogue-to-digital arrangements. Where would e-book for recreational reading be without reflowable, easily repositionable formats, as opposed simply to the fixed PDF approach?


  4. OverDrive’s ebook cats are too simple! Nice, spiffy aesthetics, but too slow, too dumbed down, even for elementary students. I suspect improvements are on the way.


    1. In regard to the somewhat Google-ish search interface I have in mind now, consolidated tag results could appear at the top after people typed in the keyboards. Ideally as they typed them in.

    2. Individual tags could still appear alongside the individual items turned up by the search and each could be color-coded to match the rectangles at the top–the consolidated display of the tags. Or maybe there’d just be plain words at the top, with sizes varying in the best word-cloud tradition to reflect frequency of mentions.

    3. Might we be seeing another example of the difference between academic and nonacademic minds? So many ordinary users just want to get to the keyword-based specifics in a hurry, whereas academics and librarians will think in categories and be more systematic. By blending the simple Google approach with switched-on tagging and other goodies (“permanent” via accounts, cookies, etc., for those wanting them), the search engine could more easily satisfy both groups. Also, a separate BookShelf-style interface could exist for people who just wanted to start with the tags and drill down. I’d hope that in this case people could choose between a simpler better-looking approach for casual users (complete with representative book covers to spiff things up, OverDrive style) and a more text-heavy approach for academics and other heavy-duty researchers.

    Further feedback welcome (though I may not be able to answer right away)!


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