Shelf Reading: A Thing of the Past?

| April 5, 2011

This semester, I’ve been celebrating the end of each week with an hours-long Friday morning shelf reading session here at the TC library. For the uninitiated, shelf reading is the tedious process of checking each and every book on the shelf, one by one, to verify that they are in order. It’s fairly mind-numbing. So, of course I was interested when my supervisor here at the library kindly forwarded me this video:

Awesome Augmented Reality App Could Save Librarians Hours

Miami University’s Augmented Reality Research Group has developed an Android app that can “look” at a shelf of specially-tagged books and determine whether any of them is out of its proper place in the call number ordering. The app provides this information to the shelf reader by projecting a green check mark onto books in the right place and a red X mark onto any misplaced books. In a glance, the shelf reader can tell which books are out of order, rather than having to read down the shelf, book by book.

There are a few downsides, though. It looks like the app requires that the books be labeled with a special tag – and retagging a library’s worth of books might take more additional labor than the shelf reading app would save. Also, whereas a human shelf reader can fairly easily read a tag wrapped around the spine of even a very thin book, the app needs enough of the label to be showing for it to scan properly. Many of our children’s books are quite thin, so they would have problems being scanned by the app. This is particularly unfortunate because the children’s sections are the ones that become the most disorganized and which are often most in need of shelf reading, because patrons browse through these sections more than the sections of academic books in the stacks.

So, there are some limitations to the app, and transitioning to a system supporting it would be quite a job. Shelf reading isn’t quite yet a thing of the past. But hopefully, as libraries are newly constructed or overhauled, technologies such as this one will make sense to adopt gradually.