There’s been some discussion recently on “next generation catalog for libraries” (ngc4lib) discussion list about Zoomii, a visual interface for Amazon. The site is constructed to imitate the shelves in a bookstore, allowing users to go to the section they are interested in and then browse the book covers, which are presented front forward.
I like the general function of the site. You can select a section and then zoom in to view the covers. When you click a particular cover, you get a more detailed entry for the book, along with a link to the Amazon record.
The question on the ngc4lib discussion is whether such a visual browse would make an effective library catalog. I have some doubts that such a catalog would be effective for a 2-million-volume (or larger) collection. Tim Spaulding over at LibraryThing maintains that Amazon is larger than most libraries and it uses a visual display. Amazon, I maintain, is a hybrid system, presenting both textual and visual information. It is the combination that is useful.
In the Zoomii “classics” category, for example, there are about 230 covers presented. It is really impossible to see the covers well until you zoom in quite a ways. You can click and drag to move around, but it would be nice if you could just use your directional keys, one-handed. The point is, however, that most large libraries would contain 100 or probably 1000 times as many works that could be categorized at “classic.” How would you be able to browse that many covers? There needs to be a way to refine the browse, much like a faceted catalog would do.
A combination of keyword and controlled vocabulary searching and browsing, coupled with the book covers, presented shelf-list fashion, might be really useful. I enter a search term; the system gives me a couple of piles of search results–keywords, authors, subject headings; I pick the category I want; the system shows me book covers in that category; I get to narrow and refine as I go. Always the book covers are there, along with some parts of the textual metadata. I don’t think Zoomii is quite there yet. But a good step, nonetheless.