Libraries and GLASS: 7 things to think about as wearable computing emerges

October 10, 2013, 2:50 pm

glass_officeI joined the Google Glass community last week. A Glass Explorer at Virginia Tech invited me in and it has been an interesting experience so far. We are forming a cohort of Glass Explorers on our campus. This is an effort to apply the technology to both teaching and research situations.

Together the four of us will be exploring new practices and we also want to develop applications that could benefit higher ed. I’m glad that the library was invited in the mix; it’s interesting to observe the way faculty think and to contribute to the venture.

I’ll post more about our progress in the coming months but today I wanted to share a few quick observations about Glass and libraries:

1. QR codes mean something now
I’ve never liked QR codes. They’ve always felt desperate to me. It is very awkward to hold up a phone or tablet and to click an app or button. Glass changes that and makes it more seamless. It is more natural to be able to look at something and grab the content with minimal effort. In fact, when adding new wireless connections you have to look at QR codes for activation. It will be interesting to see how these codes evolve in the wearable era.

2. Wireless needs to be easier
As wearable computing becomes more ubiquitous, demand for wireless access will increase. Besides adding more bandwidth we need to consider how to make it easier to connect. When I was in downtown Raleigh this weekend I was able to ride on an open network without any trouble; it just worked! When I was at NCSU they provide free guest access but it required clicking on an “agree to terms” button, which was problematic on Glass. I could connect via my phone and use Bluetooth, but it wasn’t ideal. Libraries and others will need to consider this issue of seamlessness. An easy fix might be having a QR code at the door so that you could simply look at it and connect to the web—and/or maybe add a voice affirmation for the terms of service agreement?

Note: Props to NCSU for even offering free guest access. I’m confident that they will find a good hack for this issue. I wish I could offer free wireless to our guests but that’s another story.

 3. Listening > Reading
I use to hate clicking on a news website and having a video open up. I prefer to read (skim) my news when I’m using a browser. Glass flips that around. In the wearable environment audio and video trumps everything. I subscribe to a few news feeds via Glass so throughout the day breaking stories are pushed to me. It’s great to glance at a 20 second video or listen to the gist of an article read to me while I am walking around. Maybe I need to create 20-second versions of future blog posts?

 4. Design Minimally
Responsive design will eventually catch up but for now when you search a site (I can’t take screen shots yet) it tends to come back with a black background and white text: example. You can click through but it links to the main site similar to a regular web browser. In short, our websites are very difficult to view and use. Here are some tips for designing for Glass.

Basically, you want to think about content being designed for listening. Use an auto-read tool to hear your site and that’s essentially what it is like via Glass. We’ll eventually need to address that with our design strategies. Secondly, forget about clicking and scrolling – voice commands and gestures are the behaviors of our future technology developers.

5. Directions, etc
Unfortunately the GPS features only work with an Android device and I’m still clinging to my iPhone… so I can’t comment from experience but there is tremendous potential here. As I was walking around Hunt Library looking at all the furniture it would have been great if Herman Miller had some type of recognition tool so I could access the specs and other info. It also would have been great to have directions in my display leading me to the conference room or other points of interest. Or imagine this—I enter the library and say “study rooms” and I’m presented with an availability map and I can grab an open space, verbally, and then have a map with step by step directions—all this while I am also sending the info to my group who will join me in a few minutes.

Science fiction right now but after a week as a Glass user I feel it’s possible by the end of the decade. In short—wayfinding and service applications will quickly evolve with wearable computing and change the way we interact with all types of spaces and interfaces.

6. Location-Aware Exhibits / Content
When I was in downtown Raleigh I received some historical content about the fire department. There were archival photographs of buildings, people, and equipment and I believe some audio material too. It is part of a Field Trip app that pushes out content when you are near a certain location. There is a lot of potential with this as well. I imagine NCSU’s Wolf Walk would migrate nicely to this platform– as you walk around campus visual and audio content pops up in an augmented reality. I could also see it apply to services. For example, if I walk by our 3D Printer or Plotter Printer I could opt to view a 30-second “how to” video or other content such as policies or fees. Digital signage will take on a new meaning in this world.

7. Power Drain
This is probably a given but Glass doesn’t hold a charge very well. It will have to improve but right now if you are very active you might get an hour out of it. I watched a seven-minute video and it drained nearly 25% of the battery. Having adaptors, accessories, and cords for devices would be a good investment once Glass and other wearable computers become commercially available.


I’m sure there is more to say but I wanted to get some first impressions out there. Maybe I’ll expound on these ideas further down the road, but in all honestly I’m more eager to work with our faculty on applying Glass within their labs and classrooms. I’m confident that libraries will adapt to wearable computing just as they have with mobile—but I’m more excited to be working with faculty who are enthusiastic about using this technology to augment their teaching and research practices. It feels kind of like a PARC moment.

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