Augmented Reality Storytelling for Library Orientation

When I was tasked with creating an augmented reality (AR) project for my digital storytelling course, I felt inspired to explore a new (to me, at least) way to do library orientations or tours. It presented the opportunity for me to demonstrate to my colleagues three new ways of providing information to our newest users: 1) using a storytelling format instead of a stream of facts, 2) using video (and video/screen cast mashups) to convey information, and 3) using AR to present information in a more dynamic way. Read on to learn more about my project or scroll to the bottom of this post (to the “Completed Project” section) to experience the orientation itself.

Current Orientations

Currently, the only self-guided tour of the library is an audio tour, delivered one of 3 ways. The first and most commonly used is via mp3 players that can be checked out at the circulation desk. Alternatively, listeners can scan the QR code at each stop to listen to the audio for that stop on their smartphone. Lastly, and almost certainly the least used, listeners have the option to listen to or download the mp3 for each stop from the library website.

During the 30-minute audio tour, the listener hears all about the library as they go from stop to stop. Some instructors assign the library audio tour as a required or extra credit assignment so a paper complete-it-as-you-go “quiz” is provided to students. Information in the tour is delivered as a stream of facts (LOTS of facts). Though well organized and professionally produced, the audio tour is, well, a bit dry and boring (as you might expect an audio tour to be). In other words, it is as good as it can be for what it is.

The library hopes to develop a virtual library tour for distance students in the near future.

Though not an orientation to the library per se, we also have a number of self-guided tutorials on basic library tasks, such as finding books in the catalog and locating full-text articles. These take the form of interactive text-based tutorials that walk learners through the live library webpage using Guide on the Side software and screencast videos. The former are few and the latter are all quite out-of-date (this is a major project I am working with the library faculty on as their instructional design librarian).

Side note: The library also delivers orientations and tutorials in real time directly to students but they are not relevant to my discussion here.

Vision For Augmented Reality Library Orientation

When thinking of what an AR orientation might look like, I envisioned an orientation that presented the story of a new student coming to the library for the first time. For the sake of time, I chose to focus my orientation on the task of checking out a book from start to finish. This more than fulfilled the purpose of the assignment for my class and is enough to show my colleagues what such an orientation might look like.

If this is something we would like to pursue further, it may be that the AR orientation is lengthened to include other information about the library. Or we might make a series of orientations (episodes) that introduce users to different things. We can also decide whether to keep the storytelling format and the very brief tutorial elements I included (like the walk-through of her effective search with the librarian and the breakdown of the call number). We can also discuss whether we can incorporate more storytelling elements into our other types of orientations and tutorials. Lastly, we can think about other ways to use AR. (For example, I think it would be super neat to see AR used to highlight items in Archives and Special Collections — I’m looking at you, Arlene.)


After a great deal of reading, exploring (see my Diigo links), and thinking, I settled on the idea of creating this orientation as described above. I did not come across any other libraries doing this type of orientation, though I was not specifically looking for that in my explorations.

I loosely outlined a believable story following a student who is new to the library as they look for a book. It isn’t the most riveting story but it’s one that students should be able to relate to. I tried to make the story have some ups and downs to keep things interesting and decided to incorporate a bit of silliness for entertainment value.

AR Orientation Director's Notes
Director’s Notes

Using this outline, I thought of what my actor would need to do in each scene to convey the story. Here are the actual notes I used to give the actor direction during filming.

Next I had to find my actor. I needed someone who could deliver bold and believable facial expressions, was comfortable being on camera, and who could take this type of direction well and quickly. Though I had the support of the librarian who manages them, none of the circulation student workers who we felt could deliver the needed level of expression were interested in participating. Next I checked with the head of my department, Page, to see whether she could spare our student worker, Tessa (we keep her very busy!). She was very excited to hear about what I was working on for my class and approved my request to ask Tessa. Thankfully, Tessa embraced the idea and enthusiastically agreed to participate.

I did not script the story until I was assembling the video. This decision was made partly due to time constraints but also because I wanted there to be room for my actor to take some creative license and for me to change my plan according to how things went. I took extra takes and filmed segments for longer than was needed to allow space for editing to make the story work with the visuals. It worked out quite well. There were a few places where I wished I had additional footage to work with but overall I was able to make the narrative work perfectly with the visuals. It would have been incredibly difficult to record the video to perfectly match a planned narrative considering this was done by an amateur actor, amateur director, and in very limited time.

All filming for the project was completed in less than an hour, including retakes and time spent waiting for people to walk by. Fortunately we were able to film during spring break, which kept traffic to a minimum. Also included in that time was recruiting the librarian on duty at the reference desk to participate (big thanks, Ralph!) and a circulation desk clerk to film me acting as the clerk as he did not want to appear on film. I spent a half hour before the shoot walking through the scenes and after the shoot taking pictures to use as trigger images.

Next came scripting, compiling the video clips, and editing each video episode. I then had to edit my photograph triggers to be the size of the completed videos to make things look clean.

Lastly, I put the trigger images and completed videos into Aurasma and tested everything. I had some issues with some of my original trigger images lacking sufficient detail for consistent scans. I retook photos, edited the new images, and tied them in to Aurasma.

Completed Project

The following sections will allow you to experience the AR library orientation.

Please note that Aurasma, the tool I used to create the orientation, is designed to scan images in real life — such as at a specific location, within a book, or on a brochure — and not on computer screens. For this tour, people would scan an image at each stop within the library. Here I am recreating the in-person experience the best that I am able for those of you who cannot physically come in to the library to experience it. You may have difficulty getting an image on the screen to trigger within Aurasma. Brightening your monitor as much as possible, eliminating any glare on the screen, and/or scanning the full size image (click the image within the blog to view it full size) may be helpful.

Try to imagine that you are physically located in the library, scanning an image at each stop and following in our actor’s footsteps in between scans.

Instructions for Viewing the Orientation

To view the tour, you will need:

  • A smartphone or tablet with a built-in camera.
  • Internet connection on your phone/tablet (either a wi-fi connection OR an active data plan).
  • The trigger images from within this blog entry displayed on a second device (a computer is recommended but you may be able to get it to work on a second smartphone or tablet).


  1. Download the free Aurasma app on your smartphone or tablet.
  2. Open the Aurasma app. Create an account or log in. (Returning users may already be logged in.)
  3. Follow my channel by completing the following steps.
    1. Search for my channel, “darcy.hutchings” (be sure to add the dot in the middle).
    2. Click on my channel.
    3. Click Follow to follow my channel.
    4. Return to the main screen by tapping Back, then Cancel.

      Image demonstrates holding a smartphone over the trigger image on the computer screen
      Use your smartphone or tablet to scan the trigger image displayed on the screen of your second device.
  4. Scan the trigger image by completing the following steps.
    1. Tap the scan icon (bottom center of screen).
    2. Point your device camera at your second device, hovering over the first trigger image (“Part 1: Entryway”). The dots will continue to move on the screen until Aurasma successfully registers the trigger image. Note: You may need move farther away or closer to the image for Aurasma to register it. If you experience difficulty, click on the image on your second device to bring up a larger version. Then try scanning that larger image.
    3. Once Aurasma registers the image, a video will pop up.
    4. Tap the video once to make it full screen.
  5. After viewing the video, scan the next trigger image. Repeat until you have completed the orientation.

Take the Tour

Image of the entrance to the library
Part 1: Entryway
Row of computer stations in the library
Part 2: Computers
The sign hanging above reference desk says "Reference Desk, Ask A Librarian"
Part 3: Reference Desk
Image of the top portion of the library map with bookshelves in the background
Part 4: Library Map
Image of the book cover that Jane was looking for
Part 5: Book
Circulation desk sign
Part 6: Circulation Desk

I opted not to include captioning in the videos for a variety of reasons — small video format, inability to make them optional, time needed to add them — so I have created a script to improve accessibility.

I’d like to thank everyone who contributed to making this project happen, especially our fantastic actors, Tessa and Ralph!

9 Replies to “Augmented Reality Storytelling for Library Orientation”

  1. Darcy, this is awesome! Totally stealing this and riffing off the Pokemon GO craze to create an intro tour for first year students.

  2. The Consortium is lucky to have you! I remember doing the “grad research” version of the tour and still needing to seek out your friendly help desk folks once in a while ☺ I also know how many ENG 111 students are shuffled through those tours so it is clearly no small task to design something that is both accessible and engaging even for basic library use. I think this is a great start, and I hope you can make this into something awesome for the library!

    You did an excellent job with the video editing and all of your auras worked for me (thank you for making them full-screen capable). Part 5 struck me as a little short and maybe could be tagged onto the journey to the circ desk (Part 6), or more info could be added to it. But, overall, it was your write up that really stole the show here. It was interesting reading your post as it was written not just for our class, but for your coworkers as well. We forget how deep in we are until we have to explain it to other people (it also makes me think Aurasma should try and streamline their AR experience a bit). Your descriptions of what is currently provided, how students use it, and its limitations were well collected, and create a strong foundation for where you want to take the tours in the future. You are certainly on the right track!

    Good luck!

  3. Clarity of message
    Wonderful! Message is clear and very understandable. The orientation to and explanation of Arasma is right on!
    Depth of message
    What an original idea! Videos are catchy and interesting to watch, especially for new student library orientation.

    Writing Standards
    Enjoyable to read and follow your thought processes.

    Quality and appropriateness of media
    Interactive and informative throughout.


  4. I like your project, I think visual tours for large buildings are easier for a lot of people. Yes, there are signs, but features are easier to recognize from a distance than signs. The videos are a bit campy but I think that keeps them from being boring. If they were quite serious then they would be dry, and really lose some of the engagement factor of having videos.

    The sections on what orientations are available and your reasoning behind the upgrade were nice additions, I think functionality and purpose are important to projects such as this. I also appreciated the section on how you went about making the project and where you ran into problems with the trigger images.

    Overall the project looks well done, and I didn’t notice any issues.

  5. Okay, I’m feeling like a doofus. (An elderly doofus, with limited tech skills.) I got through step 4a and am stuck. How do I point my device (iPad) camera at the trigger image? It has to be on display on another device or a hard copy, doesn’t it? It seems odd to me that I can’t just pull something up within the app and just view it, but that’s my best guess as to why I stalled out.

    • You are not a doofus at all! In fact, you have identified a real gap in my instructions. I have edited them to (hopefully) clarify. Thank you!

  6. This is a brilliant approach to this assignment on so many levels. It fills a clear need and it has been artfully executed in format and content. The video demonstrates potentially how much more can be accomplished in that format vs a sound file or written directions. Not only does it put an easily relatable personal face onto the process, but the annotations and overlays add so much important contextual information for the viewer. Your serial presentation is perfect for this–we can follow the hesitant student through the process by simply scrolling down to the next image. Very nicely conceived and executed.

    Particularly in the context of your all-encompassing website, the inclusion of a step by step process for downloading Aurasma and viewing your content is much appreciated. Members of this cohort will know how to proceed, but in your case you have readers from several different disciplines who may or may not be familiar with AR in general or Aurasma in particular. I think it’s good practice in any event, and I think I will suggest it for future iterations of this project.

    It also struck me, given the potential complexity of library operations, that Aurasma is nicely suited for a project like this. While you didn’t include examples in this iteration of the tour, Aurasma presents a perfect opportunity to add cascading actions to your main action if there is a need for further explanation of a topic–e.g., tap here for more information… So much potential.

    I appreciated the detail you provided for every step of your project including the production of the video content. It’s important that we all see the different levels and types of effort that AR technology sets before us. The limited time we have for this assignment doesn’t allow each of us time to explore all of the different aspects of the technology, so we can all benefit from the insights that you’ve included here.

    No issues noted…

    • Thank you for the praise, Skip!

      In response to your comment about adding cascading actions for additional information — I did consider adding these. I do want the supplementary information made available but I’m not sure how to incorporate them. In the case of a Guide on the Side being the source for that additional information, it isn’t terribly mobile-friendly. Sending the viewer to it wouldn’t be very helpful. That isn’t to say that there aren’t other actions that would be useful along the way… Further, in trying to reduce the information (cognitive) overload that is present in the audio tour, I considered whether the links out from within the orientation might do that very thing. Generally, students don’t need all of the information up front — they need it, well, when they need it.

      Maybe we would have a central webpage that incorporates links to the supplementary guides in order of the orientation/tour. Then we could mention that webpage in the tour itself. That may address the mobile issues as well as overload. The student would only need to remember that such a thing exists and would be able to easily located it at their point of need. More thought and conversation is needed before proceeding with this type of orientation.

      • Easy to praise!…

        I was thinking more about the overall potential of this kind of implementation and not making suggestions for this project, of course. There are trade offs in production values, ease of content creation, and distribution of content that would need to be weighed when deciding how to create the guide. You’d certainly need to prevent users from following rabbit holes to the extent that they’d never make it back to the main content stream.

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