UNSW Library Unstacked, University of New South Wales

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




SLNSW Unstacked, State Library of NSW

A living, breathing representation of the library’s collection

What are people looking for when they browse the State Library of NSW’s collection of 6 million + items? There are books in there, of course, but also photographs, soldiers diaries from World War One, locks of childrens’ hair, a vast array of paintings and sketches, maps, diaries from First Fleet officers and soldiers, Aboriginal artefacts and even floppy disks from the 1980s.


“…pushing boundaries in digital interaction with data and in delivery… a completely new way to access the Library’s collection.”

Paula Bray, DX Lab Leader, State Library of NSW

As winners of the inaugural DX Lab Fellowship at the State Library of NSW, we wanted to reveal the breadth and diversity of this collection (most of which is held in the library’s underground stacks), and show what odd and interesting items pop up when people search the collection online.

Unstacked is a web page that updates to show what items people are accessing from the State Library of NSW’s collection. When people look at a collection item, it pops up on Unstacked. It is essentially a window into the collection, and an insight into what people are interested in at any given time.

The work reveals that the library’s users have very different interests and this highlights the diversity of the collection. We hope that Unstacked will increase the number of visits to the library both virtual and physical and inspire people to explore the State Library of NSW’s incredible collection.


Project Team

Adam Hinshaw – Co-creator and Developer

Project links





SLQ Unstacked, State Library of Queensland

Collection treasures unearthed in real-time by patrons and staff

SLQ Unstacked is a real-time living breathing representation of the library’s collection and how people are using it whether they be in the library, elsewhere in Queensland or on the other side of the world. 


“…such a powerful way to share our collections.”

Vicki McDonald, State Librarian and CEO, State Library of QLD

When someone accesses an item from the library’s online catalogue, it appears in Unstacked.

Unstacked brings collection items from off the shelf and out of the stacks and into the public domain. The visualisation can be seen throughout the library, on their website, and on the screen in the library’s Knowledge Walk.

Users of the library curate an ever-changing exhibition of the collection inspiring conversation and revealing  the collection in a surprising way.

Items of interest can viewed in more detail and from there, a link back to the catalogue is provided. The visualisation can be filtered to display different types of use. For example, you can choose to only view items with images from the published collection which are being accessed by people at the library.


Project links








SLV Unstacked, State Library of Victoria

The collection, curated in real-time by the people.

State Library of Victoria commissioned Unstacked as part of their Vision 2020 development.

On display in the Russell St Welcome Zone, visible both during the day and the night, and on two large screens in the Quad, it provides an ever-evolving exhibition of their collection and how it is being used.


“…completely riveting, it just opens up the breadth of basically the collection, but also the breadth of humanity in some way.” 

Des Cowley, History of the Book Manager, Collections and Development, State Library of Victoria


“The investment in Unstacked has been well worth the benefits. Already it’s been incredible to see not only the public but staff be so excited and so engaged by seeing all their work being visualised in that way and the public response to it.”

Sarah Slade, Director, Project Management Office, State Library of Victoria


“Our primary focus is the audience, so to have this tool to understand what our audiences are looking at and what they’re exploring is invaluable for our programming offer.”

Rebecca Anthony, Program Manager, Audience Engagement, State Library of Victoria



“Unstacked is a beautiful way to inspire possibilities in everyone who comes into our building because they can see the breadth of what we have and what people are using at any point in time and be surprised and delighted.

Projects like Unstacked help us meet the need of the community around us. The way that people expect to access information, the way they want to use information, and the way they want to have immediacy about what they are offered.

Sarah Slade, Director, Project Management Office, State Library of Victoria


UTS Library 11-808, University of Technology, Sydney

What’s going on in the robotic library retrieval system?

As Artists-in-Residence, we were tasked with interpreting and responding to the Library Retrieval System (LRS). The LRS is UTS Library’s state-of-the-art underground storage system, which stores books, journals and objects in 11,808 steel storage bins.


“Artistically beautiful, superbly designed and technically very clever…”

Mal Booth, University Librarian, University of Technology, Sydney

What happens when you visualise the interaction between organic human behaviour and a rigid mechanical storage system? What narratives and patterns are formed or imagined? What behaviours and insights can be deduced? The outcomes are constantly in flux, determined by the users of the LRS and the items contained within it.

11-808 is a playful visualisation of the movements of books and objects requested and returned from the LRS. Each time an item is moved we see its “catalogue card” fly in or out of the bin where it’s located, with the bin adopting the colour of the subject area that the item belongs to. For example, books in the social sciences are blue.

The colours build up on the sides of the display, showing the accumulation and order of all transactions for the time period. Current LRS activity is overlaid in real-time, as items are requested and returned whilst replays of LRS activity can be across different periods of time.

By viewing the title of objects, their subject category and the time in which they are requested, we can build an intriguing picture of how the LRS is being used.



The UTS Library Collection is classified and sorted into topic areas according to the Dewey Decimal System. Items in the LRS, however, are stored according to their spine height. Items may move through many different bins as they are requested and then returned.

Conversations explores text or dialogue from items stored in the bins and the possible inter-relational communication between these items.

Given that they may only have their spine height in common, how do they relate to each other? Do they embrace the opportunity to expand their knowledge, or do they stick to their own “kind”? Do they listen to each other, or talk over the top of each other? What new narratives are formed?

Listen to their conversations and decide for yourself.



Project links



Project Team

Adam Hinshaw – Co-creator and Developer