Emerging Technologies – A Day in the Life

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The following is an idealized day in the life of an Emerging Technologies Librarian at University of Oklahoma Libraries. While there has never been a day exactly like this, most days (right now) include some significant combination of the activities described below.

OU Virtual Reality Association

8:00-9:00am – Research. Research is definitely the most cognitively intensive activity I engage in, so it has to happen early, while the coffee is still flowing through my bloodstream. Essentially, it involves synthesizing conclusions drawn in various bodies of peer-reviewed literature, including library science, philosophy of mind, and computer science. Right now, my writing is focused on certain key similarities that exist between embodied browsing activities taking place in the physical books stacks and “browsing” that takes place in immersive virtual reality environments. Ideally, this new platform affords the conditions necessary to preserve instances of serendipitous information retrieval.
9:00-10:00am – ETL Meeting. Individually, our formal training includes electrical engineering, library science, and philosophy, and we can cover a lot of ground as a result. This meeting is a way for us to submit problems/hurtles/roadblocks for group consideration and offer support in various ways as we begin a new week. For example, Cody and Stacey are visualizing and 3D printing microscopic imagery associated with the corrosion of metal surfaces (fuel tanks) for the microbiology department. Cody’s 3D printing expertise will combine with Stacey’s 3D scanning knowledge, in this case, and some of the models generated will be deployed on our OVAL virtual reality platform for networked analysis and presentation.

Course Touchdown @ the iHub Vis Lab

10:00am-11:00am – Course Touchdown. Innovation @ the EDGE is an inclusive makerspace that the emerging tech team staffs; maintains; programs for; and markets. Roughly, the focus is visualization – including physical visualization, as it were, in the form of 3D printed objects. At least once a week (and oftentimes twice a week), the EDGE offers free programming to introduce users of all academic backgrounds to the freely available tools, as well as one-off events including: Fiber Arts, “Hack Your Home”, and 3D Scanning Campus Crawls. We also support course integrations, whereby faculty hold class in the EDGE for the purpose of exposing students to a specific technology or to complete a technology-centered assignment. More than a dozen unique courses, including those from Art + Art History; Journalism; English; Chemistry; Medical Imaging; Anthropology; and Architecture departments/colleges, have touched down in Bizzell for this reason.

Painted 3D Print

11:00am-12:00pm – Prep Conference Talk. Last year I had the rare privilege of traveling extensively for work. The subject of these various talks included indoor navigation, interactive mindfulness technology, and virtual reality for research and instruction. Many of these conferences took me to places I would have otherwise overlooked (like Krakow, Bozeman, or Tucson) to present alongside various faculty with whom we have collaborated with to develop and apply one or more emerging technologies. Right now, we are preparing for an April talk at the Coalition for Networked Information’s (CNI) spring membership meeting in Albuquerque, where Zack Lischer-Katz and myself will discuss the challenges of preserving and archiving virtual reality session data.
12:00-1:00pm – Lunch! Recommended: Cheeseburger (and fries!) at the Garage; Sesame Ginger Beef Bahn-mi at Coriander Café; Stromboli at Sandro’s; chicken Kao-soi from Thai Delight, if the weather is nasty.
1:00-2:00pm – Architecture Study. This semester, an Interior Design capstone class is the subject of a joint Architecture/Libraries study on the impact of immersive virtual reality on spatial thinking and volumetric design. The students are using our VisLab at the newly constructed Innovation Hub. The four customized VR workstations available there for students (and faculty, staff, and the public) allow students to inhabit and annotate architectural designs alongside their teams. Given these students would traditionally be quite far along in their careers (that is, post construction) before such a walk-through would be possible, virtual reality analysis puts them ahead of their peers at other institutions in terms of volumetric design.

Impromptu Electronics Workshop

2:00-3:00pm – Admin Duties. Supply requests are due! Our 3D printing services are free of charge and open to the public, so it’s no surprise we initiated more than 600 prints in 2016. That includes children’s prosthetic; WWII-era tanks; weather data visualization; and 3D scanned art objects for a collaborative program with the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art. That means supply requests regularly include PLA filament, along with various peripherals (and maintenance/repair items) related to 3D visualization. Alongside the HCLC, we also hire, train, and manage ~15 undergraduate student employees, spread across three spaces. Beyond facilitating 3D prints, course touchdowns, and upkeep of the space, these students have presented workshops to their peers in the EDGE, and even created campus clubs, like the new OU VR Association.
3:00-4:00pm – Consultation. In 2016, the emerging tech team fielded more than 120 unsolicited technology consultations on a wide range of topics and tools. In the course of this activity, we recommended some combination of tools, experts, and spaces that can augment existing scholarship. Last year we regularly collated technology lists for use in K-12 makerspaces; reviewed undergraduate capstone projects; supported virtual “field trips” for Gateway students; supported exploratory studies on the impact of 360-degree video advertisements; 3D printed prosthetics, and lots more. Please reach out if you are interested in tech for scholarship!

Outreach at The Mercy School, Edmond

4:00-5:00pm – Grant Application. We are working closely with our peers at University of Arizona Libraries to scale up 3D scanning and immersive visualization services across both campuses. Our counterparts have deployed VR workstations of our design on their campus already, and – once the workflows for developing 3D content are refined– users on both ends will have virtual access to shared virtual collections. Professor Pailes, for example, has queued up a range of Chaco Cultural artifacts for anthropology students at OU, despite the fact that those scans feature artifacts located hundreds of miles from Norman. In the future, a joint repository of fully interactive (and networked) 3D assets might number in the millions, thereby providing sort of immediate access to models/artifacts/objects/spaces traditionally only possible via physical analysis.
5:00-? – Beer. A bunch of places around town are serving F5 on draft, and its consistently delicious.

Of course there are also absurd amounts of email correspondence and committee meetings thrown into this mix, and single events – like the Architecture Study, or off-site K12 outreach in OKC, for example – last more than a single hour. Nevertheless, this description should serve to demonstrate the amazing variety of tasks associated with 21st century librarianship.

Your friendly, neighborhood technology librarians

Matt Cook is Emerging Technologies Coordinator at OU Libraries and can be reached at mncook@ou.edu

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