From the stacks to the screen

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By | Digital Developments

What happens when you turn the library catalogue inside out, exposing decades of catalogue descriptions, system metadata and images from our collections? What if a catalogue record, or an item in the collection, knew it was being talked about elsewhere on the web? What does it look like to present a library collection without search?

We are attempting to find out!

Today we’re going public with What’s In The Library?, a project we’ve been working on with the good people from design firm Good, Form & Spectacle. What’s In The Library? plumbs the depths of the Library catalogue, surfacing data from catalogue records and digitised materials to encourage exploration. What we’ve found out so far is that AIDS posters, genetics archives and Medical Officer of Health Reports are very well represented digitally, but our subject coverage has a very long tail. Anthropomorphism, for example, is the subject of 23 items. Here is one of the two we have digitised:

Lobster eating salad

The plan is to build a slew of working prototypes over four weeks. We’re in the middle of Week 3, but you can see the results so far at

Week 1 is of particular interest to our fellow librarians and data-consumers – this is where we can really see the scope of the collection in full, using the MARC catalogue records. The team has created a visualisation showing which fields are used most often:

Most used fields

Show The Thing’ was the theme of Week 2; this is where we started displaying digitised content alongside materials we haven’t digitised yet (or are available through other platforms like Eighteenth Century Collections Online).

Please be gentle with us, and with the prototypes. The developers are speedily coding up the site, but the servers might buckle a bit under a traffic. If we take development of any of the prototypes further, we’ll definitely improve performance, design and mobile accessibility. But do have a look around, and tell us what you find in the Library!

If you’re interested in the process behind the prototyping, check out the What’s In The Library project blog. George Oates has also written about the project on the Good, Form & Spectacle blog.

The Library takes data protection and its role as steward of the archival collections seriously. Many of the digitised archives may contain sensitive information about living people, so we will ask you to accept some Terms and Conditions before viewing.

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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