Augmented Reality in the library - gaming Welcome Week

Helen Lane and her colleagues created an Augmented Reality game to engage new starters at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

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How does Augmented Reality differ from Virtual Reality – and why is it such a good fit for libraries? 

Augmented Reality is a lot more common and is more integrated into everyday activities - like watching sport or using social media - than Virtual Reality. Anyone who has used a Snapchat lens, played Pokemon Go! or watched football on television has experienced Augmented Reality.   

Wiktionary defines Augmented Reality (AR) as “The merging of a view of the real-world environment upon a digital image in real time.” Virtually Reality (VR) is “A computer technology that simulates a real or imagined environment so that the user can interact with it as if physically present.”  In other words, VR attempts to replace reality while AR provides digital enhancements to the world around us. 

Augmented Reality and libraries 

AR’s ability to enhance what already exists is what makes it a perfect fit for libraries, museums and similar institutions. It can be used for wayfinding, shelf-reading, promotion of services, and community engagement. New tech services are making it easier than ever for libraries to create their own free or low-cost AR content without having to download an SDK (software development kit) or deal with API code. 

One such service is Aurasma.  Developed in 2011 by tech company Autonomy in Cambridge, UK and recently acquired by Hewlett-Packard, Aurasma allows account holders to view and create simple AR content for free using an app on their smartphones. With an Aurasma account, you also get free access to Aurasma Studio, an online utility that permits greater control and manipulation of AR content than the app alone. 

I first heard of Aurasma at a conference early in 2017 where I saw Matthew LaBrake, (Senior Director, Online Library & Technology Services at Berkeley College) present on a whodunit-themed orientation game he had created by using his library’s virtual reference auto-response system as a source for clues to the location of Aurasma AR content around campus. It was a brilliant idea in that it used an exciting emerging technology to promote existing services and technologies, including his library’s own virtual reference service. Not only that, it was clearly something that could be put pulled together in a short amount of time by a small team of motivated colleagues. 

The process 

Upon returning from the conference I immediately approached our Library Director with the idea of doing something similar for the Fall 2017 orientation week. After checking that our project would not compromise any other AR work taking place at FIT, we assembled a team that included myself, Jana Duda, the Head of Library Technology Services, Jasper Lin who manages our premium printing lab and Alessandro Casagli, our art documentation photographer. Work on the project began in June. 

My first objective was to decide what areas of the library to cover in our orientation game (which was pretty straightforward) and to ask each department head to write short blurb about their services or collections.

Our Library Director - a man of mystery

A theme and goal to the game also had to be created so that the orientation would have motivating narrative that was consistent throughout. We opted for an espionage/manhunt where players were asked to locate a man known as “The Director” (in fact, our own Library Director, NJ Bradeen, cast as a man of mystery).

Creating the game

After collecting the blurbs, I edited them into scripts that would fit the manhunt narrative. Deciding on the order of the orientation was the next required step, as the clues to the locations of the AR content would have to be triggered in a certain order by keywords texted to our LibAnswers SMS responder. Once the order was decided, individual keywords were added to the last part of the script for each department. Using the LibAnswers Manage Queue dashboard for our SMS system, I created auto-responses for each of the keywords that gave directions around the library. 

While I was doing this work, Jana and Jasper were working with staff in PrintFX to create a selection of AR Logos for use on large stickers as trigger points for the AR content. Even though Aurasma AR content can be locked to geocoordinates or to any visual identifier, we decide it would be useful indicate the location of the AR experiences with these stickers. Furthermore, creating a logo would help promote the recognition of future AR content, if the decision was reached continue using Aurasma AR for wayfinding, instruction and promotion across the campus. 

Before the end of the month Alessandro video recorded our library department heads reading the scripts I had written for them. Jana and Jasper wanted to make the most of the AR experience within the limited amount of time we had to finish the project. They decided to drop out the background from the digital recordings so that the librarian or staff member speaking would appear to float on top of the real world view seen through the app (Aurasma also accepts 3D models and digital animation). We instructed the department heads to wear dark colours on the day of  the recording and Alessandro filmed them against a white screen. Jasper was then able to easily edit out the backdrop. 

The next task was to place the stickers at various services points and photograph them. These photos were then uploaded to Aurasma Studio and became “trigger” images for the AR “overlays” (aka Auras), which in our case were the videos of department heads speaking about their services and collections.

Edit Overlays

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