Friday, December 13, 2013

Augmented Reality in the Library

Although still in its embryonic stages of use in libraries, museums, and art galleries, augmented reality has really taken off in the entertainment industries. For example, the British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer Tesco is using mobile technology to enable customers to scan quick response codes and look through a virtual catalog to view some of the food range that it has to offer, in addition to their collection of decorations and gifts. All of the items that are available in that catalog and in the store are also available online at the store’s official website. 

It gives consumers the chance to click and purchase the items that they want so that they can pick them up without a shipping charge at their local Metro store by the next day. Of course, the Christmas window display isn’t just designed to be a shopping experience for mobile users. This type of use of QR codes and augmented reality technology is becoming increasingly popular and has drawn a great deal of attention to retailer displays in the U.K. and many other places around the world.

I've had an opportunity to test out Layar, an augmented reality (AR) app - and found it a useful tool for highlighting the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre’s eighty-eight year history as the Main Library using UBC Library’s digital collections.   Patrons using their smartphones or iPads can view the current Wall of Recognition and see the wall "come alive" with archival images and videos of students and alumni talking about their experiences in the building - past and present.

In 2010’s Horizon Report, AR is forecasted as an important technology in two to three years time. While the capability to deliver augmented reality experiences has been around for decades, it is only very recently that those experiences have become easy and portable. Advances in mobile devices as well as in the different technologies that combine the real world with virtual information have led to augmented reality applications that are as near to hand as any other application on a laptop or a smart phone.   This is an exciting development, but it's still taking its time in libraries - as of yet, it's still an "emerging" technology that has yet to meet the tipping point.

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