The Library Machine is search tool designed to take advantage of the affordances of contemporary gesture-based interfaces in order to increase the discoverability of library materials, particularly that of non-textual objects, such as artists books, which are difficult to access via traditional search and which do not circulate.

Many people simply have no idea that libraries hold these valuable and intriguing cultural artifacts. Moreover, they often have no idea how to access them in person. By making the search process more visual and tangible and by designing the interface for popular digital devices, the Library Machine brings library holdings closer to a younger audience and uses the potential of these devices to stimulate exploration and discovery of important cultural and intellectual resources. A playful and expressive search process eliminates some of the obstacles to engaging with library collections, and makes search an enjoyable process. This allows the public—particularly millennials—to engage with new ideas and to become acquainted with the wealth of cultural heritage materials in addition to codices.

The video below is a rough overview of the Library Machine’s functionality:

The centerpiece of the Library Machine project is an interface that connects to a large format touch screen equipped with depth cameras that tracks user gestures. Thus, the interactive flow of the Library Machine allows both gestural interaction and touch commands, effectively extending the modalities involved in the cognitive processing of search results.

The search hits are displayed in a visual representation showing the items the way they actually look rather than returning abstract lists of metadata about them. These search results are arranged in a spiral shape that resembles a “whirlwind,” which is navigated by spinning via gestural interaction in order to open, expand or narrow the search. In this way, individual items can be examined closely and precise rearrangements can be made. The user has continuous control over the development of the inquiry as well as its visual structure.

A key component of the project is the use of cutting edge technologies such as 360 video and 3D scanning to represent non textual holdings such as artists books in novel ways (see accompanying video for one such representation). The interface will also be optimized for use on personal mobile devices such as tablets and smart phones, and a virtual reality component will be added in order to provide a more immersive experience.

By engaging a fuller range of human cognitive capabilities, the Library Machine interface hopes to revolutionize search. The amount of data generated in the digital era is growing exponentially, and we must find novel ways of analyzing and interpreting these vast data archives. Also, the ways in which information is categorized and databases are created are value laden. As such, the processes by which these structures are established should be more transparent than conventional systems currently allow.
The Library Machine’s main project team:
Andreas Kratky, PhD: Prof. USC Interactive Media and Games
Michaela Ullmann, M.A.: Exile Studies Librarian, USC Libraries
Virginia Kuhn, PhD: Prof., Media Arts + Practice, USC Cinema
Susan Luftschein, PhD: Archival and Metadata Librarian, USC