First forays into augmented reality

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Skeleton time: An Augmented Reality event as seen through an iPad

I came across the Aurasma app via a link on Twitter last week, and was delighted to see some of the ways it is being used by librarians and teachers to create novel learning experiences for their patrons/students. The app allows users to create their own Augmented Reality (AR) events, and then connect them to images/objects within their library/classroom. This means one could look through a smartphone/tablet’s viewfinder and see a video/animation/text overlay, conveying extra information or revealing hidden content.

Yes, I probably spend way too much time looking at the world through a mechanical eye instead of my own, and yes, this kind of technology is mostly going to be used to advertise whatever products are being targeted at my specific demographic (currently: marriagey things, repro-retro frocks), but nevertheless, this technology is neat and I’m into it. And I can live in hope that I’ll see more of it in non-advertising contexts (e.g use of AR in Melbourne artist E.L.K’s Archibald Prize entry).

This of course got me thinking about some of the applications such technology could have here in the academic library where I work, and I spent a bit of time yesterday playing with the app (and trying to think of a more eloquent way of pitching it to my coworkers than “this is some next-level Snow Crash business and I want to my job to be making the skeletons dance on things.”)

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Screenshot taken within the Aurasma application, showing Boney in more detail. Also pictured: My lunch. Note the many varieties of FOOD GROUP: VEGETABLE. No more scurvy for me.

Fortunately (for my coworkers) I didn’t need to get into a big thing about POOR IMPULSE CONTROL and the Metaverse etc because they all seemed keen on the idea.

I think about how much information we need to give students during orientation, and how they’re most likely in complete overload by the time they make their first visit to the library [1]. The idea of embedding the information they’re seeking into their environment is not a new one, but this app presents an interesting opportunity to do this in a new way.

Some ideas I’ve had about how we could use this technology:

  • Embedding some of our research skills videos in the library – e.g. tutorials for using specific texts being embedded in the cover of those texts
  • Addressing some of our FAQs in appropriate parts of the library – e.g. our after-hours chute can answer questions about returns, our holds shelf can answer questions about reserved items
  • Adding video to staff business cards – e.g. staff could record a brief video introducing themselves, outlining their availability for student consultations and inviting students to attend any upcoming workshops
  • Extending the space which the library inhabits – e.g. an AR event which allows students to have a look at the weeks’ new books while they’re in line at the cafeteria, or to check out our learning skills classes as they’re leaving their lecture hall
  • Hosting a workshop to teach students how to use the app themselves – while I found the software very simple to pick up, the library could run a brief class explaining how the app works, and how students can make and embed their own AR events. I like the idea of the library encouraging students to find their own uses for such an app, and expect that the various student groups on campus could all find interesting ways to use it to communicate. This is something the library could be part of, and may represent another channel through which we can build our relationship with students

There’s a lot to think about, and I find the public library chunk of my brain getting very excited about interactive book displays and embedded book reviews and other varieties of jazzy stuff. And as exciting as this stuff is, and as much as I’d never say that this kind of thinking is irrelevant in an academic library context, I definitely recognise that the way in which it would be iterated in my library will be different.

I’m looking forward to seeing how we make use of this technology – particularly when our students return from the mid year break, and we can hear their own thoughts on how AR could improve their experience.

In the meantime, here’s a tiny cat. It’s frolicking on my desk. TECHNOLOGY.

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[1] Something I remember vividly from being an undergrad is feeling like I already should know how the library worked, and thus having a great reluctance to “bother” librarians with my questions about how to find stuff etc. I imagine that today’s undergrads feel the weight of this expectation even more acutely, given the kinds of assumptions which are made about young people and digital literacy/technological proficiency. So being able to seek information about research skills etc without “bothering” someone would probably have appealed to me, especially if it was discretely embedded into the space itself.

Of course, the next question this raises is about the digital divide – I was too broke to regularly eat all of the food groups during my undergrad degree, and so it seems pretty unlikely that I would have been able to afford a phone snazzy enough to run AR apps. Digital natives, digital divide: I’m digressing in a fairly serious fashion here, and hope to come back to this stuff at another time.

 

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