Augmented Reality: What’s Coming and How Does it Affect My Library?

Next month, along with members of our Emerging Technologies Committee, I will be giving a talk on augmented reality for staff members in my library system. This is a big thrill for me, as I have spent the last ten years excitedly watching and anticipating AR’s development. It has now burst through its embryonic sac and is quickly becoming a part of our daily lives.

The rapid formation of an information layer on top of our reality should cause librarians to sit up and take notice. As information specialists, libraries should be leading, not following, in this opportunity. The tools to create something useful have never been easier.

QR codes are extremely simple to use (Google “QR code generator” for a slew of free options) and can be an early stepping stone for people to begin dabbling in the creation of an information overlay. Why not slap some QR codes onto your DVD collection and link it to a trailer so that people can get a better sense of the content of the DVD than what they’d get from reading the back of the case? Cost: A small square of paper and about 30 seconds of your time. Or how about putting QR codes on book shelves that will guide readers to additional selections? “If Hunger Games is checked out, try something similar from this list.” How about next to the car repair books, a QR code to link patrons to the online Auto Repair database? You’re already paying for the database — encouraging more use gives your library a better return on investment. The uses of these easy-to-make tags are only limited by your imagination.

Moving beyond QR codes, you can build custom apps based on GPS using a free service like Layar. This is a do-it-yourself-able option for creating GPS-based AR apps. The Museum of London’s Street Museum app could be used by any library or museum with an archive of historic photographs. Or use it to locate books on your shelves, or to link those books to alternate resources.

And then there’s Aurasma, an AR building application that uses object recognition to overlay data onto the real world. Whether it’s a photo of your library, your library logo, or any number of objects found in your physical library, you can make them interactive in a way that is both fun and educational. Living books or interactive charts and graphs for data are the low-hanging fruit. Add in some ingenuity and the opportunities are endless.

Augmented Reality is now here and is not going to go away. It will continue to grow and evolve and expand into almost all aspects of our lives. The time to embrace it is now, while libraries can still have the option to play a role in how data is compiled and content is delivered.