Augmented Reality in the (Real) Library

Posted Saturday, June 29, 2013 - 18:43
Exploring ways to capitalize on emerging technology
2013 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago

At a June 29 Conversation Starter session titled “Augmented Reality in the Library,” three University of Houston–Downtown (UHD) librarians presented new ways in which librarians can use a free augmented reality (AR) application known as Aurasma.

Alexandra Van Doren (web management librarian), Lindsey Simard (online instruction librarian), and Jovanni Lota (information literacy coordinator librarian, who joined the session via Skype) began by describing AR and its uses.

First created in the 1960s, AR (as well as virtual reality) has mostly been used for educational and training purposes, according to the speakers. The technology takes 2D information and transforms it into 3D, enabling a virtual hands-on experience without actual items.

In the field of science, for example, NASA has created Spacecraft 3D, an AR app that allows users to learn about and interact with a variety of the agency’s spacecraft. Similarly, the European Space Agency uses AR technology to give astronauts instant medical expertise to diagnose  and even perform surgery in space using goggles. So far Spacecraft 3D has primarily been used for performing ultrasounds.

Such applications can generate sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, and/or global positioning system data. And while AR is nothing new, it is considered an emerging technology because its full potential is still being explored.

In the world of entertainment, the RollingStones incorporated AR technology in the promotion of its latest album (in the campaign, a gorilla is seen reaching out of the animation, for instance). Esquire magazine, too, has been on the forefront of AR innovation, using it on the cover of its December 2009 cover and creating an AR app.

According to the UHD speakers, one stumbling block to AR is that the technology can be overwhelming. Some people could become “overstimulated by having too much [information] all at once,” Simard said.

UHD is creating its own library channel on Aurasma. According to Lota, the library has four goals for the project: (1) to orient students to library resources and services; (2) to increase student retention of material; (3) to reach out to students beyond traditional library instruction sessions; and (4) to increase librarians’ “approachability” as perceived by students.

The library team will be using the technology to launch a library orientation activity for students this fall.