Browsing in MBooks?

Last month I attended the annual Digital Library Federation spring meeting and David Rumsey, renowned for his collection of historical maps, was one of the keynote speakers. Prompted by David Rumsey’s map ticker ( and what he said in passing about "moving among the maps" in Second Life, I’ve been brooding about the perceived lack of browsability in the digital library context. How would we "move among the books" in MBooks?

Presumably, one way we could do it would be to make a book ticker – perhaps with covers or title page thumbnails, arranged in call number order (as one would browse a shelf).

That raises a few immediate practical questions:

  1. Do we have identified title pages or cover thumbnails for all the books? What do we do for cases where we don’t?
  2. Should we precompute thumbnails or try to derive them on the fly?
  3. Can we use the Mirlyn call number to browse? They aren’t in the MARC record per se.

These practical questions raise a number of other usability issues, of course. Some are about thumbnails – what size would the thumbnails have to be to make them useful? When you clicked on them, where would you end up? Could you hover over them and see some volume metadata? Can we show thumbnails for in-copyright items? Others are about call number browsing – would you really want to browse all items by call number, or just those from a given library? That is, browse the "real" stacks for a holding location, like Shapiro Undergraduate Library, or the superset of all libraries, the stacks as they’ve never been in the physical world?

To me, the latter choice seems like the best one – it’s something that is only possible in a digital library, as we’d be drawing together items that are housed in separate buildings yet may be related. How do you imagine browsing in the digital library?


Kathleen M Folger
on June 18, 11:39pm

Have you seen Quinnipac University's VERSO(Virtual Electronic Reference Source Organizer)." It's a visual representation of e-books. Each title is given a call number and then an image of a book spine, with the title and call number, is added to one of eight subject "shelves". The spine images are arranged just as they are on a real shelf, i.e. you have to tilt your head (or your laptop) to be able to read the titles.

Perry Willett
on June 19, 8:28am

This is an online bookstore, but it's a pretty slick way to browse:

Chris Powell
on June 23, 2:51pm

Interesting -- thanks! Neither is my perfect solution, and both seem to be dealing with relatively small collections. But nice to see two different examples. I hear that MLabs may have something in this vein in the not-too-distant future.