Ever since I first heard about the SCARLET project I’ve been fascinated. There’s something distinctly “Dr. Who” about combining augmented reality technologies with historic artefacts.
As an information professional, there are many things that appeal to me about this project. I like the fact that it’s about people using their smart phones/tablets to research. The number of people using smart phones etc. is growing exponentially. Mimas has recently questioned focus groups on their use of mobile devices for research. It was similar to research we did in 2009. In only 2 years, the landscape has completely changed. In 2009 hardly anyone was using their phones for research – ‘they were too flaky’ but in 2011 ‘even my mum has a smart phone’.
So researchers are using smart phones and tablets to do their research and the SCARLET project is taking advantage of this. Increasingly researchers want online materials. No matter what we say, or how many sessions we teach explaining about the benefits of using primary source materials, they want online access to ‘stuff’…and they want it NOW. SCARLET allows researchers to view primary sources online whilst still giving them a sense of the real item. It allows them to examine the item in context. Something which is often lost when something is simply digitised.
Through SCARLET, researchers are introduced to primary source materials. These are researchers, who possibly wouldn’t have used them ordinarily. It could mean that as they are shown the value of primary source materials for their study, that they are more likely to visit an archive at a later date. It seems to me that there is a real opportunity to engage with new audiences here.
I think that the project could help archivists in a variety of ways, not just uncovering previously hidden treasures and showing their value. It could help provide an impetus to get collections digitised. It could be such great advertising for the collection that archivists are then able to get funding or projects started to digitise. Materials that are digitised then get more use, whilst simultaneously preserving the integrity of the original artefact. After all, some materials are incredibly fragile and this would mean fewer hands (albeit probably gloved) touching the item.
I really like the fact that the project is driven by learning and teaching rather than being technology driven. It makes it easier for archivists, particularly those in higher education, to get buy-in from their teaching staff. With my training hat on, I can see that offering different ways into collections, other than the normal route can appeal to different learning styles, and offers researchers more choices. This means a wider number of people could come into contact with primary source materials. All of this, as well as tapping into the new expectations from the so-called ‘google generation’ or next generation of researchers.
SCARLET is going to create a toolkit so that others can create similar applications using the project’s experiences and expertise. Archives and archivists don’t always have the resources that are available to other institutions, so it will allow archivists who aren’t necessarily particularly techie to create something fantastic that might allow them to reach a whole new audience.
It really is a brave new world. So, go on. Why don’t you have a go? What would Amy Pond do?
Lisa Jeskins, Archives Hub.