Thursday, 10 November 2011

Looking after nice old things and playing with shiny new things!

We had two guest lectures last week that between them seemed to sum up a lot of librarianship - looking after what we've got and coming up with innovative ways to introduce it all to new people.

For our Collection Management and Preservation module we had a guest lecture by Fred Bearman, UCL's Preservation Librarian, who was talking to us about the best ways to preserve our libraries' collections, and conservation of damaged materials. Fred's talk included a few horror stories of fires, floods and building collapse, but also more day-to-day dangers such as pests, dust and changes in humidity or temperature. Most of the preventative measures taken were common-sense stuff, but I picked up a few tips I hadn't heard before:
  • While cotton gloves are not recommended, if you are handling something you don't want to touch with bare hands, latex-free, powder-free gloves are another option.
  • If you're boxing materials to protect them, beware of unscrupulous people who steal the contents of the box and put the box back on the shelf.
  • Dust is abrasive and also home/food to various pests and mould spores.
  • If there are lots of spiders in your library, it means they are hunting something else which may be eating your books!
  • When putting photos etc. in Melinex sleeves, do not seal up the sleeves because... [I've forgotten why, all I have written in my notes is "DO NOT SEAL!" Anyone know why not?]
UCL Special Collections are looking out for volunteers to do some of the dusty work, I might volunteer next term when I have fewer lectures!

Friday's Digital Resources in the Humanities lecture was very different but no less interesting. We had some staff from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology come to talk to us about digital imaging techniques, and then in the practical session we got to play around with some 3D digital versions of museum artefacts and (oh the excitement!) iPads and an augmented reality app.

In the lecture, Mona Hess and Kathryn Piquette took turns to talk about some of the techniques they have been using to create 2D and 3D images to accurately document the objects they are curating. These included close range photogrammetry, laser scanning, and even GPS for documenting buildings or larger sites. All of these techniques are non-contact and non-invasive, which is very important in conservation. Mona showed us how a broken vase could be reconstructed after being photographed systematically from lots of different angles.

As well as taking images of all the sides, it is also useful to capture the same side many times, changing the direction of the light source each time, so that all the nooks and crannies can be captured. For this, Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) is used, where the object is placed inside a rather spacey looking lighting dome, and photographed with the light source moving each time. Then software such as RTIviewer allows the user to move the light around to see different parts of the object in light or in shadow.

For the practical session, Giancarlo Amati arrived bearing iPads (this was what I'd been itching to get my hands on, I have serious tablet envy at the moment!) and showed us the Petrie Museum's augmented reality app. This is still a prototype, but when released will allow iPhone or iPad users to scan markers which will bring up an interactive version of the museum object. They plan to have a few iPads to loan out within the museum for those of us sans tablet.

I've seen videos of AR but hadn't tried any myself before. I was impressed by how interactive it was - I have no idea how it worked but as well as being able to turn the object by moving it with your finger on screen, you could also reach around into the empty air behind the iPad and "pick up" the sarcophagus or whatever it was you were playing with. Weird...

Obviously this is great in a museum setting as most of their collections can't be touched. When smartphones/tablets become more prolific I can imagine AR being used in a library, for instance to provide review videos when you scan a marker on a book, or to watch the trailer of a DVD. The fun thing about the Petrie Museum app though was it's interactivity, so it would be cool to work that aspect into any library AR apps. It may be a bit of a gimick, but it sure is a fun gimick!


  1. No white cotton gloves?! But what about the librarian stereotypes, they're falling down around our ears...! :) Glad to hear you're enjoying UCL :)

  2. Swift commenting Miss Woods! Apparently they only exist because they look good on TV! Actually, they came out with a book of Newnham photographs this year and there was one of Debbie and Jo wearing gloves, which I have never seen happen in real life before...

  3. I think he said that you aren't supposed to seal photographs inside their sleeves because it creates a microenvironment and the photos can get damaged by the humidity - that's how I remember it anyway! :)

  4. Aah yeah, that makes sense! Thanks :)

  5. Sounds fascinating,
    Do let us know if you think any of these lectures would translate into a CLG meeting ;)

  6. Actually either of these probably would!