28 Jun 2014

UNLV Library Tour at ALA 2014

UNLV Library

Had a great tour of the University of Las Vegas Lied Library, as part of the ALA’s annual convention. The highlight for me was seeing their work in building interactive exhibit walls out of multiple multi-touch displays:

UNLV Digital Collections

Although the hardware comes from a vendor, the software layer is all written in-house, and supports great features like multiple users zooming different photographs all at the same time:

UNLV Digital Collections

They’re using this system to highlight their special collections, which include fantastic information about local history:

UNLV Digital Collections

The Digital Collections team also has an iPad app for use in their exhibits:

UNLV Digital Collections

Overall this tour was a real wake-up call to think about what libraries can accomplish when they focus on their unique collections and think about presenting their material in new and more accessible ways. Special Collections reading rooms at many institutions can be rather intimidating places, with rules on how to handle delicate material. These rules are there for are reason, but they tend to discourage shoving artifacts around a table to juxtapose or compare. The mass digitization of Special Collections material gave new life to these items on our computer screens, but didn’t do much to let us physically manipulate these images: we struggle with resizing browser windows and spawning new tabs to get all our material situated on our 11” laptop screens.

The multi-touch exhibit panels I saw at Lied Library, when coupled with UNLV’s own software layer, point towards a future where multiple users can grab, drag, resize and otherwise physically manipulate artifacts on a large surface. Because the images are linked into the metadata in the digital library (ContentDM), there’s good contextual information about what you’re seeing — but it never gets in the way of the visual materials themselves.

Speaking of the visual, I was also struck by some great design work in a newly remodeled multipurpose room:

UNLV Library

UNLV describes its goals for this space as follows:

This space will serve as a state-of-the-art venue to showcase UNLV Libraries’ special collections and comprehensive records that document our region’s history—making them accessible to everyone to experience our past by touching and feeling these artifacts. This event space will serve as a center for academic and cultural dialog, panel discussions, readings and lectures by gaming fellows, authors and visiting scholars.