from the Library of Maura

Adding a Library Layer

April 5th, 2011 · No Comments

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a nonlibrary colleague about the arrangement of books in our libraries. At my library (maybe at all CUNY libraries?) we shelve the bound volumes of journals and magazines alphabetically by title in their own area, right next to the unbound periodicals. But my colleague remembered that at the library he used when he was in graduate school the bound journals were shelved by call number in the stacks with the rest of the books. He appreciated the opportunity for serendipity that this arrangement allows: when searching for a book in the stacks you could easily stumble upon a journal you hadn’t known about.

We started to speculate about using smartphones and augmented reality to virtually shelve the periodicals in the stacks in our own libraries. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could walk up to a shelf, scan the call numbers with your phone’s camera, and the list of journals and magazines in that call number range would pop up on your screen? I kept thinking about this later that day and spun it out even further. What if, in addition to periodicals, other information about the library’s collections in a specific call number range could be displayed:

– books that are currently checked out, with their due dates (and a link to place a hold on the book)
– journals that are available in the library’s article databases (and a link into the databases)
– ebooks in the library catalog (ditto link)
– books from other CUNY libraries
– video, audio, and other multimedia

That’s a lot of information for a user interface to accommodate on a small screen. Maybe each type of item could be displayed in its own layer, and toggled on and off as desired? We could even get cute and display the information on a little book image, right down the spine.

I think what seems most attractive about this to me goes back to the notion of serendipitous discovery. Librarians talk lots about the possible loss of serendipity with the move to digital reading, and augmented reality or something similar could be one way to address this issue.

And speaking of serendipity, not long after that conversation (and associated speculation) the news of an augmented reality shelfreading app sped ’round the libraryverse. This app, developed at Miami University, scans a bookshelf and locates books that are out of call number order, making short work of an otherwise fairly dull library task.

Then I went to the ACRL National Conference last week, the biennial gathering of academic librarians, only to find that QR codes were everywhere, from posters (including my own) to presentations. QR codes are not new, of course, but this is the first time I’ve both used them (ask me how many poster URLs I snapped!) and thought about the ways that they could help folks find information in our libraries.

We might be closer to Rainbow’s End than we think, at least in libraries.

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