UNSW Library Unstacked, University of New South Wales

Data visualisation / Installation / Unstacked - Curated by the People

The heartbeat of the University


“It makes me feel like there is such a diverse range with so much going on. People are studying such incredible things, it’s a hub of academic intelligence, I love it.”

UNSW Student

One of the most well-used academic libraries in the country with up to 28,000 views a day, UNSW Library Unstacked displays and interprets usage of the UNSW Library collection in real-time, communicating the scale, breadth and depth of library research activity that is otherwise invisible.

Each time someone accesses an item online in the Library Collection, it is reflected in the visualisation. Every view is counted and mapped to high-level disciplines which connect with UNSW faculties, revealing the level of library research that happens across the University each day. Unstacked highlights individual titles as they are viewed and tracks the most-viewed items in the Library each day.

This innovative intersection of data, visual communication and library science is a collaboration between UNSW Library and the Unstacked team.


An introduction to the project by Hero Macdonald, Jackson Mann and Unstacked:



An initial scoping phase with the UNSW Library Unstacked project leaders Hero Macdonald (Director, Learning Services, Digital Innovation & Library Experience), Jackson Mann (Curator, Special Collections & Exhibitions) and Sue Harmer (Associate Director, Digital Experience & Innovation) determined the objectives, purpose and technical integration of the project.



Subsequent workshops with both students and staff were held to test the creative concept and identify narratives to pull out from the data which would be engaging and relatable, for example, “Most viewed item in a faculty today” and “Total Views this Year”. This was followed by several rounds of user testing to refine the communication so that all students, no matter their background or research area, could identify personally with the visualisation.



An exhibition of the project in the Library’s gallery demonstrated the creative and technical processes behind the project.



As with any project, seeing how people creatively engage with it in ways you couldn’t imagine is always a delight, for example, we didn’t realise people would search for titles containing with their names and take selfies. It’s also been great to hear from students who have said:


“It’s nice to see your study and research contributing. It is a culmination of all our study efforts, everyone is working towards the same thing.”

“It’s exciting being part of a community and remembering we’re all in it together and everyone is just trying to learn.”

“As a student in the arts faculty it makes me feel pretty important seeing our square being the biggest!”

“Before I saw this I didn’t think so many people used the library.”

“I am realising that online resources are much more vast than I thought they were.”


Hero Macdonald – Director, Learning Services, Digital Innovation & Library Experience:


“UNSW Library Unstacked is a flagship digital project for UNSW Library and it was an absolute delight to work with Elisa to realise our vision for this project. As a predominantly digital library, we were looking to create a visualisation that really communicated how our unique academic community use the Library collection and to give visibility to all that invisible digital engagement. We also wanted to enable our students and academics to really see themselves and their research as part of a rich and dynamic Library community. 

Elisa took us on an amazing design journey, and was incredibly engaged and responsive to our feedback and ideas and worked with us closely to iterate both the concept and the visual design elements to ensure we ended up with something that matched our vision. 

It has been fantastic to see how engaged students have been with the visualisation on show in our Main Library, and their feedback has been incredible.  We feel incredibly excited to share UNSW Library Unstacked with the community.”

Project links