Aims and Background
In the digital information age of the 21st century, public libraries as physical places have been challenged. If all knowledge and information is available online, why would people go to the physical library any longer? Over the last couple of decades, librarians have recognised the need for change, and a reinvention of libraries’ physical space. The focus in contemporary library design is not primarily about providing access to books and collections any more, but more and more about the creation of an “Information Commons” space, i.e. a place that encourages its visitors to contribute, participate and engage with the library as well as other library visitors towards a collaborative and social construction and dissemination of knowledge.
This project explores untapped potential for the application of ambient media, i.e. visually pleasing and unobtrusive media that merge digital information and communication technologies with the physical architecture of the library building and interior furnishing. The project is in collaboration with The Edge (http://edgeqld.org.au/), a Digital Culture Centre initiated by the State Library of Queensland (SLQ) in Brisbane, Australia. The Edge maintains traditional values of a libraries as a hub for knowledge and information, however, not through the container of books and information archives, but as a place for both planned and incidental collaboration between its visitors.
As off the current state, The Edge’s physical architecture does not reveal much about what fellow or previous visitors work or have worked on at The Edge. Information about social activities, past or future events are mainly available through its website, but quite limited when visiting The Edge in its physical building.
We are implementing a system that reveals information about events, workshops as well as past, current and planned projects of fellow Edge visitors through digital projection on The Edge interior architecture, e.g. walls, floor, pillars. The projection will have interactive elements and be customised to people who are on-site at The Edge. Relevant information will be queried from different sources, such as a check-in system and an online social network that The Edge recently launched for Edge visitors on its website.
Merging an online social network with the physical architecture of the Edge, the aim is to design for a richer situated experience and sense of place for visitors at The Edge. The interactive elements will enable visitors to bridge physical barriers and identify, connect and interact with other Edge visitors who are or are not in-situ at the moment. The overall goal is to spark interest, inspire people with and connect them around ideas in the domain of digital culture.
Augmenting the physical context with information about social activities, meetups and current projects that happen at the Edge aims at raising fellow visitors’ and passer’s-by awareness and interest on what the Edge is about. The goal of the design interventions is to get people excited and curious about the technology behind the design, and provide opportunities to learn more about the respective subculture as well as people behind.
Each visitor can set up a personal profile, describing his interests, projects, activities and skills. Once at The Edge, they can “check-in” at a particular workspace e.g. using their membership RFID-card. Digital projections will display relevant profile information on the floor and walls around the respective visitor, providing opportunities for serendiptious encounters and ice-breaking conversations with random passers-by.
A log-history of the check-in system allows visitors to browse who was at The Edge before and what activities and projects other users have worked on before. A messaging function allows people to leave comments and arrange future meetups with interesting others.
In addition to such explicit social information, ambient displays will reveal clues about social activities at The Edge in a more implicit fashion. Ambient displays present information through subtle changes in the physical environment, that the user can perceive in the periphery of his attention. An animation of a living tree on a digital wall paper will display upcoming events (# of branches = # of events), and who is participating (# of leaves = # of RSVPs)
Work in Progress
So far the technical infrastructure for the check-in system is setup. We run a webservice with a RESTful API that can be any input and output devices to check-in users or read public and aggregated profile information from previously or currently checked-in users. We trailed the application with a mobile phone application that allowed users to check themselves in to any room / window bay at The Edge, and a public screen that dispayed currently checked-in users and their knowledge.
The future plan is to extend this system with more seamless ways for checking-in users (e.g. Bluetooth, WiFi, RFID) as well as more ambient information visualisation techniques that go beyond the boundaries of a public screen, e.g. ambient displays as illustrated above or 3D projection mapping on real-world objects.
Furthermore, microcontrollers will be used to connect real-world objects to the check-in system and user profiles. For example, lamps in each work space can reflect the users willingness to be interrupted for conversations. The red colour is used as a metaphor for a users’ online status in Instant Messaging software (e.g. Skype – don’t disturb).
Update: December 2011
Early prototype of the projection mapping system. Projections on different surfaces at The Edge indicate what events, meetups and social activities are happening in the respective physical areas.