Have you ever wanted to push the envelope on implementing digital resources in your library, and in particular Virtual Reality? On today’s show we have a fantastic guest to help us lead the way in this area of service as I talk with Pete Schreiner, Research Librarian for Design at North Carolina State University Libraries and a 2019 Library Journal Mover & Shaker.
He helps us understand some of the intricacies of incorporating VR into our libraries. From breaking down barriers, to evaluating tech gadgets for ease of use, to developing step-by-step guides for users – he aids us in leading our organizations in this continually evolving and fast-paced realm.
This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas.
This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.
Have you ever wanted to push the envelope on implementing digital resources in your library, and in particular, virtual reality? On today’s show we have a fantastic guest to help us lead the way in this area of service. As I talk with Pete Schreiner, Research Librarian for Design at North Carolina State University Libraries, and a 2019 Library Journal Mover & Shaker, he helps us understand some of the intricacies of incorporating VR into our libraries. From breaking down barriers to evaluating tech gadgets for ease of use, to developing step-by-step guides for our users, he aids us in leading our organizations in this continually evolving and fast-paced realm. Enjoy the show.
Welcome to the show, Pete.
Thank you so much for having me.
Question #1: Let’s jump right in. How did you get started in VR? 01:32
I sort of hit the ground running when I started this job. My first day my supervisor said, You know I think we need to have a virtual reality event next week. So, we started planning for the following Friday. We had a bit of equipment, and we had a student worker who had been starting to dabble in seeing what we could support with that. The equipment being a pretty high-powered gaming computer, an HTC Vive, VR headset kit, and a little bit of software.
In the beginning it was really a matter of pretty quickly assessing what was out there, in terms of the technology. The HTC Vive, which I just mentioned, and the Oculus Rift were the two major consumer platforms that had just come out, so that was timely. We had to figure out A. – how these work, and then how to scale these to potential 35,000+ users on our campus. Then how to integrate it into services, or how if at all we could create learning spaces surrounding these technologies.
Before we had actual spaces we did events like I mentioned. That one where I got my feet wet there in VR. We would bring all our equipment down to a common area in the library, advertise it, and invite everyone to come try and play.
Well, I’ll talk a little more about how useful that was for us, figuring out the technology, and while also learning how my organization works—so, if I needed to talk to our IT group about maybe getting devices onto our WiFi system, or talk to our space reservation team about how to get these new spaces into our existing systems. Those are probably some of the obstacles, and we’ll talk a little more about those in a bit.
Question #2: Sure. It sounds like you had good support, which I’m sure helps. There are many details to see to when it comes to implementing the new technology. Will you share with us how you designed all of it, and how you managed it in terms of service points, and access models, things like that? 03:44
That was really interesting. At some point space was allotted for a virtual reality studio we call it, a learning space, in our Hill Library location – which is one of our two main locations. Luckily we had existing service points related to high tech spaces. We tend to be pretty tech forward. We’re a STEM school and we really want our students to get hold of these state of the art tools while they’re here in school so they’re prepared when they graduate.
I looked specifically at our Digital Media Lab that we called the DML. That’s a whole suite of specialized media production computers. We have some film scanners in there, we have specialized workstations for doing video editing, music editing. We have ten recording studios across our libraries for film and sound production.
That was one similar service point, and then the other service point I looked at is our Makerspace. The Makerspace has, somewhat, dangerous equipment. It’s always staffed when it’s open. There’s a model by which people, users, come have an orientation and they are allowed to use the space, and reserve space to work in there.
That’s one model. Then the DML model is – there’s a lot of expensive equipment in there. But for the most part it’s open, it’s not staffed all the time. Some of the recording booths are individually locked and staff lets users into them. But, it’s a little less dangerous. It has the expensive equipment component but not the danger.
So, our VR studio is located a little bit out from the common areas of the library. So we were very concerned about safety. So, we opted to have a staff space. We staff it with students, typically student workers, who are trained on this equipment and very well trained in customer service, which we really push hard here at NC State University Library.
We also adopted the orientation model. Students, faculty, and staff who are affiliated with the campus are able to sign up for a short orientation session. They come to that. They’re taught about how to safely use the equipment, what you can do with the equipment, how you can create your own VR experiences on the equipment, and how to go about making a reservation, etc. So, when they come back and do their work they have the best experience, they are prepared to use the equipment safely, and purposefully.
That’s been successful. One thing we really wanted to have in this space was the ability to reconfigure it as the technology changed, and as the library’s needs changed. That has been very beneficial. We called it a scratch space. We wanted all the furniture to be on wheels. We really just needed some extra power wired into the room. We didn’t need much else to get up and running, which is great. It was a lot of equipment and wiring and VR gear, etc. But in terms of building out the space, we didn’t need a long-term construction project to do so.
Like I said, that has been really beneficial because technology has already changed a couple of times. We’ve already brought in additional equipment and have already cycled out some of our other stuff that we had purchased new, in 2016 because the next generation has come in. I really encourage people to think about that.
As we go forward, like with other devices, things get smaller, faster, cheaper. We’re seeing more, and more high-end headsets that do not need to be tethered to a tower computer. These things that you can just walk around with, they’re self-contained. In a matter of months or years we might not need—we and others might not need these dedicated workstations. Again, having a very agile space to work in has benefit.
Question #3: It sound like you’re almost self-teaching each new piece of equipment as you’re getting it in, am I getting that right?07:54
That’s absolutely right. I’ll use the example of 360 cameras. We wanted to lend 360 cameras. Which if people aren’t familiar, it’s a camera that is actually really easy to use, but it’s able to capture an entire space. Everything around the camera will be captured and then the viewer can look at that spherical image later, or that spherical video, and feel like they’re in that space. So, it’s a really cool technology that is very accessible.
There are all these cameras on the market and each one is—there weren’t a lot of standards in the industry, and there still are not. So each system you’d buy—let’s say a Samsung camera, and it would necessitate having the Samsung app to control it from the device, having perhaps some Samsung specific software to do some post-production. So, in that case we researched as we could online, ordered one of each. Then it takes person power.
In this case usually it was me, because I was at the front of this – to sit down with the thing, figure out, How do I connect my phone to it? How do I take images with it? How do I edit it? How good was that user experience? Because some of the cameras I tested were really excellent cameras, I would recommend them to maybe a family member who’s interested in buying a dedicated unit to do their work with. However, the user experience was horrible. I know that every week a new user is going to have to attach it to their phone, and if that was hard for me to do after ten tries, then there’s a good chance that our users will be frustrated by that process too. So, that weeded that particular camera model out from what we would want to bring into our lending pool.
And third down the line until we found a really easy to use, good user experience camera, that gives a good result. So, multiply that times maybe dozens of devices that we wanted to support and yeah, it does end up taking a lot of person power.
Question #4: You use students for some of this. How did that work? 09:54
So, interestingly, my home department which is the more traditional part of the fellows. Every fellow has a different experience but, in my case my “home department” was Access Services. So, I was working at our front desk, co-managing students and was through that able to see a lot of really great hiring and training materials—had a little bit of a hand in hiring our student pool. So, when I was tasked with hiring the students from the VR studio space, I definitely looked at our best practices from Access Services. We really encouraged our student workers to try different areas of the library, take all our workshops, If they want to work in a different area, let’s say the front desk where they started at, we really encourage that. We think about their employment with the library as an additional education.
The students are working at the front desk, so they’re working with all these technologies that users are borrowing, returning, needing to be reset, needing technical help with. Some of the students are really into that. Some are interested in VR and gaming. I could survey some of our student workers and say, If people are interested in the VR area, we’d really appreciate your expertise, you’re already trained in our customer service, etc.
So, that’s a start. We got a few students that way. Then it was a lot of word of mouth, and just advertising through our standard employment protocols. We put our open jobs on the website so we got a lot of people that way. We got a good response. We had a lot of students with technical skills but less customer service, so we definitely weighed those factors a lot. We specifically said, You do not need a background in VR or gaming. You need an interest. That means those people who come in fresh like I did can learn these things as newbies and be better equipped then, to help a fellow student who comes in totally green to VR. They’ve had that experience like, Oh, yeah this can be confusing. You don’t always know how it’s working, but I’ve been there and I understand it. So, it’s a more empathic way to get people onboarded to VR.
I think that’s really important. We really value peer-to-peer teaching. A lot of our student workers in the VR spaces, and our other high-tech spaces actually deliver workshops to their peers – and to faculty, in these areas. It speaks to the way we want these spaces to be open, not just to people who are already techie, let’s say. But, we want poets in there, engineers in there. We want biologists in there, because the virtual toolset, the extended reality toolset can really be applied to anything. And, we want really, a wide variety of projects in there.
Question #5 It sounds like you have a very great way of finding the tech that is the most accessible initially, and then get people up and running on it. And not just saying you have to already know this, but have a willingness to jump in, supporting them with empathy and information, and then letting it grow. Which I think most libraries could do. So, it sounds really doable for most of us. Beyond your initial implementation and staffing how did you integrate this into existing services, and functions, and spaces? 13:19
That’s a good question, and it speaks to the thing you just mentioned, I think this is accessible to most, if not all libraries. I’ve seen some implementations where someone already has a makerspace and they’ve added a table in the corner with a VR rig. That’s a totally great way to grow it. Then as more people use it maybe it’s going to demand its own space, and then you can deal with that. It doesn’t have to be out of the gate, completely built-up and all figured out.
In terms of us integrating into other services, we needed to get people to the space. Which I said, was a little bit off our beaten path. So, that involved working with our facilities group to get signage. Sometimes I would put temporary signage up until we had permanent signage, letting our users know when we’re open, when they can come use the services, when workshops are. Some of that was easier than other things.
One interesting aspect was, we wanted to have this space have different hours than the library. We based that on our makerspace, which we found got the highest use in the afternoon to ten pm, well outside of the standard 8 to 5 hours. So, we started with that as a best guess of when we would also have the most action. And that’s proven to be, I think, that’s worked pretty well, so far.
We hadn’t had an instance of a separate reservable space that had different hours than what the building was in. So, that was a matter of talking to our scheduling team and some of our technical team to set up an instance of—the VR studio was a “building” in and of itself in the system. But, that took some back-end coding and making some systems talk to each other, which thankfully we have. I have awesome colleagues who do that stuff. I didn’t have to deal with that. But I was the point person saying, How do we want it to look? What do we want the hours to be? How do we want it to work, etc? So, that was just more of a learning curve for me.
That’s our main VR studio in Hill Library. And at the same time, we launched a smaller single workstation VR space at Hunt’s Library. In that case, I mentioned earlier we have audio recording booths. In Hunt Library we have four individual recording booths on our fourth floor. And then, what would be the fifth recording studio room is the VR room.
We already have a model for letting users in there. Someone makes the reservation for a room. They come check out a piece of equipment for the room, in this case they check out the controllers for the VR system. Then a staff member walks them up, unlocks the room, does a quick check to make sure all the tech is working and then the user can go ahead and do their work.
That was the exact same model as the music recording booths, it was just a little bit different equipment. It was tweaking the system, a little bit in that case – less of a major change than we had at Hill Library.
Sometimes it’s just a little bit of tweaking, using the same stuff as much as possible to cut down on the person time. But then when it needed to be a totally new thing we just had to dig in and get that worked on.
Question #6: Nice. So sometimes it’s new. Sometimes it’s using existing spaces. Sounds like you did some nice signage and communication with borrowers to make sure they knew what was going on and how they could get involved. Also you do some lending to borrowers, right, and teach them to physically interact with the items? How do you manage that? 17:20
That was a good challenge. And, that was also a way to get into this space before we had physical spaces. We were introducing these new items to our lending pool. And, that gets into the whole thing with the proprietary systems, each device having its own method of use and ancillary things you need like software, or apps on your phone. So it’s really particular to the device.
One example I like to cite is the Microsoft HoloLens, which is a high-end augmented reality headset that is running its own instance of Windows 10. It’s completely self-contained. You can walk around the building with it. It’s a set of—not really goggles, it’s a little headset you wear that lets you see the real world you’re in and then introduces holograms into the user’s vision.
The way you interact with the HoloLens is through hand gestures. The HoloLens has a built-in tutorial to teach you how to do the hand gestures but, the catch 22 is the first time you ever pick this thing up. How do you know how to get to the tutorial? In this case, our users who would borrow the equipment needed to know how to do that. Also, everyone on our staff who worked at the front desk needed to know how to use the device. Because, unlike some of our—well, unlike our laptops which automatically clear any user data upon restart, the HoloLens is a development level tool, or at least it was when we brought it in, so that functionality wasn’t there. So, every time it got returned we would need to go in and clear any browser data, and clear any personal data.
That meant a really good set of precise instructions that are hosted online, and are also in paper form that lend with the device. And, I also created a couple of videos to show how I’m interacting with the thing with hand gestures. But also, what I’m seeing from within the device, which is something often very difficult to see when you’re helping the user with one of these devices – to know exactly what they’re seeing in their headset.
That was probably one of the more complicated ones. In other cases we would lend a Samsung VR headset, but it was only designed to use certain Samsung phones. Not everyone on our campus, obviously, has a Samsung phone. So, we opted to lend a Samsung phone with the headset. In this case we would need to lend the phone, set to factory settings as if someone had just bought it. They would need to set up the phone as their own account. And, they would need to set up the VR related account, then they could use the headset.
Again, very complicated—doable, but it required a step-by-step guide on how to do these things. I realized when I opened that Samsung phone, having been an IPhone user myself for many years, I didn’t know how to turn the Samsung phone on. I felt kind of silly about that at the time, but then I realized I’d just never used this thing. Other people are also going to be in my same shoes, having never used this thing. I don’t want them to feel silly, especially coming into this stuff as a newbie. Whenever I make these step-by-step instructions, I always try to start very basic so that the person who is representing me knows exactly how to turn this thing on and has success right away. That’s been a personal choice of mine. I hope that’s been working well for our users.
Question #7: I’m sure it has. It sounds like it works great helping people not feel silly [laughter], that’s a good goal. You know, this is ever-changing, this environment. We have to stay nimble, and we have to stay up to speed. How do you recommend doing that, I mean, it can be a little intimidating? 21:05
One reason being, I’ve been mostly a Mac user. Still Mac, or Apple doesn’t have a dedicated—they’re most likely working on an AR kit on their own, from what it looks like, but you still can’t run most VR stuff on a Mac. So, I had to learn a lot about the PC world, which was intimidating me.
I think a lot of it is being willing to just try it. A lot of this is consumer grade equipment. When it works right you have a really good user experience. Most of our challenges have been when we try to scale it. So, be willing to try it. Do lots of restarts if you have to. The information usually is out there to troubleshoot. Sometimes that’s from a manufacturer’s site. More often, or equally as often, I’ll say it’s from a forum, user forums. Those can be frustrating to navigate. But, you can get a sense of the—even if you don’t get a concrete answer after following some forum trail, I find that I learn terminology. I learn other things to look into. And, I learn some more specific questions to ask if I need to reach out to someone with more technically mastery than I have.
That’s one thing—I try to keep up with new product releases, which are pretty frequent, just to know what’s coming down the line. They’ll be promises of some new technology that will, maybe, never manifest. Other times we’ll hear about a product for months and years. It will come out. We’ll jump on it, and get one, and see how we can use it here.
We worked pretty closely with a group on campus called Delta – Distance Education Learning Technology Applications group. They were super excited about VR, because it has the potential to bring students into a place that may be difficult to get them to physically. Let’s say, one example is doing a controlled burn for a forestry class. Maybe it’s too dangerous to have 200 students out there in a burning field, but you can set up a really great 360 camera, and get a first-person capture of that. Then people can visit that burn remotely.
They were constantly, and still are constantly, buying every device—seeing what they can do with it, pushing it. The reason I say this is I heard some stories about them getting the brand new device and “bricking” it right away. Pushing the device a little hard. Trying to do something interesting with the code and “bricking it”, meaning rendering it useless because you pushed it too far. That’s an extreme case. We obviously don’t want to do that very much. But being willing to get in there and mess with it, and see what it can do. Now they’re really pushing the limits of that. Most people aren’t going to do that. Maybe [laughter] that’s a bad example.
Really, we just need to get in there and try and see what they can do. Granted it’s intimidating, as I said. It was intimidating to me. But when I get in there, sometimes bang my head against the wall a little bit, get those successes, it feels good.
Question #8: Absolutely. I like that. I like that idea just pushing ourselves into this a little bit and seeing where we end up, it’s great. Is there anything else you’d like to add? 24:29
Mostly that like other things in the library world, it changes a lot. We’re already looking at new models of lending equipment. Having it used in specialized spaces rather than having the space built up to support the thing. So, maybe somebody checks out one of these more mobile headsets that don’t need a tower computer. But, they’re still going to use it in a library space so they’re supported by our staff and expertise.
Really, I just think there’s tons of potential with this stuff. The more people that are looking at it, using it in libraries, the better.
Question #9: Do you have a favorite book or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why? 25:05
I’ve been thinking about this and I can’t think of anything. I think the leadership that I’ve learned from over my various jobs and careers has been more organic. I grew up working on construction crews. I grew up in Scout troops, and playing in bands. A lot of those times there isn’t necessarily—well, on a construction site there’s a leader, but generally, and maybe this isn’t across the board. But the crews I worked on, often the video crews I’ve worked on where there was a director—ideas from any level in the organization are really encouraged.
On a construction site, probably everybody wants to get things officially done, is the ultimate goal of completing a project. When someone not in a leadership role, technically, has a good idea I would see that idea encouraged, and maybe utilized for the greater good. I really like that environment, similar to a band environment, or a production environment. If you can create an efficiency, it’s valued. I think being open to taking ideas from anywhere in the organization can really benefit that organization.
Question #10: In closing, what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 26:33
Being a librarian means being there for your users, and being ready to serve their needs that they present with. But also, anticipating further needs that they don’t know about, or they don’t know how to say, that they don’t realize they need yet. There’s a fine line there. You don’t want to be pushing too much on them.
Maybe it’s a student coming up for the first time needing reference help for a paper. In that interaction I want to get them some usable resources that they can grasp and do their work quickly with. But, I also want them to see a little bit more about how to get to those resources. Even more importantly, that I and my colleagues are there to help them do that. There’s a big aspect of service to that, which is important to me. Not prescribing what I think the user needs, but reacting to what they need at that moment.
It sounds like you’re doing that on many levels in your organization. It has been so great to have you on the show today, Pete. Thanks for sharing all this information with us. We have a lot to think about.
Thank you so much for having me, it’s been great.
You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at https://libraryleadershippodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.