Squaring the Circle: Increasing demand decreasing budgets

PastriesJust a quick round up of a great conference I attended yesterday organised by the talented collection mangement team here within the Library at BCU, the conference was titled Squaring the Circle: Increasing demand and decreasing budgets. Managing library provision in times of financial constraints.

There was a good mix of speakers providing varied perspectives and sharing really useful insights which I think could be put to practical use. In the morning we heard about a range of projects, KB+, JUSP and the Library Impact Data project all of which spoke about the benefits and added value of providing shared services and building communities. KB+ and JUSP are currently available for institutions to sign up to (and please do) while the work from the library impact data project could continue to be developed to provide a shared service. It was great to hear how collaboration between librarians, suppliers and publishers are helping build such useful services and tools which will in turn improve the services libraries provide.

We were then challenged by Professor Martin Fautley from Birmingham City University in his presentation Research and the Library: Doing and teaching research in education, where he talked about what life is like for an academic, about his priorities and his expectations from the library. I was particularly interested see the journal industry from his perspective as an author and editor. Throughout the presentation he raised a number of questions such as, how does an academic know their field and how does the library help with that? What makes a ‘quality’ library? Is there a category error mistaking knowledge for information?. Plenty of food for thought

The afternoon was focused on ebooks including a case study by Jill Talyor-Roe on their expeiences of Patron Driven Acquisitons with ebooks at Newcastle University. Having experimented early on she was able to provide some interesting statistics on usage and trends over the last few years and was a great introduction for any institution considering trying this model. I was also pleased to hear her advice of ‘not being afraid to fail’ which I think is important especially if we want to continue to innovate and experiment. Jennifer Rowley followed talking about the marketing and promotion of ebooks and mentioned looking to services such as Amazon for inspiration. On listening to this presentation I began to question the value of marketing a type of format and in the Q&A with the panel that followed Graham Stone noted that at Huddersfield their strategic approach to marketing resources was to do it in in the context of ‘Discovery’ rather than the product. Liam Earney suggested that improvements to the user experience were key to encourage use, making me rethink my approach to promotion of resources.

I personally found this an uplifting conference and encouraging to hear about the values of collaboration, sharing and working together. Throughout my experience in the library profession I have always been grateful for the support and helpful advice I have received from colleagues at different institutions and I hope that national services such as KB+ will thrive on this type of approach.

It was also lovely to catch up with some familiar faces and meet new people. One of the themes from this morning was how some projects were sharing ideas with each other, for example there are developments planned for further integration between JUSP and KB+ (am hoping someone is going to do me an infographic on how all the different Jisc projects interlink) and I look forward to seeing how some of the ideas shared at this conference are taken back to institutions.

Thanks again to colleagues for such an interesting day and ensuring our sugar levels were topped up throughout the day with pastries, biscuits and mince pies.

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A Dose of (Augmented) Reality: Exploring possible uses within a library setting

Guest post by Anthony Humphries (Learning Resource Coordinator)

Of the many emerging mobile technologies that libraries are looking at one that has always appealed to me is augmented reality (AR).  Compared to other technologies that are discussed AR has:

  • fewer introductory barriers to overcome
  • is virtually cost-free
  • does not require specialised technical staff
  • the general public will increasingly have some familiarity with it.
  • can also be a lot of fun. 

So I committed myself to turning some of these ideas into practical demonstrations for a group of interested colleagues.

I used the Aurasma platform as it’s free, straightforward to use, and has considerable market penetration.  It works by having a pre-prepared image – a trigger – uploaded to their servers.  Then when a device using the Aurasma browser focuses on one of these triggers information in the form of images and movies are overlaid onto the image in a predetermined way.  Digital information is ‘superimposed’ onto what you are seeing through the devices camera.  The big advantage of this optical approach compared to location based AR is that you can be precise with the location and it can be used over multiple floors without interference.  There was a steep learning curve initially, learning what worked well (formats, sizes, scales) as a trigger and overlay, but after some trial and error using the software is actually quick and easy.  Development forums provided some useful advice but a thorough introductory ‘best practice’ guide would have been welcome.

I came up with 9 possible categories of uses for AR and put together a demonstration for each of these.  The focus was on provoking ideas rather than fleshed-out practical application:

  1. Video demonstration Pointing mobile device at the screen of the self-service issue machines automatically plays a video guiding the user on how the machine operates.  There is also a button beneath this video saying ‘Need PIN?’ – when tapped this takes the user to a website with information on this.
  2. Enhanced publicity/directional map Pointing a mobile device at a floor plan map (either on a plinth at the library entrance or in hand-held form) overlays a re-coloured map indicating areas that can be tapped.  When they are at a photo of that location there is a pop up giving users a ‘virtual tour’ and more information on that area.
  3. AR summon helpHelp on a screen-based service Pointing a mobile device at the Summon discovery tool overlays guidance arrows and notes onto the screen– pointing out the where to enter the search, where to refine filters & then view results
  4. AR virtual bay endVirtual bay-ends Pointing mobile device at a particular image (perhaps located near catalogue PCs) overlays directional arrows to where resources are located – giving users an initial idea of where to find what they are looking for.
  5. AR enhance instructional guideEnhanced instructional guide Pointing a mobile device at a leaflet about accessing our online resources automatically plays a video with screenshots showing the stages that they need to go through.  To the right are buttons that could be tapped to directly call, email and complete a form if further help was needed.
  6. Induction/Treasure Hunt Students could scan a ‘frame’ placed in an area of the library.  Once scanned a video would play introducing them to that area and how to use it – alongside the video a new question would appear that would guide them to another area to continue the ‘game’.
  7. Enhanced publicity material Pointing a mobile device at our main library introduction guide which is enhanced with pictures, videos and extra information beyond what could be included on a physical copy.  Also all telephone numbers, email addresses and hyperlinks are made into tappable live links.
  8. AR Staff assistanceStaff assistance/reminder.  Pointing a mobile device at the borrower registration screen of the LMS that we use overlaid with extra information to show the various fields that need completing.  It is designed as a quick check for staff to ensure that it is completed accurately.
  9. ‘Book Locator’/directional video Using a mobile device to scan an image near to a catalogue PC to bring up a virtual table containing dewey ranges, i.e. 000 – 070.  Tapping one of these would make a simple video pop-up directing the user from that location to the approximate shelving run.  Technically this does not use AR at all, but was an interesting use of the software.

The demonstrations went well and generated some interesting debate amongst my library colleagues.  Some brief thoughts after the demonstrations:

  • Point of need content – The way that triggers work allows them to be highly context specific, you are essentially just ‘looking’ at the thing that you want help with, i.e. a room, a screen or leaflet.  Could there be a future where users just get used to pointing their device at things and getting assistance and extended content?
  • AR vs QR codes – The AR feels a lot more immediate than QR codes.  Whereas scanning a code sometimes feels like an additional step and takes you away from what you are doing the extra information from AR is more integrated into your activity.  Aurasma allows extra functionality too.
  • Getting library users onboard – Is an issue whenever something new is introduced.  Some level of training would be required. People have to download the app, subscribe to a particular channel and then know where to scan.  Technological improvements may mitigate some of this – for example Aurasma allow the possibility of integrating their software into an existing app, meaning that users will not need anything new or have to subscribe to channels.
  • Ease of development – As described above, the platform is not as intuitive as it might be initially but after a brief explanation I could see colleagues from across the service creating content, all it takes is some very basic image manipulation.  I was creating these rough demos in about 15 minutes.  The technical barrier is very low.
  • Range of devices – The demos all worked equally well on iOS and Android smartphones that I tested.  They looked great on larger tablet devices.