Boston Public Library

FREE TO ALL is the motto of the Boston Public Library. Our digital interventions celebrate the physical and digital collections of the nation's oldest and largest library.

Welcome Center

The Boston Public Library’s Welcome Center is the anchor to the newly renovated Johnson Building. It pulls people in from the street and sends them on a journey of discovery throughout the library. It is located right at the entrance of the Johnson Building, and is managed by a staff member who can assist visitors as they enter by answering their questions. It’s unique nautilus shape is built in three sections and consists of ten large curved screens and twenty-eight unique square displays all in an illuminated, custom fabricated stainless steel housing.

Through these displays, visitors to the library can find out about upcoming programs, see the invisible lives of books, take a shelf portrait, learn about their community, explore tweets, collections, and so much more. Emblazoned with the motto FREE TO ALL, the Welcome Center is a reflection of a dynamic library and the city that built it.

In addition to the Welcome Center itself, Small Design Firm developed a content management system that serves all of the parts of the Welcome Center. Library staff use a web-based interface to manage the modules in the Welcome Center. From there, they can do things like upload content for promoted programs, delete Shelf Portraits or video suggestions, or modify the parameters of the social media feed.

Digital Stacks

The Digital Stacks are a window onto the continually growing collection of materials the library has digitized. It shows off these materials—beautiful, strange, informative, and historic—in a visually appealing and browsable interface, letting people stumble upon things they may not have been looking for.

There are four groupings of high-resolution screens and gallery cases against the outside walls of Deferrari Hall. Each set of screens displays the collection organized in a different way, for example, by creator or by location, and physical objects chosen to highlight or complement the items on the screens are displayed in the adjacent case.

We refer to these groupings as Lenses. The lenses through which the collection is shown are chosen to show the items in an informative and visually interesting way.


Pulse is a module in the Welcome Center in the Johnson Building of the Boston Public Library that visualizes data about activity in the library and its branches in near real-time.

Each event is represented by an icon that moves across the screen from its origin at a box representing a part of the library. When taken together, the movement of these points—checkouts and check-ins, fines, acquisitions, website visits, social media posts, programs such as classes held by the library, and more—reveal the amount and patterns of activity in the library at a given time.

Visitors can stand in front of it and watch the events pulse by, or scrub backward in time and see how the pattern of events changes throughout the day, from early-morning auto-renewals to the flurry of circulation activity at closing. Whether in the past or in the current moment, they can freeze the whole thing and see the details of each of the events.

Digital Signage

The digital signage system at the Boston Public Library displays a variety of content, including information about upcoming events, general information about the library, a floor plan, and highlighted objects from the library’s collection.

There are two types of signs: interactive signs, and non-interactive broadcast signs. Each sign is configured to show content appropriate for its location. For example, a sign in the Children’s Library shows content tailored for children and their parents.

Small Design Firm developed the system to replace a system that the library had been considering, with the goal of making it as easy as possible for staff to create and manage the content on the signs, while still allowing for flexibility in the content shown on a particular sign.

Along with the signage application itself, there is a web-based interface for configuring the signs, creating the slides that show on them, and editing the general information shown to visitors. It streamlines the process of creating content for the signs—from uploading, positioning, and cropping images to choosing colors to composing text—by showing a live preview of the slide as it is being edited in the browser. The graphical interface makes it easy for non-programmers to create a variety of types of slides, while ensuring a consistent and attractive look and feel overall.