Reimagining Traditional Knowledge Sharing
How will traditional forms of knowledge sharing look ten years in the future? How will information access evolve as technology dominates our third space?
Library of the Ancients restructures our relationship with and access to information through a virtual reality library containing procedurally-generated texts.
The library currently holds over 5000 texts in multiple languages from Project Gutenberg. Its creation is part of an ongoing team project aimed at democratizing knowledge through emerging technologies.
September 2019 — January 2020
Unreal Engine 4
Niagara Visual Effects
HOW DO WE MAKE INFORMATION
I define accessibility as the practice of making a service usable to as many different types of people as possible. I like to emphasize the aspect of engaging different types of users as opposed to the highest number of users; occasionally, designers will make tradeoffs that exclude minority populations in favor of widely appealing but inaccessible features.
Accessibility can be sliced several ways, but let's consider the following three categories shown at the right.
One of the most groundbreaking advances in information accessibility was the Gutenberg printing press, which allowed rapid reproduction of short texts that proliferated across Europe. I reference the Gutenberg printing press because it exhibits all three pillars of information accessibility; maintaining the familiar medium of paper-based text facilitated functionality accessibility, the machine's bias towards shorter articles with simpler diction facilitated technical accessibility, and the promise of bridging readers across linguistic and geopolitical gaps facilitated emotional accessibility.
Gutenberg's success offers an important lesson on information accessibility; we can increase information accessibility by expanding the distribution of information rather than the way it is consummed.
The Library of the Ancients team elected to develop a virtual reality experience specifically for the platform's ability to replicate object manipulations and native hand gestures. Hence, we may overcome the physical limitations of traditional forms of knowledge sharing—such as printing and shipping books—while maintaining familiar modes of interaction.
Does the user easily understand the product's usages?
Can the user execute relevant tasks with this product?
Does the user feel invited to use the product?
HOW DO WE MAKE A MORE IMMERSIVE METHOD OF ACQUIRING INFORMATION?
What We Can Learn About Learning
The digital age has cultivated a plethora of ways to consume information—e-readers, mobile phones, tablets, computer screens—yet, books and printed media have remained as the preferred method of learning. The physicality of paper, combined with its low cognitive load, garner higher retention rates, greater focus, and deeper immersive states than electronic media.
Book Model in Blender
A Side Note
Many of the benefits of reading printed text can be attributed to sensory congruence between the kinesthetics of paper and our interpretation of text as physical objects. Check out Ferris Jabr's article on reading screens.
Optimizing Books for VR
To translate the benefits of reading printed text for VR, I modeled and rigged a book model that responds to natural gestures, such as page turns and closing the covers.
Once removed from its place on the shelf, the book will trigger a pull request to copy text from the Project Gutenberg webpage, which decreases rendering time by configuring text procedurally.
Information acquisition is often ceremonalized, meaning that it often occurs in a specific context. Think about libraries, classrooms, or perhaps even the specific chair you sit in while reading the morning news at breakfast. Ceremonalization also increases retention. It's the same reason why you shouldn't use your phone in bed; contexts can prime our brain for certain activities. If you're hoping to learn, try to avoid the space where you're supposed to be catching some z's.
We chose to display our books in a virtual library to familiarize users to their environment.
Library of the Ancient's first showing at the University of Chicago Media Arts, Data, and Design Center
NPCs & Emotional Accessibility
The limited physical space of users compared to the vastness of the library environment necessitated an NPC librarian to access books across the full virtual space. NPCs can serve as an important factor in garnering a user's emotional investment; however, Eurocentric or humanoid-appearing NPCs can isolate certain populations. I modeled Libri, the NPC librarian, after Navi, the mischevious fairy companion of the Legend of Zelda series, as her non-human yet familar form invites emotional connection.
All of the below barks are accompanied by subtitles available in five languages to accommodate players with hearing loss.
Triggers & Barks
Player looks at Libri "Need something?"
Player requests book "I'm on it!"
After receiving book "Here ya go!"
Player ignores Libri "Hey, listen!"
Player exits "Goodbye, friend!"
Blender Render of Libri
HOW CAN WE MAKE USER INTERACTIONS MORE INTUITIVE?
Though I left the Library of the Ancients team in January, 2020, I have since had the fortune of delving deeper into designing VR environments with a focus on accessibility. I am looking back on this project in August, 2021, more than a year after my college lecture halls transformed into my childhood bedroom walls due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I view Library of the Ancients with a great sense of optimism, and I hope to see educators adapt more immersive and accessible learning schemes in place of traditional classroom environments.
What I Would Do Differently
We chose Times New Roman as our typeface due to its support for multiple languages. However, Arial facilitates greater readability for individuals with vision impairement.
Our current input scheme utilizes the trigger button on the HTC VIVE controller for all interactions with books. Replacing the controllers with hand tracking may allow for more intuitive controls using native hand gestures.
The tactile sensation of books in readers' hands causes greater retention rates. Combining hand tracking with haptic gloves may confer the cognitive benefits of reader more than haptic-free controllers.