In April we attended a workshop held at John Rylands University Library, in which we received an introduction to the SCARLET project. The aim of the project is to use Augmented Reality (AR) within Special Collections to enhance the student learning experience. Although the focus of the SCARLET project has a different emphasis to any AR project Archives+ would undertake, the meeting brought to life the potential for using AR to enhance our collections.

But what exactly is AR? The concept initially proves quite difficult to grasp, it involves the combination of a real world view with a virtual scene generated by a computer, augmented with additional information such as sound, video or graphics. Have a look at this video which illustrates the concept.

AR seems to be the ‘next big thing’ but anyone who can remember the MiniDisc player should be wary of that statement. There are some limitations in terms of what can be used; illustrations within books for example are problematic. This interesting article about the recently launched James May Science Stories App by The Science Museum details some problems that users encounter.

However, the potential of AR seems endless. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney draws images from the Museum’s Flickr collection and overlays them onto the camera view of a phone. The Netherlands Architecture Institute (NAI) has developed Urban Augmented Reality, which uses 3D models to show historical, never developed and proposed plans within Rotterdam. The Museum of Modern Art created an entirely new seventh floor of the Museum during the Conflux festival of art and technology in 2010; here is an excellent blog post detailing it.


What do you gain viewing archives through your phone and what do you lose? To what extent does it help you get wisdom? If we take this pictorial poster produced for the Manchester Corporation Transport Department, what could AR add to this? Perhaps as it was part of a series we could include the other 17 designs, or as it’s often used for promotional purposes we could incorporate the Heritage Lottery Fund bid information. We could also include recollections of the Central Library opening and war years. The refurbishment of Central Library and the Heritage Lottery Fund bid to create an interactive archive exhibition seems to present the perfect opportunity to trial AR.