Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Browse the British Library with Leaflet Maps

You can now browse through the British Library's book collection on an interactive Leaflet.js map. OK - you can't actually browse through the whole 25 million books in the British Library but you can explore a map of the 4,300 books that are currently stored in the Library basements at St Pancras. This is an area which is not normally open to the public.

Elastic System is actually a work of art by Richard Wright produced in collaboration with the British Library. The art work uses Leaflet.js and photos of the spines of 4,300 books to create an interactive portrait of Thomas Watt. In 1840 Watt developed an 'elastic system' of storage to help the British Library cope with the huge number of books it owned. To create his interactive mapped portrait Richard Wright has rearranged 4,300 books by the color of their spines so that they resemble an 1851 portrait of Watt.

The books that make up the portrait are fully interactive. If you click on a book on the map an information window opens providing the book's title and author. The artwork is also a fully functioning library catalog. While you browse the books in the collection you can order books from the British Library by selecting a book on the map and clicking on the 'I want this' link. When a book is requested it is then removed from the virtual shelves of the 'Elastic System' interactive map. When books are removed from the map they also reveal another image behind the book portrait of Thomas Watt. This hidden image shows the British Library employees busy at work behind the scenes.

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