A cruisy Saturday shopping trip

Find yourself

Are you getting excited about the re-opening of the Wellington National Library Building after its refurb? As someone who’s spent a lot of time there as a staff member and a customer, I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m especially looking forward to the opening of the digital spaces on the ground floor where the Lifelines table - a digital project I’ve been working on over the last year - will be finally released into the wild.

Opening questions on the Lifelines tableGet started with Lifelines by saying who you are or where you're from.

Lifelines will give people visiting the Library an opportunity to discover the content in our collections through their own personal history – the times they have lived in, their family name and the places in New Zealand they know.

It’s not a tool for researching family history though – it’s a way of looking through the richness of images related to those themes, making interesting discoveries about their time and place, and occasionally finding something that makes a personal connection.

Browsing the racks

There’s no search box and no keyboard in Lifelines. It’s operated by touch, with an interface that enhances the sense of browsing. Our early prototype testing has shown that it has the potential to lead browsers into unexpected pathways and places, and provide that delightful sense of new discovery.

Trialling the prototype Lifelines tableAll hands on touchscreen: trialling the Lifelines table. Photo by Stuart King.

Browsing and searching are quite different activities that often take place in the same arenas. For example two of my favourite activities – visiting a library and shopping for clothes – both lend themselves to browsing and searching.

Taking some time

Am I looking for something specific - a new pair of jeans perhaps, or books on growing organic veg in a garden box? Maybe I just want to get a sense of what’s on offer, and am happy to flick through the items on the rack or on the shelves, occasionally pulling one out to take a closer look – holding it up against my frame and checking it out in the mirror, or reading the blurb – while I try to figure out if it might be “me”.

Trialling the prototype Lifelines tableBrowsing through your people and places. Photo by Stuart King.

When I’m in searcher mode I’m goal focused – I want what I want, and I want to get it as quickly as possible with minimum distractions. When I’m browsing I’m looking for diversion, possibilities, and the richness of the experience.

I want the items I’m looking through to be pleasing and interesting in their own right. If it’s digital content I’m browsing that normally means fascinating images that are full of details and diversions.

I can get that sort of feeling by browsing through pictures of Plimmerton, where I went to school, or images that relate to my family name, Plunket.

Hitting the critical mass

Providing a good browsing experience for physical collections has been something that walk-in libraries have long aimed to provide, recognising the value for their visitors of delightful serendipitous discovery.

Searching for 'Wood' in LifelinesMaking a personal connection. Photo by Stuart King.

Online library tools initially focused on searching, with text based systems and word matching being the order of the day. Now with a critical mass of historical and contemporary items in digital form we need to – and can – provide options for digital browsing. Library visitors are in for rich experiences that provide delight and diversion as they expand their knowledge of what’s available.

Get a taste for Lifelines by browsing through our online images. Let us know what you find!

By Paddy Plunket

Paddy is a project manager working on refreshing National Library services, as part of the Library’s New Generation Implementation Programme.

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Vicki July 7th at 9:22AM

An innovative idea!! How many people will be able to use the touch screen at a time?, it looks fairly large.

Paddy PlunketNational Library July 10th at 8:53AM

Lifelines is designed to be a social experience! There are three work spaces on the table, so three Lifelines "sessions" can be running at any time. The workspaces are big enough so that 3 or 4 people could be engaged with each one, so up to a dozen people could be involved in Lifelines at a time.

simon July 13th at 10:38AM

Could the idea be provided for iPads and the like? Would provide a great way for people across NZ to experience and explore the material.

Reuben SchraderNational Library July 13th at 12:34PM

A mobile version of this site is in the works, and we're very interested in the possibilities of pushing Lifelines out into the internet. Keep an eye out. :)