The Virtual Shelf is inspired by research showing that people use libraries to search for information in ways that are often ignored by online searching and browsing interfaces. Rather than searching a catalog to find all the books they are seeking, library patrons often find a book or two that might be relevant from the library catalog, note the section(s) in the library where those books reside, and then physically browse the shelves in that area. This allows them to sidestep often confusing subject search systems and leverage serendipitous discovery to find a greater number of relevant resources. The library environment has also traditionally been viewed as conducive to scholarly engagement and collaborative dialog by researchers. Our design aims to integrate and capitalize on some of the strengths of both physical and digital information systems. We have created an interface that allows users to view library collections as books displayed on a virtual bookshelf interface. The system goes beyond this by allowing users to create custom book shelves to save and share with others, export in different data formats, and work on these collections collaboratively. Search results can also be visualized as bookshelves and users can take advantage of the digital environment to re-order and re-organize the virtual shelves however they see fit.
Throughout this project, we have been working collaboratively with the Open Library (http://openlibrary.org). The data utilized in our application is pulled from the over 25 million book records (1 million of which included full-text page scans) from the Open Library's growing collection.