Turning The Pages Information System (TTPI)

Project Leads: George Thoma, Glenn Pearson, Michael Chung.

Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica open bookBlackwell's Herbal open book displaying her plant drawings


The quest for the "real thing" is not always satisfied. Among the most beautiful and sought after objects of antiquity are the books and manuscripts created hundreds of years ago, and carefully preserved in libraries. Unfortunately for library patrons, these are not always made accessible, for the simple reason that everyday use will surely harm these precious items: the evidence of humanity's search for knowledge.

To address this problem, the British Library initially created a system, Turning The Pages or TTP, for visitors to touch and turn the pages of virtual books displayed on a touchscreen monitor in an intuitive manner. With their collaboration the National Library of Medicine became the first US site for TTP in 2001, converting books from our own historic collection in the biomedical sciences to this format.

In creating our version of TTP at NLM, we have refined the original technology by using advanced 3D computer generated imagery, digital image enhancement, animation, illumination models and software programming to simulate the act of easily flipping through virtual books displayed in a highly photorealistic manner. In addition, our TTP provides extra information about the authors of the books and the subject matter in the form of curators' notes, captions and 'tales'.

These books may be seen on kiosks at the NLM's Visitors Center and the History of Medicine Division.

Now we offer TTP Online, a Web-accessible version of TTP, for the enjoyment of home users with an Internet connection. Using Macromedia Flash we provide Web users a compelling and nearly identical version of the virtual books in the kiosks. We have currently completed two books for online consumption: Conrad Gesner's Historiae Animalium, and Ambroise Paré's Oeuvres.

TTP+ : Information systems

The virtual books, whether in kiosks or online, are eye catching. However, we took the opportunity to extend these remarkable electronic objects to information systems. To achieve this goal, we have pursued two design strategies: the "Discovery" and "Storyline" approaches. The first strategy, applied to Blackwell's Herbal, was to design a system that retains the photorealism of the original TTP, while allowing a patron to "travel" to sites on the Internet. For instance, from the drawing of the St. Johns Wort plant in the Herbal, one can do a PubMed search and get relevant citations to scientific papers, or go to ClinicalTrials.gov and get information on clinical trials of this drug. Also, links are available for plant descriptions and photographs on sites of the USDA, Forest Service and U.S. Herbaria, among others. The TTP+ version of the Herbal was demonstrated to various NLM staff and visitors in Spring 2002.

Problems that had to be resolved with a Macromedia Director-embedded browser include the existence of inappropriate links (e.g., commercial sites) from some legitimate resources, and links that open a separate browser window. To address the first problem, a list was made of all URLs from the Blackwell plant pictures and resources, and reviewed for appropriateness. For the second problem, a Perl script was created to automate the following steps: for each link that normally would open a separate browser window, clone the page, and edit the HTML to make the link come up within the main browser window. Other extensions were a touch-button table of contents that invoked animated page flipping, and, when the user had not touched the screen in a while, a popup warning about impeding restart of the presentation unless a touch occurred before a countdown finished.

In Spring 2002, our work in developing Blackwell TTP+ was recorded in a videotape made by Lister Hill Center's Audiovisual Programs Development Branch staff following a script written by Drs. Thoma and Pearson. The tape was given to the Deputy Director, NLM, for showing on his trips, and may be borrowed from the Lister Hill Center's Communications Engineering Branch. Some of these experimental Blackwell extensions, without the embedded browser, have been incorporated into the main TTP display in NLM's Visitor Center, where they may be seen today. Information about Blackwell's captions that had been originally presented through the browser is now represented directly in Director.

The design strategy for the Blackwell TTP+ was a "Discovery" approach, viz., to go from the page images to instructive resources on the Web. Another strategy, the "Storyline" approach, was adopted in extending Vesalius' De Humani Corporis Fabrica as a contribution to a "Dream Anatomy" exhibit that was shown at NLM for a year during 2002-2003. While elements of the earlier approach used to extend Blackwell were employed in this new product (e.g., menu button to serve as a table of contents, animated page flipping, timeouts, and countdown warnings), the most notable extension in the TTP+ version of Vesalius (also known as "Vesalius Dream") was new: the embedment of four button-invoked "Spoken Tales". Each such Tale was a self-running multimedia piece of 4-8 minutes duration, in which the book appeared in the background, and was programmatically flipped to particular page spreads, to illustrate the theme being narrated, e.g., "Man of Padua" or "Portraying Anatomy." Floating above the pages from the original Vesalius TTP were new appropriate images (e.g., of photographic, drawn, or MRI/CAT-scanned anatomy, including sources such as VoxelMan that drew on NLM's Visible Man image data.) The voice-over is also presented as a text crawl at the bottom.

View a slide show for one of the tales, "Man of Padua," showing the annotated script supplemented with representative screenshots, or download the same information in MS Word doc format. In the live production, images fade in and out, the "musclemen panoramas" move horizontally across the screen, and the city views at the figures' feet enlarge and fade away.

Following the successful run of "Dream Anatomy" through July 31, 2003, the Vesalius extensions were incorporated into the main TTP display in NLM's Visitor Center, where they may be seen today, along with two additional books that have been developed at NLM, Gesner and Pare.