Aims & Objectives
Beginning in 2018 the Research Support team led a requirements gathering exercise, clarifying the practical requirements for the library-as-laboratory idea. The wider aims and objectives of this exercise were:
- Assess current level and nature of interest in conducting non-traditional, hands-on research within the new library building. This assessment to be focused on academic researchers and research post-graduates
- Gauge likely near-future levels of interest in same groups
- Establish what kinds of support the Library service could realistically offer, balanced with other operational priorities
- Visit research institutions to see how they’ve chosen to meet similar requirements
- Identify space requirements to support this – this is where we are at time of writing
- Quantify ongoing staff and equipment costs
Several different areas emerged as being of interest to our researchers and research students; for example, network analysis and text mining. However, this case study will focus on one particular area of unexpected interest, one which has implications for us as we build our new library; the creation, use and sharing of digital 3D information.
We began with a desk-based survey of work done so far. The most fruitful document was a survey completed by 42 Arts Faculty researchers in 2017. The aim of this survey was to determine what new kinds of training the library could offer researchers, particularly around new research technologies. Among the most popular topics was the digitisation of 3D objects.
The Research Support Team implemented new training as a result of the survey and since 2017 we’ve offered regular hands-on workshops in both 2D and 3D digitisation and attendance has always been strong.
With the aim of gathering more data, in early 2018 we began a series of drop-in sessions around campus. These took the 2017 survey as a starting point and allowed us to actually demonstrated many of the technologies which appeared to be of interest to our researchers.
The 3D tool sand technologies we demonstrated were;
- Structured light 3D scanners
- Digital 3D models produced via photogrammetry
- 3D prints and a 3D printer
- A 360 degree, stereoscopic video camera, the Insta360 Pro. 360 degree video had been linked to VR in the 2017 survey
- VR headsets showing both 360 videos and digital 3D games with a research focus
- A holographic monitor (the Looking Glass by the Looking Glass Factory)
These events were aimed at both academic staff and research students although precisely who was invited was left to administrative staff at school level. We also put up posters advertising each event, and anyone was welcome to attend.
Our aim was to have each attendee complete a brief survey concerning their own current and predicted use of these techniques and technologies and to what degree they would like the library to support this use. The survey also left room for other suggestions.
We had 53 responses, though further events have not been ruled out. Without exception, reaction was positive. One might criticise that the audience for these kind of sessions is self-determining. However, we did learn that most attendees did not currently use any of the tools and techniques on display but rather, they indicated that they would like to. Some surprises where;
- A truly cross-discipline interest from within the Arts and Social Sciences faculties
- An interest in 3D motion capture (of human movement) emerged, principally from Drama. We’d not considered this before
- Questions over digital 3D content as part of the standard library stock were raised. E.g. library access to VR games or 360 video programmes
Point 2 above raises an interesting challenge; that of balancing faculty vs. library provision.
Many of our academic faculties have specialist facilities for creating and processing 3D data (Medicine’s Micro-CT scanners for example). On the other hand, providing access to information is core business for us an an academic library, whether that information be on paper, online, audiovisual or three-dimensional.
We’ve approached this pragmatically and in discussion with the faculties concerned and have so far managed to agree who should provide what in order to avoid both gaps in provision and needless repetition.
For example, we knew our Paleobiology Department were frequent users of 3D scanning equipment and, after discussion, the library has jointly purchased two Artec scanners (a Space Spider and an EVA) which are now considered to be jointly owned by Paleobiology and the Library Services. The scanners can be accessed by both library users and Paleobiology staff and students. Demand has not been so high that booking problems have occurred.
After several useful visits to other research organisations; most notably Edinburgh University and Exeter Digital Humanities Lab, we’re now in the process of making decisions based on the information we’ve gathered.
Despite their broad research aims, we’ve been able to define a set of digital 3D activities which are of interest to our researchers. They are:
- Topographical 3D scanning of tabletop-scale objects
- Topographical 3D scanning of larger than tabletop-scale objects, this to include truly portable equipment for architectural and archeological field work
- Capture of 3D human motion
- Building digital 3D models from scratch or enhancing 3D scans or motion capture data using computer graphics applications
- Taking 3D assets and adding interactivity, often achieved using an off-the-shelf game engine
- Packaging 3D scans for delivery via a specific platform
- Delivery of 3D data, including but not limited to; in-browser, VR headset, AR headset, CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) projections and 3D prints
- Not truly 3D, but there is also a clear interest in stereoscopic, 360 degree immersive video, especially when coupled with VR as a delivery mechanism
Our aim is to build a facility which will support these. The new types of spaces we believe are needed are adaptable, have controllable lighting and be as large as as we can make them. Areas with benches will support table-top work while open plan areas will be used for large-scale 3D scanning, VR and motion capture. These spaces will be located predominantly within the maker space but other parts of the library will also play a part. For example, the new Cultural Collections area will have it’s own 3D scanning area and a new exhibition space will support group VR.
We’re not yet at the stage of producing a detailed breakdown of running costs but we recognise the need for new technical support staff, as well as some changes to the duties of current front-of-house library staff. We also acknowledge the need for ongoing investment in equipment as the technologies we’ve chosen to support evolve rapidly and become out of date quickly.
The range of research activities we’ve identified which involve the creation, use or dissemination of 3D content has been immense; from digital anasylosis within Archeology to 3D printing life-sized Czechoslovakian landmines in History. Identifying exactly how 3D tools and techniques will be used within research has proven not only impossible but counterproductive since we actively encourage innovative uses. Fortunately, we have found that we’ve been able to make progress without prescribing how we expect our new facilities to be used.
Lessons for other organisations, RLUK work
- Our expectation that disciplines such as Archaeology would have a high degree of interest in digital 3D while disciplines such as Philosophy would not, has proved largely unfounded
- Investing in this area has benefited our in-house cultural collections. 3D scanning has offered us an important way to maximize the potential of artifacts, costumes and physical models
- As the research support team, research has been our focus, but most of what we’ve established and achieved is relevant to teaching and learning uses of digital 3D
- Much of the work we’ve been doing has been reactive but there is a proactive element. We hope that if we build inspiring research spaces, inspiring research will follow
- We’ve no reason to believe the needs of our researchers differ greatly from the needs of researchers in other research institutions so we’d like to see RLUK facilitate a network of 3D centres. This would may have benefits, for example when purchasing kit and authoring shared training materials. This might be achieved as part of the Digital Scholarship Network.
Stephen Gray, Head of Research Support, University of Bristol