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.

Social media group: update

The Social media group was set up last year to explore how this could be used to engage with students and promote Library and Learning Resources (LLR). The library already has it’s own twitter account @BCUlibrary and the elibrary team have this blog and the eresources blog, but what else could we be doing?

After seeking advice from the university’s Social Media Officer it was decided that rather than create a specific Facebook page for LLR to make use of the Corporate Facebook page, which already has a fanbase of nearly 7000 and grows daily, and have a LLR post each Friday.

Picture of BCU Facebook page

An area on SharePoint has been created to keep track of the services that have been promoted but also forthcoming slots. Our first post on the university’s Facebook went up in February and so far we have covered My Assignment Planner, Science Direct Freedom Collection and Meebo to name a few. If there is anything you want promoted such as a new service or collection, to celebrate success within LLR contact your team’s rep.

P.S. The elibrary team rep’s spot is also up for grabs whilst I’m on maternity leave, let me or Damyanti know if you’re interested.

Aliss Summer Conference 2011

Aliss organised a one day summer conference around the topic of Social media, Libraries, Librarians, and Research Support held on 20th July 2011. When I saw the programme I knew I wanted to attend as it promised to be an interesting day and indeed it was.

First up was a talk by Jeremy (aka  Jerry) Jenkins ( British Library) with  the engaging titles “#LadyGaga’s Breakfast: Social media as a curators tool”. The title for his session came from a blog providing advice on twitter for academics.

Jeremy suggested that there were three responses to social media: Ban it, Tolerate it, Make it compulsory. Currently the BL, like a number of organisations does not have a separate social media strategy and it can come under the remit of Communication and / or IT strategies. In some ways not having a formal strategy for social media was liberating, there were no constraints and it was possible to explore what social media tools could be used to enhance Jeremy’s day to day role as a curator. Though other speakers during the day felt having no social media policy was a barrier.

At the moment the BL use:

  • Blogs – started blogging 5 years ago and there are 17 active blogs. They used to have more but feel that blogging is going out of favour and people are blogging less. Not sure if I agree with this, as a relative newbie to blogging I think it seems like people are still active and with programmes such as CPD23 which are encouraging blogging. Perhaps Jeremy meant organisational blogging was in decline…
  • Facebook – used for 3 ½ years and over 32,000 likes
  • Twitter – there are a small number of followers on Jeremy’s feed but it means more focussed messages can be disseminated
  • Youtube
  • audioBoo

Jeremy made reference to Modus Cooperandi’s 10 Principles of Social Media and gave useful advice on what to consider when using social media

  • what’s the message
  • who’s your audience
  • what the best medium to use
  • Time – when to send the message? What is the commitment to keep things up-to-date?
  • Future Proof – when happens when you’re preferred tool is no longer available?

Next up were Paula Anne Beasley & Linda Norbury who presented “Advocating Professional Social Networking to Academics” about a project they had undertaken at University of Birmingham. They surveyed staff within the faculty of Engineering & Physical Sciences and found there was a knowledge and skills gap on web 2.0 technologies.  They were keen to remedy this, demystify social media and demonstrate how these tools could benefit academic staff in their teaching and learning. Results from the survey were used to inform training content and the session was offered to 31 members of staff. However they found they were not able to cover all the content they had wished as they found the level of IT knowledge amongst the academics was lower than anticipated. Feed back from academics about the training session was that they had managed to take away the fear factor. Instructions were produced and although they need to be updated the intention is to make them available on an opensource.

Alison Wootton, the Accessibility and Inclusion Adviser at Jisc RSC West Midlands, gave a whistle-stop tour of the support they provide to enable e-learning to be embedded in teaching and learning. The advice and guidance Jisc RSC provide is primarily aimed at further education and they will loan out accessibility kits, which include iPads, video cameras and Sony e-book readers, to learning centres  for a period of 4 – 6 weeks. They have produced guides on how to make resources more accessible and made the delegates aware of EduApps, open source software which offer support with writing, reading and planning as well as sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties.  There is one college in Birmingham which has installed this on all their PCs so it is available to all.

After lunch there was a session from Miggie Pickton (University of Northhampton) who gave a very thorough talk about the web tools that are available to a researcher at each stage of the research process and this session consolidated the Netskills webinar I attended a few weeks ago. Miggie has produced a handout for researchers and made suggestions about what tools to use for searching, collaborating, communicating, disseminating and keeping up-to-date. What became apparent is that my knowledge of what’s out there needs to be improved. I know I can’t know about everything but I need to up my awareness levels and try things out to see what works for me, what’s fit for purpose. Miggie also reiterated what Jeremy had said earlier in the day that web tools come and go so it’s important to have exit strategy for when they stop working.

Final presentation of the day was from Sarah Oxford (University of Worcester) who spoke about her experiences of using web tools to collate and share information with her learners and researchers.  Sarah started investigating web tools to look at how to get information out to distance learners and part-time students and as a way to engage with academics as she was new to her Liaison role. Initially she started using Delicious, but began to find it unwieldy as her bookmarks and tags grew, and Ning but this became a subscription service. Now she uses Netvibes and flavors.me as a way to rationalise all her links and these are publicised on her email signature, business cards, at Boards of Study, and official documentation. I think Sarah’s approach is really interesting but I’m unsure whether it would be possible to adopt these strategies here to promote resources as these web tools don’t meet university standards with regards to marketing /branding.

In the plenary findings from a survey conducted by Emerald & UCL were also presented by Heather Dawson (on behalf of Anna Drabble, Emerald). This study looked at the impact of Web 2.0 on the workflow of a researcher and they were asking essentially ‘does  social media mark a watershed in the research process?’ but found ‘not really’. Academics still seem to want to disseminate their information and research in a traditional way, through academic journals. Interestingly though, at the LSE, whether Heather is employed there is a move to get things published on blogs seen in the same standing as things published in journals.

I found this one day conference really interesting and informative. Aliss put together a good programme.  I also tried live tweeting, and I don’t think I did too badly on the old event amplification, if you excuse the rogue spelling, sometimes forgetting to include the hashtags…

Copies of the presentations can be found here & here and there is another review of the day by Judith Thompson.

Libraries and Facebook

Yesterday I attended a WESlink event which was looking at the changing roles of library assistants. Representatives from local universities talked about what changes are being made in their library and what impact this is having on the skills, knowledge and experience of a library assistant. One area discussed was the use of social media, in particular Facebook. The general consensus was that people were uncertain about how useful Facebook was as a tool for libraries to use with someone describing it as ‘when your parents turn up to a party you’re at uninvited’. Cut to this morning and catching up on meeting minutes I learn that our library is interested in having a Facebook presence. So I wondered what other university experiences were & posted a question on twitter “Calling academic librarians: does your library have a facebook page? how has it been rec’d by students? Thank you”. Lots of people asked for a collation of responses so here it is and if I get anymore I will be sure to add them.

University & response

  • University of Brighton

No, difficult being split site. Do we have one for each library or for the service. Something for our comms strat!

  • University of Wolverhampton

Yes have FB page

  • University of Sheffield

Yes have FB page, work in progress, used for basic information but had a number of check-ins so looking at developing the page

  • Specialist library

Not yet, We’re multi-site with v different users + seeing if fb or tumblr would work better.

  • Bodleian social science library

Yes have FB page, no of ‘fans’ has been slow but steady, not much interaction from them, a few likes/comments.

  • Montana Tech

Yes have FB page, Lukewarm so far. Wonder if it’s not cool in our institution’s culture to “like” the lib page? Working on promo ideas.

  • Swansea Met

Yes, set up in the last week and have 36 followers so far, a good proportion of those are students

Thank you to those people who responded and the retweets.

Library Twitter account

BCUlibrary Twitter

BCUlibrary Twitter

I am pleased to announce we have a Library Twitter account which I hope will be useful in promting library & learning resources services.

Twitter is being used my many organisations including universities e.g Birmingham City university and is fast becoming a popular tool in education.

It took very little time to set up the account however the real work will come in the creation of content and finding ways in which to engage our user community, luckily we can look to other institution for inspiration as well as this useful post on Scott’s Library Blog

If you are interested in setting up a Twitter account you can sign up at http://twitter.com/. If you are looking for inspiration as to what to do next, Phil Bradley has a good introduction to your first 24 hours using twitter http://www.philb.com/twitter.htm Phil also has created a list of UK librarians if you want some people to follow