The Augmented Library and the Extinction of Librarians

Augmented Reality or AR sounds pretty high tech and foreign to most people’s ears but it’s actually a concept that we are all pretty familiar with. Augmented reality is basically real life (viewed through a screen or device) with additional information overlayed. When Arnold Schwarzenegger sizes up the biker before stealing his clothes in the first Terminator movie or an airplane pilot views the skyline through a HUD (or heads-up display), it’s an example of augmented reality.


Images courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

Although it sounds a little like science fiction, we are on the verge of AR becoming an everyday part of our lives. Google Glasses are in the last testing stages before becoming available to the public, cell phone and tablet apps are already in use that allow users to hold their phone up to a building or landmark and get directions or information, and even applications like ShelvAR – under development at Miami University, Oxford, OH – are being developed that are designed to use AR to assist librarians in their everyday tasks.

Here the developer Dr. Bo Brinkman (incidentally not a librarian but married to one) demonstrates how his ShelvAR application might be used to locate misshelved books in the stacks.  The secret to this magic trick lies in the tags on the spine in which the call number is encoded (they are basically a QR code). It’s easy to imagine, after watching this video, a library in which a patron or roving reference librarian searches for a book on their mobile device and is directed, perhaps through overlayed arrows or something akin to a Google map of the stacks, to exactly the book they need even if it’s misshelved! Would the next step then be book suggestions based on the patron’s borrowing record showing up as stars or big red circles in their wearable heads-up display (remember those Google Glasses?).

Hmm…sounds like a little like the patron’s don’t have much use for librarian’s doesn’t it?

That is, of course, a concern that lot of people have with new technology. There is a certain degree of quiet, back-alley whispers that suggest that eBooks might be the end of libraries, and it’s not hard to imagine that AR might be that fatal development that eventually leads to the extinction of librarians as we know them.

Although I get personally giddy over cool new tech toys, not everyone shares my gusto. A couple of weeks ago I attended a seminar about emerging technology and the presenter ended with a tantalizing though short introduction to augmented reality. At the end of the presentation, he asked the members of the audience who would considering wearing Google Glasses to raise their hand. Mine, of course, shot up like a rocket, but when I turned around to see who else was excited about the new tech, crickets chirped quietly and a tumbleweed rolled between the rows of identical, white MACs.

I was honestly the ONLY person to raise my hand.

In the discussion that followed various reasons were given:

“People already spend too much time not directly interfacing with the world. It’s unhealthy…”

“I wear glasses. I won’t want to wear another pair over them.”

“Just what we need, more people walking around talking to themselves.”

“Too much technology isn’t always a good thing.”


What it really came down to, I think, is a bit of fear that all this technology will make librarians obsolete, but I think the very fact that these intelligent people had this reaction contradicts their fears. If we — as trained, knowledgeable information professionals — are scared of new technology, what about our patrons? I think the truth is not that patrons won’t need us anymore, but that they’ll need us more that every before.

So don’t be afraid, raise your hand high, learn all you can, and feel free to get excited. We ARE living in the future.

Let me just leave you with this TedTalk video (who doesn’t love TedTalks?) and the mental picture of a children’s library where a dinosaur comes out of the reading room to greet young patrons amid squeals and screams of delight. Now that is the kind of library I want to work in!


Boden, E. (2012). Augmented Reality in the Library. Slideshare. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.slideshare.net/EliotBoden/augmented-reality-in-the-library

Brinkman, B. (2012). ShelvAR.com. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.shelvar.com/

Howard, J. (n.d.). Shelving Made Easy (or Easier) – Wired Campus. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/shelving-made-easy-or-easier/30792

Q&A: Augmented-Reality Shelving APP. (2011). Library Journal136(9), 16.

Tech at the Library | TED Talk: Image recognition that triggers augmented reality. (2012). Library as Incubator Project. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.libraryasincubatorproject.org/?p=5866

What It Does. (n.d.). Google Glasses. Retrieved April 4, 2013, from http://www.google.com/glass/start/what-it-does/


4 comments on “The Augmented Library and the Extinction of Librarians

  1. I believe I heard recently on the news something about Google Glasses not being allowed in bars, because it violates privacy or something or other. This just amuses me for some very odd reason. Bars care about things like this? Who knew?

    I try not to be overtly negative about new technology. Honestly, I kind of turn into Gollum. New technology is just so SHINY. But at the same time there are legitimate things to worry about. I think the Spam Champ is demonstrating some of the annoying stuff that new technology brings.

    On a side note, wearing glasses over another pair of glasses is one of the most annoying things ever. I want to see this movie in 3D!!! And then you spend the next two hours perched just so in your chair – 3D glasses perpetually askew – trying not to touch your face, because if you try to adjust your glasses – it ruins everything and you are left with a blurry movie and it takes you out of the whole movie-watching experience.

  2. I definitely agree about the negative aspects of new tech not being something to ignore. It can take a while to work out the kinks so that great ideas work well in practical situations, but what surprised me about the seminar I was at was that no one at all had anything nice to say about the idea of Google Glasses (or augmented reality in general for that matter).

    As an aside, I had to look it up and you CAN wear Google Glasses with prescription glasses: http://gizmodo.com/5901646/how-google-glasses-will-work-for-prescription-glasses-wearers

    I forgo the contacts on occasion, so that made me really happy.

  3. Does this mean that augmented reality shows will be the next big craze in TV programming?

    Privacy issues surrounding Google Glasses should become more complicated once AR contact lenses are perfected.

  4. That Shelver application is very interesting. I can imaging that would be a big help to the stacks crew or even volunteer shelvers in public libraries. I would imagine it would be rather time consuming to install all the codes on books, but may be worth it if it helps save the library staff time. I know when I worked in a library I could notice a misplaced book rather easily, but not to the sensitivity of a few books left or right. This would make an eye straining job easy!

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