The Stacks as Interface

Interface - the place or area at which different things meet and communicate with or affect each other

I think the essential step to moving beyond our current library browsing mode is to move beyond the laptop/desktop/mobile displays that frame our thinking & constrain our peripheral vision.    I’m interested in exploring interfaces you can walk through.  

We all know and love the stacks.  They work. But what could a new stack browsing experience be?

Our current ebrowsing products and experiences tend to follow a certain design logic.  We migrate physical books, journals, etc. (or just their metadata) into the realm of the digital where web-based media is the native species.  

I’m curious about the reverse.  How can we bring the digital worlds of blogs, websites, etc. into the world of books.  More specifically, the world of book stacks.   I’m not interested in augmented books per se, rather the meaningful collocation of analog books and digital information.  As a contemporary media consumer and sometimes researcher, I frequently am as interested in books as much as blog posts, long form digital stories, or video.  

Stacks are also unique because each call number range is tied to a specific location in each library. In one library, Social Justice, for example, may be found on the 2th floor, on the shelf adjacent to the fire exit.  There you’ll find a constellation of related books.  Classification systems ensure the “address” (location) of a book is correlated to its contents.  This is not the case with web content.  The location of web addresses and their contents are in no way related to the contents.  But what if it were?     

What would it be like to walk down the aisles of the web? Could there be a new kind of browsing experience that exposed you to physical and digital assets within a topic area?

Libraries, particularly academic research libraries, are in the position to pool assets to  design & develop new kinds of bespoke library interfaces. These tools may be more similar in size to furniture than phones.  More comparable in price to cars than desktop computers.  But that’s fine.  A library can be most compelling when it brings new resources into reach.  Things too big, too expensive, to specific for individual ownership.  But perfect to be shared across a community.  

A Sketch (below). I've been interested in the idea of a mixed-media browsing experience.  I think the goal is easy-in easy-out information experiences.  Proven in the museum space, sound domes are an effective way to introduce highly localized audio into the stacks.  Audio may be soundtracks to video, podcast material, or atmospheric effects.