Utilizing VR and AR in the Library Space: Commentary on Matthew Bernhardt’s Program on Information Science Talk

Matt Bernhardt is a web developer in the MIT libraries and a collaborator in our program. He presented this talk, entitled Reality Bytes – Utilizing VR and AR in The Library Space, as part of the Program on Information Science Brown Bag Series.

In his talk, illustrated by the slides below, Bernhardt reviews technologies newly available to libraries that enhance the human-computing interface:

Bernhardt abstracted his talk as follows:

Terms like “virtual reality” and “augmented reality” have existed for a long time. In recent years, thanks to products like Google Cardboard and games like Pokemon Go, an increasing number of people have gained first-hand experience with these once-exotic technologies. The MIT Libraries are no exception to this trend. The Program on Information Science has conducted enough experimentation that we would like to share what we have learned, and solicit ideas for further investigation.

Several themes run through Matt’s talk:

  • VR should be thought of broadly as an engrossing representation of physically mediated space. Such a definition encompasses not only VR, AR and ‘mixed-’ reality — but also virtual worlds like Second Life, and a range of games from first-person-shooters (e.g. Halo) to textual games that simulate physical space (e.g. “Zork”).
  • A variety of new technologies are now available at a price-point that is accessible for libraries and experimentation — including tools for rich information visualization (e.g. stereoscopic headsets), physical interactions (e.g. body-in-space tracking), and environmental sensing/scanning (e.g. Sense).
  • To avoid getting lost in technical choices, consider the ways in which technologies have the potential to enhance the user-interface experience, and the circumstances in which the costs and barriers to use are justified by potential gains. For example, expensive, bulky VR platforms may be most useful to simulate experiences that would in real life be expensive, dangerous, rare, or impossible.

A substantial part of the research agenda of the Program on Information Science is focused on developing theory and practice to make information discovery and use more inclusive and accessible to all. From my perspective, the talk above naturally raises questions about how the affordances of these new technologies may be applied in libraries to increase inclusion and access: How could VR-induced immersion be used to increase engagement and attention by conveying the sense of place of being in an historic archive? How could realistic avatars be used to enhance social communication, and lower the barriers to those seeking library instruction and reference? How could physical mechanisms for navigating information spaces, such as eye tracking, support seamless interaction with library collections, and enhance discovery?

For those interested in these and other topics, you may wish to read some of the blog posts and reports we have published in these areas. Further, we welcome collaboration from library staff and researchers who are interested in collaborating in research and practice. To support collaboration we offer access to fabrication, interface, and visualization technology through our lab.


See also: drmaltman