November 2010 - April 2011
University of Michigan - MLibrary

For the University of Michigan MLibrary 2011 iDesign competition, I worked with Caitlin Holman to present a working prototype of a design to help library patrons discover relevant and interesting materials from library collections. Our submission was based on our concept of "serendipitous browsing", and for it we won 1st prize.

Our submission was based on the idea that "discovery" of interesting library materials is a seemingly serendipitous process whereby patrons need the opportunity to happen across interesting material without explicitly seeking it out. Existing library websites and collections are primarily focused on allowing patrons to locate and access materials when they already know what they're looking for. For the same reason that we lament the loss of physical bookstores, we find this a frustrating experience when we're trying to discover interesting new material; the material we didn't know we needed.

Since academic library collections are not only massive, but ordinarily have all of the book covers and other visual cues removed from them, the idea of wandering through the library stacks to discover relevant new materials breaks down in reality. On top of that, ideally we would like to have a virtual way of discovering these materials as well. As a result, we identified a few principles that help produce serendipitous discovery: constrained collections sizes, visually distinct and impactful presentation, interactive interfaces, and highly relevant materials.

In our prototype we focused on the reality that course syllabi created by professors already contain expertly curated lists of resources. So, we imagined that if syllabi at an entire university were collected and their resource lists were made available in an interactive web application, the individual materials would immediately have a heightened degree of relevance to the patrons (on top of also using recommender algorithms to increase relevance). We then used a highly interactive and fast interface to present the materials in order to encourage browsing behavior, which we believe increases serendipitous discovery. Lastly, we used web APIs to pull in visual material for resources such as book cover images, embedded videos, embedded book previews, and additional metadata to help catch the eye and convey more meaningful information about the materials with each glance.

What I did

Built cataLIST serendipitous browsing design concept for use in academic libraries.

  • Built Javascript-based functional prototype of serendipitous browsing concept
  • Helped design look, feel, and function of prototype
  • Helped develop concept presentation
  • Presented concept to the public at awards ceremony
  • Wrote white paper on using recommender algorithms to assist with serendipitous browsing