Introducing the new Open Library Explorer
As a student at the University of Waterloo, whenever Drini Cami felt stressed, he’d head to the library. Wandering through the stacks, flipping through 600-page volumes about quantum mechanics or the properties of prime numbers never failed to calm him down. And the best thing? “I would always leave the library having discovered something new—usually a variety of new things,” Cami explained. “This is something I haven’t been able to replicate at a digital library like Open Library.” What Drini longed for was the ability to discover new books serendipitously, browsing bookshelves organized by a century of librarians. But unlike most readers, Drini Cami wields a superpower: he is a designer and software developer at the Internet Archive.
Enter the Open Library Explorer, Cami’s new experiment for browsing more than 4 million books in the Internet Archive’s Open Library. Still in beta, Open Library Explorer is able to harness the Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress classification systems to recreate virtually the experience of browsing the bookshelves at a physical library. Open Library Explorer enables readers to scan bookshelves left to right by subject, up and down for subclassifications. Switch a filter and suddenly the bookshelves are full of juvenile books. Type in “subject: biography” and you see nothing but biographies arranged by subject matter.
Why recreate a physical library experience in your browser?
Now that classrooms and libraries are once again shuttered, families are turning online for their educational and entertainment needs. With demand for digital books at an all-time high, the Open Library team was inspired to give readers something closer to what they enjoy in the physical world. Something that puts the power of discovery back into the hands of patrons.
Escaping the Algorithmic Bubble
One problem with online platforms is the way they guide you to new content. For music, movies, or books, Spotify, Netflix and Amazon use complicated recommendation algorithms to suggest what you should encounter next. But those algorithms are driven by the media you have already consumed. They put you into a “filter bubble” where you only see books similar to those you’ve already read. Cami and his team devised the Open Library Explorer as an alternative to recommendation engines. With the Open Library Explorer, you are free to dive deeper and deeper into the stacks. Where you go is driven by you, not by an algorithm..
Cool New Features
By clicking on the Settings gear, you can customize the look and feel of your shelves. Hit the 3D options and you can pick out the 600-page books immediately, just by the thickness of the spine. When a title catches your eye, click on the book to see whether Open Library has an edition you can preview or borrow. For more than 4 million books, borrowing a copy in your browser is just a few clicks away.