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26 Jan 2010 / Julie

(geolocation + augmented reality + QR codes) libraries

image courtesy of centralasian on flickr

While i was not officially at ALAMW in Boston, i did happen upon attending the Virtual Reference Discussion Group (VRDG) meeting on Saturday. Lisa Carlucci-Thomas started off the discussions with a presentation about mobile – a topic on which i will speak to later because i have very much to say- and the group got to discussing geolocation services (like fourquare) and augmented reality (like layar). It’s not something in the American mainstream yet, more and more of my tech/librarian twitterati are using it and talking about it. And while on a personal level it annoys me (takes up a lot of the twitter stream these days), i think there’s a lot of value here for libraries.


Geolocation is the identification of real-world geographic location information of internet-based devices like your computer or cellphone. Prior to foursquare, we (at least in the VR realm) were talking geolocation so that customers could automatically be routed into their Ask service if they were already in the state. QandANJ did this when they reached capacity after a successful MTV advert.

But now the world has foursquare which, as they say on the site, “gives you & your friends new ways of exploring your city. Earn points & unlock badges for discovering new things.” Why would you want people to know where you are? Well, maybe you don’t. But as a library, you want people to know what you offer, where you are, and perhaps drum up some interest from folks who don’t use the library but see their friends are there.

David Lee King explains it best with his top five reasons why foursquare has library value:

  1. Add your library as a place, or edit the entry if someone else has already added it. You can enter your street address (Google map is included, phone number, and your library’s Twitter name.
  2. Add tags relevant to the library. For example, I have added the tags library, books, music, movies, and wifi to my library’s Foursquare entry. If you are in the area (Foursquare is a location-based service, so it knows where you are) and search for wifi – guess who’s at the top of the list? Yep – the library.
  3. Add Tips and To Do lists. When you check in to a place, you have the option to add tips of things you can do there, and you can create To-Do lists of things you want to do there. For libraries, both are helpful – it’s a way to broadcast your services to Foursquare players. To Do lists are handy, because you can make the list and other players can add those To Do list items to their lists, too. When they do something on those lists, they gain points. Think of it as a fun way to get people doing stuff at your library! Just think – someone could gain points by getting a library card – how cool is that?
  4. Add your big events. Then, you can have an event check-in with prizes for the first person who checks in, etc.
  5. Shout outs. These are a type of status update, and can be sent to Twitter and Facebook. So do stuff, then shout out that you’ve done them.

It’s a fun, easy, and *cough* FREE way to get people involved at your library. And, since this isn’t mainstream yet, it’s another way the library can look high tech and forward thinking (you know, not that we’re not already).

Augmented Reality

image courtesy of vanhookc on flickr

Talk about high-tech and forward thinking… even though augmented reality has been in the language since the 1990s, it’s just now starting to come into the mainstream consciousness. It’s the overlay of (computer- or cloud-generated) information, graphics, etc onto real-world scenes.

Why does this have library value? Imagine if you will, a library clean and crisp, bustling with activity. A customer holds her device up to the shelf of books she’s looking at and it tells her that the library has databases on her subject and that on tuesday there is a guest lecture program she might be interested in. Or perhaps that the next in the series is due in the library next month and she can reserve it now!. What a new world! No more messy signage or missed promotional opportunities.

And take open catalogs and websites to the next level and not only allow conversation to happen between customers via tagging or comments but lets customers add their own value to the virtual space around your library! Did sally like this book? Pete found the tuesday tech talks to be invaluable! Rodger was looking for a book on X and preferred TitleA to TitleB. YES!

This is the point at which i admit i do not have a device that can handle any of the augmented reality apps that are already out there (truth be told, i’m waiting for the tablet or at least the iphone to come to vz) but Lauren Pressley gives some great examples about AR you’re already seeing and what apps you might want to check out (like layar).

QR Codes

image courtesy strangelibrarian on flickr

QR codes are those funny looking bar codes you’ve no doubt started seeing recently. Although they’ve been in use in Japan for y-e-a-r-s, they’re only just now infiltrating the mainstream American consciousness. I think i first heard about them back in 2007 in use in Japan for historical monuments. Public parks would have qr codes with additional information about the monument someone was looking at. And indeed when we were in England in September, we saw them on pretty much every drink bottle.

Where’s the value for libraries? Like augmented reality, but perhaps something you can use now, imagine the same vision of customers getting extra information about the things they like, want, or need exactly where they are at that moment. You could cross reference your library and provide customers with more information about what services you provide, programs you have, and maybe even the expertise of and contact information for your librarians.

The world i live in values libraries as innovators and saviors of information access for all. With geolocation, QR codes and augmented reality, we have another opportunity to engage customers with the cool (the tech) and the necessary (the content).  While this stuff might seem scary, uneccesary, or impossible to some but how will you know the value it might bring to you and your customers until you try? Sure, these might be ideas ahead of your library’s times but it’s something simple and easy you can do and has high wow-factor.

Are you or any of your libraries using any of these techs? Please share your experiences or ideas in the comments!

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