Serendipity now!

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By | Digital Developments

Try out some experimental search tools in the Sandbox – the Wellcome Library’s new developmental web space.

Over the past two years, putting the Library’s collections online has become a major part of what we do. To date, over 45 000 items have been digitised and made available through the main library catalogue. Google also makes a fair go of indexing more than 40 000 of our objects.

With materials ranging from archives and AIDS awareness posters to votive offerings and woodcuts, an average of 300 newly digitised items are going online each week. While books and archives make up the bulk of the content, you can expect to stumble upon highly visual works like this drawing by an unknown artist ‘Copp’:

But how is it possible to browse everything to get a flavour of what’s available? What if you aren’t sure what to search for, but just want to see the type of thing that’s available in the Wellcome Library collections? What about good old fashioned serendipity?

Introducing the Sandbox

Tucked away in the Library’s website is a new space called the Sandbox. Here we are trialing a few experimental tools with the hope that we can develop them further into something that you can use to explore the collections.

The tools currently available are most definitely what we would call ‘rough and ready’. You’ll find bugs, duplication of data and unexpected faults with the design – problems we intend to fix before launching these as permanent fixtures on the Library website. But what you’ll also find are two alternative – and hopefully serendipitous – paths into the digitised content.

The Beta Browse is one tool under development. Here you can browse through the digitised content by Author, Genre, Repository and Subject Headings. Genre and Subject Headings are particularly revealing; both give a really good sense of what’s in the broader Wellcome Library collections.

The Toggle-a-Tron is a clever little link that activates library catalogue information on digitised content pages. When you choose to ‘Turn player data on’, a cookie is set in your browser. By doing so, you can see more information about a digitised item and follow the links into other digitised stuff with the same subjects, genres, authors and more.

For example, with the Toggle-a-Tron turned on, this early 19th century caricature by William Heath displays more information below the media player:

With the toggle-a-tron activated, browsing the digitised content by author, subject or genre becomes easier.

With the toggle-a-tron activated, browsing the digitised content by author, subject or genre becomes easier.

Tell us what you think

After you’ve had a play with the experimental tools in the Sandbox, let us know what you think. We’re always looking for feedback on our websites, and these experiments are no different. Drop us a line at with any thoughts or comments.

If you’d like to be more involved in the future as a participant in an online or in-person usability study, we invite you to join the Wellcome Trust user panel. You can read more about the user panel and join here.

Jenn Phillips-Bacher

Jenn Phillips-Bacher

Jenn Phillips-Bacher is Web Manager at Wellcome Library, where she spends her days working on projects to improve the Library's online user experience. Jenn studied Medieval History and Italian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then went on to become a librarian. She can be found on LinkedIn and Tumblr.

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