Exploring the Future of 3D Technology & Virtual Reality in the Academic Library

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Authors Zack Lischer-Katz, Kristina Golubiewski-Davis, Jennifer Grayburn, and Veronica Ikeshoji-Orlati discuss the future of 3D printing and virtual reality in libraries around the world, outlining their findings in ‘3D/VR in the Academic Library: Emerging Practices & Trends.’ Their report is important as it gives us an exceptional look into how progressive tools are being used in research, teaching, and for preservation of data in libraries too.

3D printing is being used in educational systems around the world today for a variety of different types of classwork and ongoing works, but also in the cataloguing and archiving of artifacts and relics—more commonly in higher education. As accessibility and affordability continue to make the technology easier for schools on all levels to attain—along with libraries and museums—campuses and labs are opened to a more expansive world, without even leaving the building. This is especially true with the re-emergence of virtual reality.

“With 3D and VR technology, a professor may take students on an immersive field trip to Stonehenge, changing the lighting to simulate various phases of solar events; an archaeologist may capture 3D scans of an archaeological excavation and share these data with a colleague on the other side of the world in the form of an immersive virtual exploration of the site; a biochemistry professor may explore complex protein structures with students; or a chemical engineer may simulate the movement of fluids in various porous rock materials,” state the researchers.

Due to the applicability of many different fields, many libraries are now also sites for research and experimentation with 3D scanning and printing and virtual reality. 3D technology and virtual reality have also opened a multitude of new avenues within the humanities, to include specialized areas like medieval manuscripts, and has also made cultural sites more available to the public though a ‘3D digital heritage ecosystem.’

This report also discusses information from eight essays presented from talks regarding 3D/VR Creation and Curation in Higher Education: A Colloquium to Explore Standards and Best Practices, a mini-conference held at the Bizzell Library at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma from March 8-9 of 2018.

“Although the primary focus on 3D/ VR was intentionally narrow in order to maintain a small, intimate group, many of the issues that arose also apply to other immersive technologies, including augmented reality (AR), mixed reality (MR), and extended reality (XR),” stated the authors.

The essays include:

  • Collaborative and Lab-Based Approaches to 3D and AR/VR in the Humanities by Victoria Szabo, offering a lab-based model from Duke University, presenting a common topic or theme to discover shared goals between invested departments and stakeholders, including libraries.
  • From the University of Virginia, Will Rourk explores the differences between 3D models and 3D data in 3D Cultural Heritage Informatics: Applications to 3D Data Curation. Rourk introduces 3D technology and scholarly outputs regarding 3D data, 3D prints, VR experiences, animation, open-access models, and more.
  • In Virtual Reality for Preservation: Production of Virtual Reality Heritage Spaces in the Classroom, Zebulun M. Wood, Albert William, and Andrea Copeland discuss the uses of 3D technology and VR in the classroom, using the Media Arts and Sciences classroom at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) as a collaborative space to build their Virtual Bethel project. They combine research, community information, 3D data capture, and more—while discussing the skills of their students, group dynamics, and more.
  • Using 3D Photogrammetry to Create Open-Access Models of Live Animals: 2D and 3D Software Solutions, presented by Jeremy A. Bot and Duncan J. Irschick, discuss the importance of animated 3D models of animals. The researchers, hailing from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst created new methods of capturing 3D data from animals such as frogs, sharks, and other animals.
  • What Happens When You Share 3D Models Online (In 3D) focuses on the broader dissemination of 3D models online through webGL and WebVR. Thomas Flynn discusses how colleges and libraries use Sketchfab to share and sell 3D content and expand to new audiences and customers. Along with this, he focuses on the accessibility for sharing and embedding data, connecting new and old audiences.
  • Building for Tomorrow: Collaborative Development of Sustainable Infrastructure for Architectural and Design Documentation, by Ann Baird Whiteside, discussed work being created at Harvard University Library’s Building for Tomorrow project, focusing on preservation, curation, and digital archiving.
  • 3D/VR Preservation: Drawing on a Common Agenda for Collective Impact discusses Jessica Meyerson’s Software Preservation Network, applicable to both curating and preserving 3D and VR software for posterity. She points out three challenges in curating 3D data: scale, standards and interoperability, and software and hardware dependence. Meyerson sees the need for a ‘collective impact approach.’
  • In CS3DP: Developing Agreement for 3D Standards and Practices Based on Community Needs and Values, Jennifer Moore, Adam Rountrey, and Hannah Scates Kettler discuss current projects regarding 3D/VR challenges, and ‘gaps’ in the projects that need to be examined further. They are extremely active as a group (CS3DP) in attempting to develop ‘standards and best practices’ within technologies like 3D and VR.

“Across these eight essays, three critical approaches that librarians and digital curators need to address as they use 3D/VR to support their communities are represented: (1) treat the academic outputs that use 3D/VR as scholarly products; (2) build a 3D/VR scholarly community to support knowledge exchange across a range of stakeholder groups; and (3) develop technical tools, training, and infrastructure to support a 3D/VR research ecosystem,” state the authors.

Collect, Care, Conserve,
Curate: The Life of the Art Object exhibit

They also suggest that the following should be considered:

  • 3D/VR to be treated as scholarly products
  • 3D/VR scholarly communities should be built
  • More technical tools should be created to support a 3D/VR ecosystem

The authors emphasize how vital this glimpse is into the ways 3D and VR are being used currently in academic capacities—and how supporting them ‘furthers the mission of academic libraries. Currently, there are many different considerations for librarians to consider and learn more about, as they ‘shepherd novel 3D/VR technologies into their institutions.’

“The great diversity in the range of stakeholders involved complicates the development of comprehensive technical tools. One of the benefits of the CLIR 3D/VR colloquium was that it not only brought together a diverse range of stakeholder groups and enabled knowledge sharing across often-siloed groups, but also helped to identify stakeholder groups that the planning committee had not identified before the 3D/VR discussion,” conclude the authors.

While 3D printing is emerging in libraries as a significant way to preserve data, it also spans many other cultural institutions determined to maintain a hold on history, some of it quite ancient—from scanning archaeological artifacts to printed replicas that museum-goers can touch, to making 3D copies available to the public for download.

What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

Stages of 3D data processing from point cloud to mesh

[Source / Images: ‘3D/VR in the Academic Library: Emerging Practices & Trends’]
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