2009 Interactive Design Best of Show

The Library of Congress Visitor Experience is a once-in-a-career kind of project. Not just because it makes a great portfolio piece, but because it reinvents the way people interact with the largest library in the world.

With dozens of kiosks and other interactive elements, Second Story Interactive Studios linked every department in the library and made the historical content more engaging for visitors. You can stand in front of a spiral bookcase re-creating Thomas Jefferson’s library and page through one of the tomes on a touch screen. Or walk up to a 16-foot-wide interactive wall and watch founding documents come alive.

Title Library of Congress Visitor Experience Kiosk | Design Firm Second Story Interactive Studios, Portland, OR; www.secondstory.com | Interactive Media Design/development Second Story Interactive Studios | development Schematic Inc., Novera | Project Management Sapient | Exhibit/Environment Design Riggs Ward Design, Chermayeff & Geismar | A/V integration Design & Production | library partners Office of the Librarian, Interpretive Programs Office, Web Services, Information Technology Services, Education Outreach | Client Library of Congress

“It feels like you’re making something that’s timeless,” creative director Brad Johnson says about the project. “This isn’t just a fleeting campaign for something. It’s going to be there for a long time, and it’s going to help change the way people think about a lot of things that are important to our cultural heritage.”

Unlike video games or websites, these installations don’t sweep visitors up in virtual worlds. Instead, they help people connect with the things around them. Touch screens in the library’s Great Hall, for example, let visitors zoom in on architectural details from the scene right in front of them.
Plus, these and every other kiosk in the library include bar code readers that connect people’s on-site experiences to the internet. When visitors arrive, they receive passports with unique bar codes to scan at interactive stations. This tracks individual visits and feeds the information to a personalized webpage at myLOC.gov.

As you move through the library, you can save different items to your online collection. “A lot of the kiosks we developed are very deep in content,” says producer Melissa Paugh. “A normal visitor experience wouldn’t allow you to stay and explore it for the length of time that you might want. So the passport saves experiences that visitors can explore later online.”

Second Story also created continuity through the whole experience. You’ll find the same four sections, for instance, on all 36 myLOC kiosks, which helps visitors plan their trip and navigate the library. When  you access an object from any kiosk, there’s an “explore” icon that brings up a shared interface for zooming in, translating the language and other options.

It’s all intriguing enough that juror Brien Grant can’t wait to experience it in person. “The sheer depth of content in this project is breathtaking, never mind the dazzling, high-touch ways you can interface with it,” he says. “I like how they’ve preserved the integrity of the content without overshadowing it with technology. It’s almost magical in its simplicity as you go through it.”

Lest you think he’s exaggerating, his fellow jurors offered similar high praise. Maria Giudice tossed around words like “outstanding” and “exceptional,” while judge Lou Kinard marveled at the mastery of the kiosk design.

“The visual design has to grab attention, the interaction must be intuitive, and the content needs to deliver results very quickly,” Kinard says. “This beautiful project by Second Story does it all—and then some—on a very large scale.”