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Library Services and Google Glass

Jen Waller Wearing Her Google Glass

Jen Waller Wearing Her Google Glass

Jen Waller, Interdisciplinary and Instructional Services Librarian, Miami University, Oxford, OH (it was a university before FL became a state!) ,was chosen as one of 7,000 testers of Google Glass, a wearable computer. Testers were selected by tweeting or uploading a video with the tag #ifIhadGlass saying what they would do with Glass. Waller believes that Google should be working with librarians on Glass because it is an information delivery tool. She has been a long-time Google user and is not afraid to give them feedback. To become a tester, she paid $1,500 (which was covered by a library innovation fund), and she had to travel to New York to pick it up. There, testers spent 45 minutes to 2 hours with a “Glass Guide” (a customer service person from Google) who demonstrated how it worked, and fitted and adjusted the Glass. Waller was impressed with Google’s excellent customer service.

The inspiration for Glass came from seeing more and more people with heads down checking their smartphones. Hands free operation will become increasingly important; we hardly realize how many times we fumble with our phone as we’re trying to do something else. Hands free is unbelievably easier! It is important to keep the human aspect in mind when we are evaluating and using new technology.

Waller teaches an Information in the Digital Age course at the Armstrong Institute for Interactive Media Studies (AIMS) at Miami University about how digital technology is transforming areas of inquiry. All aspects of the information cycle–ethics, literacy, etc.–are addressed in the class The instructors are librarians. Waller also works with instructors to schedule sessions about Glass and privacy.

Glass was the hook that got students excited talking about privacy and creative uses for Glass. The main privacy concern is that people can take your photo without your knowledge using Glass, and for this reason, Glass has been banned in many places. But people can already do this with cell phones or telephoto lenses, so Glass is not really the issue. The fear is about:

  • Instantaneous dissemination. We used to have to mail copies of photos to people with film.
  • Persistence of online data. Once a photo is uploaded, it is there to stay on systems like the Wayback Machine, Twitter archive, etc. Students do not understand the complexities and impacts of this.
  • Ease of search. People and things are very findable on the internet.

Other objections to Glass include:

  1. The platform: Glass wants you to use all of Google’s products which Waller thinks is putting too many eggs in one basket. There are privacy implications of relying on Google for many things. Glass requires you to have a Google+ account and automatically uploads your photos to your account; however, you are not required to share them or make them public.
  2. Technical issues: The right side of Glass is a touch pad with directional swiping and tapping to select something. It is too easy to tap and uploads and shares something. One wrong tap and you might be sharing something you don’t want to. Google is developing apps for Glass (“Glassware”).
  3. Connection issues: Glass has difficulty working on closed networks. Google wants you to use an Android phone to connect your Glass to Wi-Fi (MyGlass). You need a laptop for this. A lot of data passing through Glass is not secure.
  4. Glass is hard to use with corrective lenses because it interferes with the field of vision. Waller found that she cannot see things at a distance when she is wearing Glass.

Some hands-free apps are very useful: during exercise, cooking, etc. Some apps ask your permission to access your acount. According to a study that appeared on Inside Mobile Apps, 55% of today’s apps make their privacy policy available before downloading; 31% make it available within the app after downloading; and 28% have no privacy policy at all. We trade privacy for convenience. Students have not thought that when they knowingly sign up for services and provide information, they are not aware how it will be used. Students live online now and have created online personas, but they cannot control the persona of the information that is gathered behind them.

Much of a librarian’s work revolves around sharing, to which Glass does not lend itself well. It is a singular and personal experience (like sharing your mobile phone). Without any outreach, Waller got many requests from students who wanted to borrow her Glass, even a local high school student. There is a lot of negativity surrounding Glass; for example in articles such as Why Glass will never be OK. Glass is creepy, etc.

Glass will change over time, and it will get smaller and be less intrusive. Google has recently introduced titanium frames in several colors. Waller gets a lot of joy sharing Glass. Some academic libraries are having events to use Glass and circulating them (University of North Carolina, Yale, Claremont Colleges). Glass users must submit an application saying what they will be doing with it. Most Glass accounts are tied to a person, and the terms of use prohibit renting, leasing, or giving the device to someone else. Since they are linked to a person, libraries have felt free to loan them. Google has a Glass Development Kit (GDK) to design and develop apps for Glass.

Useful apps for libraries include FieldTrip, which was originally developed for mobile phones (augmented reality) but is now Glassware. It overlays historical information on the world around you. ShelvAR is an augmented reality tool for shelf reading and inventory management in libraries. It is a perfect app for Glass because it would free the user from the necessity of holding the mobile phone up to the books.

Waller doesn’t yet love her Glass, but she feels that it is extremely important to evaluate new technology and find uses for it. Sometimes she goes for a month or so without wearing her Glass, and then has a period where she wears it almost every day.

Waller’s Presentation Drew an Enthusiastic Crowd

Waller’s Presentation Drew an Enthusiastic Crowd


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