Book recommendation systems are increasingly common, from Amazon to public library interfaces. However, for archives and special collections, such automated assistance has been rare. This is partly due to the the complexity of descriptions (EADs describing whole collections) and partly due to the complexity of the collections themselves (what is this collection “about”, and how is it related to another collection)?

The American Philosophical Society Library is using circulation data collected through the collection-management software package, Aeon, to automate recommendations. In our system, which we’re calling PAL, for People Also Liked, recommendations are offered in two ways: based on interests (“You’re interested in X, other people interested in X looked at these collections”) and on specific requests (“You’ve looked at Y, other people who looked at Y also looked that these collections”).

Try It Out

This site has examples for using PAL. To fully follow along, you'll need an account with our Aeon system. If you haven't yet, be sure to create an account.


The Interest-Based recommendations use user-supplied data. When registering to research at the APS, a user has the option to select from a list of 64 topics grouped into seven broad categories (Figure One). Though it's not mandatory, we do hope researchers use these options to let us konw what they're interested in, so that the library can better understand our users.

Figure One: Screenshot of interest options.

After registering, and upon signing in, a user sees a list of links (Figure Two); each link leads to a full page view (Figure Three) of collection recommendations. These recommendations take the model: “You’re interested in X, other people interested in X looked at these collections.”

Figure Two: Interest-based recommendations appearing in the right-hand sidebar
Figure Three: Interest-based recommendations appearing in the right-hand sidebar

Try It Out

  1. Sign into Aeon
  2. Explore recommendations based on your interests

If you haven't yet created an Aeon account with us, please see the directions over here.

To change your interests (and see new recommendations) use the "Change User Information" link on the left-hand navigation bar; the interest options are under "Optional Information".


Upon clicking a request link in a finding aid, the user is presented with a list of recommendations on the sidebar in Aeon. Each link in the sidebar opens the finding aid for the collection listed.

Figure Four: Request-based recommendation. Links appearing on the sidebar after a patron requests an item from a finding aid. Each item in list links to finding aid.

Try it out:

  1. Using our Thomas Paine collection as an example, navigate to Series One using the left-hand table of contents
  2. Select "Request Item for Reading Room Access"
  3. Sign into Aeon, if prompted
  4. View recommendations on the right-hand navigation bar

If you haven't yet created an Aeon account with us, please see the directions over here.

Use our Collection Search to find other finding aids to try.

Found an example with no recommendations? This means no one has used this collection since we've built PAL. Simply keep requesting to help us build recommendations!

Outside of Aeon

We are working to make the recommendations available outside of Aeon. Anyone searching the APS Library collections will see a PAL Recommendation link from the search return (Figure Five).

Figure Five: From our Collection Search, search returns have a "Recommendations: Click Here to See Related Collections" link.

Following the Related Collections link, you see a list of other collections (Figure Six).

Figure Six: Following the Related Collections link, researchers see a list of collections populated based on interest in the searched-for collection. The "What's This" section offers additional information about PAL.

Try it out:

  1. Navigate to our Collection Search:
  2. Make any search, or try "Houston" as an example.
  3. Note the link: "Recommendations: Click Here to See Related Collections"
  4. Click the link to view recommendations (no Aeon account required!).


Early prototyping was done by Scott Ziegler. The majority of the code base was developed and refined by Richard Shrake. Ongoing development is being done by both Rich and Scott, with feedback, suggestions and testing by many wonderful people. All code is on Github, and we welcome thoughts and collaborations.

This website was put together by Scott Ziegler, using another great HTML5 Up template.

PAL is a project of the Center for Digital Scholarship at the American Philosophical Society.

Creating an Account

To follow along with most of this site, you'll need to create an account with our Aeon system. To do so:

  • Begin the registration process by visiting:
  • After reading the information and clicking the button at the bottom, fill out the top (required) section of the registration form. This section includes:
    • Name
    • Email Address
    • Username
    • Password
  • For best results, fill out the optional research interest section at the bottom of the form.

If you'll be coming in to do research with us, we'll ask that you fill in the rest of the form. Otherwise, these sections will be enough.