Augmented reality app for librarians instantly shows which books are misfiled

E-books, iPads and Kindles may be the way of the future, but most of the world's knowledge is still stored in millions of good old paper books on library shelves.

So researchers at Miami University have created an augmented reality app that makes all those books easier to organize. ShelvAR instantly analyzes an entire shelf, spots any misplaced books, and shows librarians the quickest way to put the books back in order.


ShelvAR consists of an Android app and a set of coded tags, representing call numbers, that are placed on books' spines. When a librarian holds a smartphone or tablet camera up to a shelf, the app reads all the tags at once, thanks to a new algorithm that can decipher multiple patterns even though they're small when viewed at a distance. Then the app uses a simple sorting method-at least for computers, which aren't fazed by complex letter-digit combos like Q164 .G72 2009—to figure out the correct order and the shortest number of moves needed to achieve it. The phone's screen displays red X's over any misfiled books, along with arrows that show where they really belong.

The prototype app, built by computer science professor Bo Brinkman and research assistant Matt Hodges, has successfully analyzed a dozen books with half-inch tags. The team is now working on scaling up to 75 to 150 quarter-inch-thin books, so that they can scan a full shelf in one shot, and in December, they'll test the app in part of the university library. Adding ShelvAR tags could save libraries time and money in the long run, since workers now do frequent shelf checks by hand.


If all goes well, a beta version of ShelvAR will be released next spring. Librarians are already envisioning other uses for the technology, Brinkmann tells us, such as displaying a star rating over recommended books or helping lost students find the book they're looking for.

This post originally appeared on Popular Science.

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My boss and I were talking about this a week ago. It's an ok idea, but a lot of people have already created very similar stuff. This one requires a label on the spin, which is not ideal because there are many books with spins far to narrow for the label. Other systems use a chip in the book that doesn't need to be visible.

But in the end they all have the same problem, the time it takes to put them in/on books. We have somewhere upwards of 2 million books in our library. It's just not possible to get books a new tag/label anytime in the near future. Sure, if you have a little one room library, no problem, but I bet doing inventories of those collections is pretty simple to begin with. But with six floors of books, 30-70 ranges of shelves on each floor, lots of bigger libraries just have to deal with the fact that we'll have books out of order.

Now if it could just access your catalog and read your call numbers that would be worth while, but that is probably a few years away.