What is StackLife?
StackLife (which used to be called “ShelfLife”) is a community-based wayfinding tool for navigating the vast resources of the combined Harvard Library System. It enables researchers, teachers, scholars, and students to find what they need and help others learn from them and their paths..
What makes it unique?
StackLife is designed to help users explore topics, find the next works they need, and help others in their own explorations. It does this by presenting sets of related works as neighborhoods that are visually displayed as books on a shelf. (So users can read the titles and authors on the spies, the shelf is shown as a vertical stack.) Some neighborhoods reflect the traditional ways we’ve organized books by subject, and some present collections of books based on more unusual connections: Books that others have looked at on the way to looking at the current book, books that users have manually linked to the current book, etc.
StackLife “heatmaps” the works it displays to indicate the relevance of those works to the Harvard community. To calculate this, ShelfLife calculates a “StackScore” number based on data that includes how often a work has been checked out and by which types of members, how often it is put on reserve, how often someone recalls it from loan, etc. We then chunk those scores into ten ranks. (We recognize that there is no single number that could ever reflect a work’s significance to a community. We have some ideas about this.)
Why duplicate the physical display of books in a digital medium?
First, keep in mind that while we are using shelves as a visual metaphor, none of the shelves the user sees maps to actual shelves in the real world. Even the “Infinite Bookshelf” that lists books in the call-number sequence by which they’re shelved in libraries combines books from the 73 libraries that make up the Harvard system, plus the Book Depository.
We use visual shelves because we have found that users find it a familiar and immediately understandable way of navigating a collection of books. It also enables us to graphically represent information that some people find quite useful, including the physical size of the book and the number of pages in it.
How can the community help provide more guidance to other users?
Much of that happens automatically. For example, anonymized check-in information influences the heatmaps, and the paths people take through the system also provides useful guidance. StackLife also enables users to explicitly link two books in its collection, and to leave tags. Further versions will contain many more ways for users to engage publicly with the works they care about.
Is StackLife just for Harvard users?
It is available for anyone to use. In addition, the programming code is Open Source and available on GitHub.
Where can I get more information?
Try the FAQ. Also, feel free to contact us at lil(at)law.harvard.edu.
How about privacy?
Here’s our privacy statement. Note that the usage data we use to compute the StackScore is fully anonymized, and is aggregated over ten years. We do not track which books are checked out together or retain any way of identifying checkouts (or any other actions) as coming from the same anonymized user.