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.

Summon: Posters

Its been a few weeks since we went live with Summon, which is now available to our students from the university portal and our library home page.

We mentioned Summon in as many communication channels that we thought appropriate including twitter, the university facebook site, inductions etc. We have also distributed posters across campus and the libraries – so the word is well and truly out.

Feedback has been generally positive and we are seeing healthy usage.

We look forward to reviewing and developing the service over the next year – have no fear plenty more Summon blog posts yet to come.

Summon: out in the wild

Today is the day the summon search box appears on our intranet, iCity and is available to our staff and students. (we will be making this available publicly via our library website soon)

We haven’t announced this with a bang as term hasn’t started across all the university yet.

Hopefully our previous Summon blog posts gives some indication of how we got here, for today to happen I was keen for the following;

User guides

I wanted to ensure we had information for our staff and students, this includes a guide to searching Summon (created by one of our librarians, inspired by guides from other summon customers) and an FAQ  (available only on our intranet).

Summon FAQ in iCity

For our library staff we provided a guide for Librarians which covers how Summon works and some common issues. We are also providing training sessions for our frontline staff to ensure they know what resources are available to help students use Summon and when would be appropriate to recommend using Summon as opposed to the library catalogue.

Authentication

We wanted to be confident that we could provide the same or preferably improved authentication, and am pleased that there will be improvement in the approach we’ve taken. We will be providing a mixed economy of EZproxy & Athens authentication to ensure we have as much content as possible easily accessible.

Content

The content issue is probably the most complex with regards to continually changing nature of the product combined with our original approach. In the beginning we naively talked about summon perhaps being a one stop shop with a few exceptions however we are now much clearer that it will be a key resource for the discovery of our full text content & not a replacement for a database search. This did mean a shift in focus from trying to work out was indexed and not indexed in Summon and focus instead on what was available.

This however has helped us understand how we will need to use this upcoming year to gather as much feedback as possible from our staff and students to help focus on the content areas that need our attention.

We are starting quietly but am hopeful a big bang will follow once students discover the discovery tool.

Summon: Training the trainer

Over a month ago Rebecca Price from Proquest delivered some training for our librarians entitled ‘train the trainer’ which was a useful overview on how Summon works and how to introduce it to students.

Unfortunately not all our librarians were able to attend this session so I have been delivering this session to a few groups of librarian adapting the content to reflect our own experience and instance of summon. (see below for presentation slides)

From meetings and discussions it was clear that having an overview on how Summon worked gave more confidence in the system and helped discussion on its use and potential issues, in hindsight I think it would have been useful to have this training very early on in the implementation process.

It has also been interesting to see how many changes and improvements have been made to Summon in the last year, with increased content, improved auto-complete etc. I am encouraged by this pace of change and am looking forward to see how summon develops and meets expectations.

Train the trainer

I start with an overview of why we have Summon and a key driver is to improve student experience, at the moment all we provide our students with is lists of databases and therefore they need to have a good idea about what it is they want and which database would contain that information before they even start their search.

I then talk about how Summon indexes a multitude of information, from ejournals, newspapers, ebooks etc. I think its important to highlight the range & variety of sources as this in turn effects the results list. Its also helpful to explain the record they see in the results list is the summon master record which is crafted from duplicate resources.

Talking of what Summon covers always leads to the inevitable question about what it doesn’t cover. While the majority of our full text online journals, ebooks and records from our library catalogue are covered we do have a number of A&I databases, directories, industry standard resources which are not covered, a list of which we will be making available to staff & students. We are also discovering that in some cases not the full breadth of the database is covered or we are not able to link directly to article level.

I follow with doing a search on summon, reminding staff that boolean operators will work if typed into the search box. On seeing the vast number of results I can then talk about the importance of using the refine features in the left hand column to narrow down results. I think this is a useful opportunity to show the one of the 7 lenses in information literacy, evaluate. I often choose to refine by Subject Terms in order to highlight the include and exclude option, which add in the NOT and OR operators. I also like to remind people that some of those refine options are dynamic and depend on the results retrieved.

I round up the presentation noting issues that have been raised over the last few months as we have been working with system and highlighting what we can do to resolve or accommodate these issues.

I think Summon is not the answer to everything and the key is using it in the correct context, we are retaining all our current routes therefore if someone is looking for a specific book from our library, they can continue to use the catalogue. It is clear that dependant on the subject area and the faculty it may be useful starting point for 1st years while for others it may make more use to introduce it at a later point in their studies. Summon is a valuable first step in the research process, a useful starting point.

We are now much clearer about what is not covered by Summon & therefore in some subject areas we may stick to our current routes and continue to direct staff and students to specific databases, for example with Law.

We are still working on the authentication and look to be running a mixed economy of EZproxy and AthensDA which is not our ideal as there is still opportunity for our staff and students to encounter a log in challenge.

I think this year will be extremely useful in understanding more about Summon and more about the expectations from our staff and students all of which will help in our development and presentation of the service. While working towards the implementation date of next month it is also clear that this is only the start of the process, this is not a conversation that will be ending any time soon

Summon: reading up on discovery

I recently asked our newest member of the elibrary team, currently filling in as Serials Librarian (Maternity Cover), to have a play with Summon. Being a conscientious information profession she did a little research and hightlighted the following sources as most helpful in giving her a better understanding of resource discovery.

I remember finding the following 2 diagrams from proquest (in the summon user guide on the client centre) particularly helpful in understanding how summon works

So what resources helped you to understand how Summon/resource discovery works?

Searching Summon : a pilot in the faculty of Health

There has been some interesting blog posts recently about the relationship of Boolean and other techniques to discovery tools recently (see for example Library search tools. Could we make them harder to use?) and being involved in a couple of recent pilot sessions in our faculty of Health reminded me of this debate.

One of my teaching colleagues commented ‘You wouldn’t use it [Summon] if someone’s life was at risk’ – true, but there again would you really trust a database front-end to give you what you want? What with the amount of ill-matched content, paywalls to negotiate, openURLs to fail, links aggregated from a third party, relying on eresources to try and save a life would be a risky strategy to say the least – whatever the platform.  But confidence in retrieval is just what, say, a student nurse in our Defence School of Health Care Studies might require.

The pilot sessions we conducted so far bought the expected rash of error messages: a realization that Nexis UK content doesn’t work (all of it – so we have temporarily switched it off), a problem with the Nursing times through Ovid (why did the Nursing Times not have full-text article links but others did – was it because it was weekly?), a ‘Page not found’ for a one journal. We realized for example that an ‘Author’ limiters on the left-hand side only appeared where we had loaded a related MARC record into Summon, and they did not seem to appear with to other resources. The session also gave me a chance to study the Summon interface close up, including what looked like a fairly decent attempt to break it:http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cl1qoVHrz !

Summon search log

Looking in the Summon search logs shows a variety of terms entered, many of them keywords aimed a particular specialism :for example one entry shows the search ‘foreign accent syndrome‘.

The real  challenge that Summon brings with it is to traditional information literacy : an academic commented that it was ‘easy to use’ but would be great for undergraduates, who maybe come straight from searching Google but without any of the skills, rather than later years where searching habits need to be more refined. Summon is dynamic, but buries its structure : whereas CINAHL, for example, can be overtly complex but requires more methodical searching.

For example I compared the above two searches for this query ‘foreign accent syndrome :

http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cl1YlQHti on CINAHL Ft
http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cl1YlfHth on Summon

One thing that immediately stuck me was that the traditional skills of thinking’ about the ‘context’ of the keywords you use still applies, in fact they become even more important with Summon. Another was that the differences are not necessarily about Boolean logic (pace @daveyp and @carolgauld) – both sets of terms are ANDed by default. The differences seem to me to be the level of information that is fed back to the searcher , rather than the technique themselves.

One interface gives you large number of quick results but then requires you to filter, searching across all resources – the other filters first and makes you structure your search. Here I am reminded that we have set up most of our native databases to default to Advanced rather than Basic – did we consult we any students to do this? Did we offer any options? –  the Basic Search screen http://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cl1Yl0Htl in CINAHL for example, is more ‘googlised’ and closer to Summon’s Basic search.

It would be helpful in my view if Summon unpacked some of its ‘magic box’ – and gave your more feedback as you search (here I think an option to get the instant numbers of searches that you get back from each term as you go along might be useful, to show the results set from each interaction). It doesn’t do itself any favours in the ‘Advanced screen either’ : do students really need a search using an ISBN or ISBN box right up there as a priority? The crucial point however is that the student is more on their own (as they would be with Google), gets results back quicker (even though they have to trim them down more – as with Google). They are using a search engine for *library stuff* that is closer to what they have may have used before they came here.

We are hoping to get more in-depth results from library colleagues in Health who have circulated some student questionnaires so it should make for some fascinating reading…

More EZProxy, a visit to Wolverhampton, some cake and Athens LA

Robin and I had a very productive visit to Wolverhampton University yesterday to talk about authentication, EZProxy, OpenAthens LA, football and also consume some of these.

Ben Elwell from  Wolverhampton was able to share with us their latest news on how they had implemented Summon as- ‘the new Library Catalogue‘.

He reinforced the point that having access to resources in Summon without any proxy at all was a major stumbling block because the student found it hard to navigate between the provider’s logins. This was something we had also experienced.

Although they were running EZProxy for a few resources, Wolverhampton are moving to a later version of Athens, Athens LA 2.2  – which also includes an integrated proxy and improved statistics. One observation to make is that this appears to have better support for username and password protected resources, and configuration seems lot a easier than in EZProxy. 

In a tweet exchange with Eduserv they say there are 60 database configurations out of the box, and more will be contributed by the user community – so Athens LA 2.2 as a alternative solution to EZProxy seems definitely worth looking at.

Summon : Marketing

After having a quick read through if the 7P’s of marketing I decided to focus on product & promotion.

With the product I wanted to think about how Summon would be of value to our key users, students & academic staff. In a recent library users group meeting, I asked colleagues to complete the following sentences, ‘As a student/staff summon will be of value because….’  fold over their response & pass to the next person,

Once completed I read out what people had written which led to a useful discussion on how we describe & promote summon.

Examples include ‘Summon will be of value because’ –

  • useful starting point
  • provides serendipity & a wider range of sources at their fingertips
  • a quick way to keep up to date with subject interests
  • It can help students do original research

With regards to promotion I created a table listing various communication routes, ie library website, newsletter, plasma screens etc. I then asked the group to consider from the point of view of either a student, academic staff, researcher or library staff whether the communication route was appropriate, to describe a scenario in how they might encounter this route and consider the tone of language.

I found this useful in  focusing on routes which we could make best use of. I am also hoping once I collate this information it will provide a good starting point for a marketing plan.

I enjoyed the focus of these activities as opposed to a general discussion on marketing and I am more mindful of concentrating on the value summon can provide rather than highlighting some of its limitations. It is clear from the experience of others that summon did not require much marketing as the product speaks for itself & we hope we have a similar experience too.