Infomaniac #3: Browse a Bookshelf from Your Desktop

Have you ever had the fun experience of wandering down a bookstore or library’s shelves and finding something completely unexpected?  Or perhaps of locating one book in a section of the library that leads on to another, and another, AND ANOTHER… one better than the next?

Many people enjoy the serendipity of “browsing the shelves”.  Now you can do it from any computer (or tablet or smartphone)! The new Browse the Shelf feature in Encompass Search can be very helpful in locating other sources related to your search.

When looking at the full record in Encompass Search for an item on the shelf, you may have noticed a new drop-down feature called Browse the Shelf.  It’s located between View Description (where you can get more details about the item (including contents, synopses and subject headings) and Explore Editions and Formats (where you can see if there’s a later–or earlier– edition, or if the item is available in a different format).


Open Browse the Shelf and you are presented with a virtual representation of a shelf– i.e. the book in context, lined up on the shelf next to other resources it would sit next to.

That’s not the end of the story, however.  This feature was designed for libraries that may have items in multiple locations.  It will also show items that could be located next to or near an item, even if they are not actually located there. For example, if there is a DVD in the Audiovisual Collection or a book in the Rare Books Collection within the same call number range as a book in the Main Collection, Browse the Shelf will include these other items–in call number order.

There are several things that you should know about Browse the Shelf in order to better understand the results and use it to its full extent.  

First, let’s talk about call number order.

The whole Browse the shelf  tool works by comparing call numbers regardless of any other data like format or location. It puts all items with a similar call number in one list–as if they were going to sit on the shelf next to one another. This means that you might find documentary videos (located in our Audiovisual Collection on level A) interfiled with books on the same subject in the main stacks, along with books from our Juvenile Collection or Ready Reference Collection (located on level C and A respectively).  This is a great feature if you want to find other types of materials on the same topic across the collections.  

For example, below we see a score for the musical “Anything goes” listed next to a Music CD for the same title, even though these are in different shelving locations of the library.

Note: There is currently no ability to “refine” or “filter” items in the shelf browse by shelving location or collection, but this feature is scheduled by our service provider, OCLC, for a future enhancement.

Second, eBooks do not have call numbers.

Browse the Shelf will not show all of the eBooks we hold interfiled with the physical books.  This is because, unlike physical books, eBooks do not have call numbers assigned to them. Browse the Shelf will only show an eBook if we also own a physical edition of the book too.   It’s worth remembering that there are many, many eBooks in our collection that will not be shown in Browse the Shelf . The functionality to show all eBooks interfiled with physical items has been requested, but it is unclear how this could work in practice.

Shown below is a book by a Muhlenberg Faculty author that we also hold as an eBook.

Third, if Trexler Library holds two copies of a particular item, each shelved in a different location, only one copy shows in Browse the Shelf. 

If we have, for example, one copy in Special Collections and one copy in the Main Collection, Browse the Shelf uses the call number from the first copy listed in the record. The Special Collections copy is always the first copy on the list. In Browse the Shelf, you do not see that the library has a second copy in the Main Collection.  Take a look at the Available information for the faculty author example.

To see if there are additional copies, look under the Check Availability drop-down. Here you will be able to determine if there is a copy in the Main Collection. Keep in mind that Main Collection copies can be checked out and Special Collections copies can’t. You may also see a copy of an ebook if it is linked to the print.

The book shown below is available in Trexler Library Special Collections, Trexler Library Main Collection, and includes access to an ebook edition in two different databases.

One final tip:

When you are looking at a brief record, such as on the search results screen, you also only see the first item or copy the library has available. Anytime you see a book located in Special Collections, always click through on the title to go to the full record. There you can check to see if we have a copy in the Main Collection available for check out. Below is the brief record for the faculty author book shown above.

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