Using Augmented Reality To Improve Local History Collections

We’ve Made Local History Collections Accessible, Now Let’s Make Them Fun!
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With the Pokemon GO craze in full swing, many libraries are looking to capitalize on the phenomenon. While there are ways for libraries to benefit directly (see my prior article here), there is also the potential to incorporate the underlying augmented reality technology to great effect!

Augmented reality, for those unfamiliar, is defined as a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. In the case of Pokemon GO, a game world is formed from your actual GPS data, and Pokemon are layered over your camera’s view. So just how could libraries use augmented reality to improve their local history collection?

Many libraries maintain digitized (and physical) copies of historical photos, documents, newspapers and other media. When digitized, this media is made accessible via the internet, and ideally, is placed on a website that is mobile responsive. As digitized media, there is only so much interactivity that takes place. With social media integration or by posting media directly on a library maintained Facebook page, we can start conversations, but it’s hardly the immersive experience that a local history collection could be. In short, we’ve made local history collections accessible–but we’ve hardly made them fun!

Now imagine your library publishes a local history app. Opening the app displays a GPS map with markers indicating a local history cache. Once you reach a cache, you could have an amazing multimedia experience. Looking through your mobile device’s camera, you view historical photos that are layered over the very location you stand at, perhaps answering the question “What was here before Starbucks?” Exploring further, you could access a description of the photo, or even listen to a snippet of oral history pertaining to the location! This makes your history collection an immersive experience rather than something more akin to research!

Returning to Pokemon, we must remember that its successful use of augmented reality is still attached to a thoroughly fun and addicting game. To more fully emulate its successful recipe, a library may wish to add elements of gamification. So what are some game elements we could add to our theoretical local history app?

A person might earn badges for visiting sites within your community, much like punching a passport. There could be trivia challenges. Using the app, people could provide their own written or spoken recollections of your caches, improving the depth and quality of your collection. You could even have time-limited challenges! For example, you may be able to unlock your town’s bicentennial parade only by visiting main street on the Fourth of July holiday weekend!

As the History Channel’s slogan reads, history is “Made Every Day”. A library that wishes to further democratize the process could allow patrons to upload their own media, provide metadata and tag it to their GPS location. With a smartphone, we have all become documentarians! Parades, natural disasters and other occurrences are history that we wish to document–why wait until they are old to do so? By making local history both accessible and fun, we can increase our collection’s engagement with the community, create a greater sense of ownership, boost use and improve its overall quality!

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