Library Frequency Tuner

Posted June 2012

What if you could tune in to different frequencies of books in the library? Library Tuner is a repurposed radio tuner that allows listeners to browse the Dewey spectrum and ‘tune in’ to texts in the collection.

How It Works

The AM/FM band markings on the dial are replaced with the Dewey Decimal Numbers 000–999. As the listener turns the tuning knob they can hear corresponding items from the Library’s collection read into the headphones. The artwork can theoretically contain the texts of the entire UTS Library collection, though for practical reasons it stores excerpts from a random sample of 2,000 books taken from across the collection. The listener can explore the breadth of the collection with the turn of a dial, while also pausing at any moment to listen to a particular text in detail. Using a vintage analogue radio tuner as an interface reframes the collection and allows the listener to ‘tune in’ the library collection from any location.

Technical Details

The interface elements on the hi-fi tuner (the knobs, dials and meters) are connected to a computer. The computer can read the positions of the power switch, the volume knob and the tuner dial via an Arduino. The computer also powers (via Arduino) the LEDs that light the interface and the three red indicator LEDs that show when the device is on and when a strong ‘radio signal’ is found on the dial. When the power switch is turned on, the LEDs that light the interface are powered, and audio plays out of the headphones. The listener can adjust the volume of the audio using the volume knob on the tuner interface. An analogue VU meter displays the volume level with the traditional dancing electromechanical meter.

A basic schematic of the artwork 'Library Tuner'

The artwork is controlled by software that can: sense the position of the tuner dial and determine the matching Dewey number; search a database of book content for text that corresponds to that Dewey number; and read the text into the headphones using a voice synthesiser. When the tuner dial is moved to a new position, books are read from random points in the text to simulate a radio broadcast (rather than reading each text from the beginning). The software also adds random levels of simulated radio interference/background noise to different points on the dial.

The fidelity of the tuning knob allows for around 1,000 unique points to be identified on the dial. This means that Dewey numbers can be accurate to only three digits (thus books from 584.1, 584.5 and 584.9 would share the 584 point on the dial). Where there is more than one book in the database that corresponds to the current dial position, a random book is selected to be read into the headphones. If the listener returns to the same point on the dial, they may not hear the same book read again, giving the impression that the radio waves are crowded with books and expressing the scale of the Library collection.


  • Introduction
  • Artworks
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
  • Other artists
  • Prototype Artworks
  • Acknowledgements
  • Twitter