This context analysis explores three key aspects in reference to the research question: Libraries (more specifically The National Library of New Zealand), technology, and smart objects.
Libraries’ roles are changing because of the shift in information communication (Lougee, 2002). This can be seen in the shifting definition of libraries, from organisations defined “largely by the functions of collection development and management.” (Lougee, 2002, p. 5), to organisations that “provide resources for not only consuming information, but also for generating new information and research.” (Pryor, 2014, p. 2).
This shift places the modern library as a service provider of knowledge to create new knowledge, rather than an information collection. As service providers, most libraries give public access to books, computers, the internet, and printing. However, contention surrounds including new technologies within their services. Libraries are adopting a view that there is no business case for the inclusion of new technologies; some are even dismissing these new technologies, specifically 3D printing, as simply “technolust” (Rundle, 2013). Counter to this, R. David Lankes of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies states in his blog post Beyond the Bullet Points: Missing the Point and 3D Printing, that at the core of the library is idea creation and knowledge generation and that a 3D printer is simply another tool, just like the computer, to allow creation (Lankes, 2013).
With the Library providing the context for this research, it is important to understand libraries’ role within New Zealand. The Library's job is “to collect, connect, and co-create knowledge to power New Zealand. Collect: New Zealand's documentary taonga in words, sounds, and pictures are collected, protected, and accessible. Connect: New Zealanders can easily access national and international resources through knowledge networks. Co-create: New Zealanders working together to turn knowledge into value” (National Library of New Zealand, 2015). This statement shows how the Library’s role compares to the traditional definition of a library, with three keywords as part of its mandate, “Collect, Connect, and Co-Create.” This mandate captures the Library’s goal of co-creation and how it relates to the shifting definition of libraries, putting the Library into the domain of Pryor’s definition as a resource for consuming and also generating new knowledge. This is an interesting place to be situated contextually, as it gives the Library a strategic basis from which to venture into new areas to fulfil its mandate.
One of these new areas of technology is 3D printing, a service being offered by more and more libraries around the world. Auckland Central City Library, University College of London's Petrie Museum, Dundee Central Library in Scotland, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville's Lovejoy Library, and The New Zealand National Library are just a handful of the libraries offering 3D printing. These libraries experimenting with 3D printing are using it in different ways, from makerspaces (Maloney, 2014), to 3D printing children's book characters (The Courier Reporter, 2014). Currently the Library is exploring giving the public access to 3D printing with three UP! 3D printers (National Library of New Zealand, n.d. 2016).
(a) 3D printing
Far from being a new technology, 3D printing far from being a new technology has been around for 30 years (Warnier, Verbruggen, Ehmann, & Klanten, 2014) and initially made its way into mainstream manufacturing in the form of rapid prototyping. 3D printing comes in a range of forms that are often referred to as additive manufacturing. This refers to a process where material is slowly built up layer by layer as defined by a digital computer aided design (CAD) file to reveal the desired form (Warnier et al., 2014). 3D printing is to some “the Holy Grail of the rapid-prototyping (RP) industry.” (Ashley, 1997, p. 82) as there is minimal waste from only building up the form you want, as opposed to traditional subtractive manufacturing where material is removed to reveal the desired form.
The most common 3D printers are fused deposition modelling (FDM) printers, which use a variety of coloured plastics that are heated and extruded in layers to form the object. Recently FDM printers have attracted popular attention, with companies such as MakerBot and 3D systems (3DS) making low-cost 3D printers - the Makerbot replicator and UP! Printer respectively. Both these printers are commercially available for around NZ$2000 (PB Tech, 2016). However, much more advanced 3D printers are also in use, which allow highly detailed full colour 3D models to be printed. The range of materials being used for 3D printing is developing quickly (Lipson & Kurman, 2013, p. 264), with different materials such as metals and ceramics as well as a large variety of plastics now on offer. The advent of low-cost printers would not have whetted public appetite for 3D printing without the availability of the many associated technologies. Advances in CAD, 3D scanning, and online 3D printing services have created the platform on which 3D printing could flourish. The many options available for these technologies (Solidworks, Rhino, 3DS, Maya, Zbrush, Sketch up, 123D, Blender, TinkerCAD, FreeCAD, Meshmixer, 123D design and Onshape, 3D scanning, 3D Systems’ iSense 3D Scanner, Artec Eva 3D Scanner, MakerBot Digitizer 3D Scanner, Dynascan M250) have all played a significant role in breaking down barriers to 3D printing.
This reduced threshold for entry and the advent of the makerspace has encouraged a slew of libraries, all seeking new ways of engaging with their public, to engage in 3D printing.
(b) Augmented Reality
Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology used to overlay digital content onto physical reality (Azuma et al., 2001). AR uses image tracking, a display unit, scripts, and a software engine to create a 3D representation of a digital model within the physical world (Billinghurst, Clark, & Lee, 2015). AR uses a reader to track a 2D printed marker such as a Quick Response code (QR) or other unique identifier that the engine has been trained to recognise (Billinghurst et al., 2015). The marker, through the engine database, is linked to a digital 3D model that is shown over the marker on a digital display as it would appear in the 3D digital space. From there this model can be interacted with on the display and navigated around in the 3D digital world.
Like 3D printing, augmented reality devices are not new technology and have existed in some form since the 1960s (Azuma et al., 2001) originally as dedicated devices for reading and displaying AR, usually attached to a computer that runs the AR engine. There has been much exploration into AR and possible applications since the 1960s (Billinghurst et al., 2015). It now holds an interesting place in culture, with mainstream applications of AR in sports such as sailing (Honey, Milnes, 2013) to display information live while races are occurring. With the development of smart phones the technology once reliant on dedicated reading devices rapidly became pocket sized and smart phones are now a viable option for AR (Wagner, Schmalstieg, 2009) with the reader, display and engine all in one. This advancement initiated the development of mobile apps that utilise this compact reader and display in one, such as Layar, Google Translate live, Crayola Color Alive, IKEA catalogue and the Lego Catalogue.
AR offers opportunities for interaction and content exploration through a digital interface. AR is a way for people to connect with digital content in the physical world, beginning to integrate the digital into physical (Azuma et al., 2001). Exploring digital content in a physical world through digital representation is something worth investigating for libraries and museums with ever-expanding collections of digital content. Applications of augmented reality are becoming increasingly popular in libraries and museums (Pence, 2010) and offering the opportunity to “connect” the digital and physical supports the mandate of the Library.
“A Smart Object is able to acquire, to receive and to distribute information in a near or distant environment, and is able to carry out diverse actions on its own initiative or request help from others objects” (Bajic, 2009, p. 37). The concept of smart objects has existed for some time, from ubiquitous computing in 1993 by Mark Weiser, to more recently with the popularisation of the term smart object. These terms refer to the connection of multiple devices to a network to generate information and allow the devices to adapt over time to the context (Goumopoulos, Kameas, 2009).
Like many technologies, the smart object is becoming ubiquitous and expanding increasingly into new areas (Vasseur, Dunkels, 2010). The adaptive nature of smart objects is evident in their uptake into everyday life, as can be seen from the onslaught of smart fridges, smart washing machines, smart TVs, smart shoes, and smart phones. Smart object use has expanded to the point where it must be asked, why the proliferation and what do they offer? This question is answered in part by research into the potential of smart objects in different areas (Hsu, 2011; Kimura, Nakajima, 2009; Praca, Barral, 2001; Roozenburg, 2013; Sinha, Couderc, 2013). A growing number of smart objects are also demonstrating commercial success such as Hue, Sonos, WeMo, Nike +, fitbit, nest, smart TV, Withings Body Scale, and Koubachi.
Smart objects have also been used to facilitate tracking and provide easy access to information. The first documented smart object dates back to 1982, when engineering students at Carnegie Mellon University connected a vending machine to the internet to check the availability of cold drinks (Madakam, 2015).
This led to the development of interconnected devices to gather information and generate data, and from this the internet of things (IOT) emerged. The IOT is defined as an open network of intelligent objects that can share information and react to situations or changes in their environment (Madakam, 2015).
Many different technologies are utilised in the development of smart objects and the IOT, such as Bluetooth low energy (BLE), Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Near Field Communication (NFC), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and wireless. As a result, the use of smart objects and the IOT has blossomed. Its impact is made visible though sites such as https://thingful.net/. However, the role of smart objects in libraries is still new territory. Becker (2012) discusses this in Get Smart: Raising the Intelligence of DIY Library Smart Objects, where he investigates libraries’ potential to be a space where people are introduced to smart objects. This evolving use of smart objects encourages further exploration to provide new experiences and interactions.
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