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Virtually Interacting With Books and Exhibits

Ben Andrus , Juan Denzer , John Shoesmith

(L-R) Ben Andrus , Juan Denzer , John Shoesmith

This session featured two presentations on interacting with rare books without the need to physically handle them, which is highly desirable because of their fragility.

John Shoesmith, Outreach Librarian at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, began by describing his library and its collections. Established in 1955, the Fisher library is part of the University of Toronto, but it is also open to public.  It is the largest rare book library in Canada, with over 730,000 volumes. It is the only Canadian library to have Shakespeare first folios, Alan Ginsburg papers, Leonard Cohen’s papers, Margaret Atwood first editions.  It has a traditional outreach program through Facebook, an Instagram account, and a Flickr site (which has 10,000 photos).  Its building was designed especially to house and show rare book collections.

Exhibitions are a significant part of the library’s outreach; however, they are very hard work and when the exhibition is over, they just disappear.  So the library wanted to turn exhibitions into an online environment, which would ensure extra exposure and preservation of the materials shown.  Beginning in the early 2000s, some born-digital exhibitions were created, and although they had the desired effect of increasing exposure to the collections, they were done on systems no longer supported and required a lot of time and resources.  An online exhibition using Drupal was tried, but it was not esthetically pleasing and required significant handholding.  Omeka, an open source content management system, provides an exhibit builder plugin which was more successful and was being used by the university’s museum studies program.  Islandora, a digital object repository, works well with Omeka and was adopted by the Fisher Library.  Here are the library’s future plans and lessons learned.

Plans Going Forward

Lessons Learned and Advice

Juan Denzer and Ben Andrus from the Binghamton NY University Libraries described their Atenaeum in Motion (AIM) Project, which was initiated after the Dean of Libraries went to the National Library of China, saw a prototype newspaper reader using the Kinect system, and upon his return, asked the systems department if they could develop a similar system.  Juan investigated and found that Kinect required awkward motions to turn pages, so he tried a device by Leap Motion which was much smaller and better: the user just sits in front of a computer or screen and uses conventional hand motions to turn pages.  Juan therefore approached Ben to get content.

The Leap Motion system starts with original scans of rare book images to produce JPG files of images that are cropped as needed.  The scans are displayed on an overlay of a 3D book model; the user does not have to create the 3D objects.  Natural hand motions are used to turn pages, rotate the book, and zoom in and out.  The first photo below shows Ben in front of his laptop demonstrating the system, and the next two depict what he sees on his screen.

Ben Andrus

Screen View 1

Screen View 2

The system has the advantage of allowing the viewing of rare books without handling them, so there are no problems with disappearance, damage, etc. sound effects were added to mimic sound of turning pages.

Juan is now working on a project to create a new way of reading that preserves the look and feel of reading a book using the same software that AIM uses.

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