Hello World

Making Off the Shelf

Launch experiment Code

“Millions of books live in a maze of shelves underground at the State Library of NSW, descending so far beneath your feet that the tremor of the train lines can be heard overhead.”State Librarian, John Vallance, makes sure to spend time wandering through the book stacks every day, exploring the Library’s vast and varied collection. It was from these wanderings, and photos he occasionally took with his phone, that Off the Shelf was born.

A DX Lab exhibition, Off the Shelf, encourages the reader to digitally browse the Library’s book collection and uncover the many intriguing, perplexing and playful volumes waiting to be read. From bodice rippers to banksia trees, cats to catafalques, turnips to teleology — whatever you’re into, we’ve got a book for it.”

Mitchell Library Stack
Mitchell Library Stack-photo by Merinda Campbell
Off the Shelf behind the scenes
A selection of books located in the stacks

Part of the Library’s new vision is to ‘turn the Library inside out so that it fully faces and serves our community.’  One of the core grounding priorities is Access.

For the Library to achieve its mission — to support and encourage research, debate, conversation, inspiration, learning and enjoyment — people need to be aware of, and understand how they can access what we have to offer. Above all, we aim for our collections, services and programs to be readily accessible and used. Strategic Plan 2019-2023.

Off the Shelf aims to promote access to the Library’s physical books hidden in the stacks. It is an interactive digital display of more than 650 images of book covers, revealing a small selection of books that readers can get access to via the reading rooms. Visitors are now able to experience a part of the Library – generally not accessible to the public – in a fun, engaging and interactive way.

Visitors will be able to view the book covers on two large-scale animations via projections. They can interact with the content by selecting the book covers on the two touch-screens located in front of the projections; this will bring up a large image of the book cover with the information from the catalogue record. Visitors are encouraged to read any of the books by requesting it in the Reading Room staff to get them out from the stacks. We are connecting the services of the Library to the gallery experience and vice-versa.

Gallery title wall design
The physical book display and title wall in the gallery


The first thing we needed to do was photograph book covers down in the stacks.  Over several weeks, different staff members spent time doing this and sending through their photos.  Part of the idea was to get staff involved in the process of providing content when they saw an engaging book cover.  Staff used smartphones to create the images, which were then photoshopped and deep-etched for the display.  We did, however, need to have some higher resolution images, so some covers were photographed down in the stacks using a copy stand.

Photographing the book covers in the rare book stack
Spines had to be photographed when the book cover showed an image only

Once we had enough content, we did some testing using a Mac screensaver and projecting some of the covers in the foyer of the Library, which is a similar scale to the wall in the gallery.  This testing gave us a good indication of how many rows we needed and the type of transitions we were after.  After seeing two rows of book covers, we decided to go for three.

Testing a projection of book covers
Off The Shelf interface design
Interface design
Installing books in the gallery
Installing books in the gallery


Similar to our previous exhibition #NewSelfWales, we took the same approach and built the interface/projection app as a website. To update the app, wedeploy some new code and remotely restart the machine. We will also build an online mobile responsive version of Off The Shelf using the same codebase.

The frameworks and libraries we used include:

  • Frontend
    • React – Component based JavaScript UI library
    • Next JS – Application framework for React
    • Framer Motion – animation library for React
  • Backend
    • WordPress – backend to store book covers and meta data
    • GraphQL API – a global data API for DX Lab
    • Primo API – the Library’s collection data access point

We were able to re-use about 30-40% of the code from #NewSelfWales, mostly from the backend WordPress server and the DX Lab Global API. We also re-used the same PCs, touchscreens and projectors from #NewSelfWales, all of which were battle tested and already configured for an exhibition context.

After the gallery experience is live, we will publish the online version. The content in our Vending Machine will be refreshed to reflect the content that is in Off the Shelf. Visitors can then either visit the gallery experience or take the vending machine print down to the reading room staff to request the book.




Love it!
Making books great again!


Amazing job – great read! Can’t wait to see it.