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State Library of NSW launches Unstacked, a time-based visualisation of materials people are accessing from the library’s collection

Above image: A screenshot of the Unstacked interface

The State Library of New South Wales (NSW) recently launched Unstacked, a time-based visualisation of materials people are accessing from the library’s collection. Unstacked was developed by Elisa Lee and Adam Hinshaw of the DX Lab at the State Library of NSW. DX lab is Australia’s first cultural-heritage innovation lab that builds and supports new ways of design thinking, experimentation and deep research with digital technologies. According to Elisa Lee, a DX lab fellow and one of the co-creators of Unstacked, the reason behind the name was because of how the webpage presents in a visual form items which are physically or digitally coming delivered from “the stacks”; the underground space where the library stores holds much of their collection.

As winners of the inaugural DX Lab Fellowship at the State Library of NSW, the team wanted to reveal the breadth and diversity of this collection (most of which is held in the library’s underground stacks), and show what odd and interesting items pop up when people search the collection online. Unstacked can be viewed on a computer, mobile phone or device. The plan is to display this project over a large space in the library for everyone to see. Elisa and her team found out that when it is shown in a public space, it provokes conversation and that was one of their aims.

Due to timing issues with the library migrating their backend systems, a decision was made to work with four months of cached access log data from January – April 2016. When possible, the project will be switched over to a real-time feed.

With regards to the visualisation design, the Unstacked team wanted to showcase items with minimum fuss and let the contents of the collection speak for themselves. After consultation with the library, the team settled on a visualisation that balances communication and aesthetics. One of the challenges occurred was how to deal with items from the collection which did not have images attached to the records.

The team hopes that Unstacked will increase the number of visits to the library both virtual and physical and inspire people to explore the State Library of NSW’s incredible collection.

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