Geotagging Digital Collections: Beaver Tracks Mobile Project

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BeaverTracks Historical Locations and Walking Tour is a mobile project at Oregon State University (OSU), where I serve as programmer/analyst. It connects the past to the present by linking historic images to current campus locations. The goal of BeaverTracks is to showcase and bring attention to OSU Libraries' digital collections as well as to provide a new approach for connecting with current students, staff, parents, alumni, and the local community.

Using selected mobile devices, users can find up to 22 OSU historical sites by searching for a location, viewing the locations on a map, or browsing a list of names. At each of the locations, users can get a brief history and browse a catalog of historic images. For example, when standing in front of the newly renovated Kearney Hall, users will learn that the building opened its doors in 1900 and was built on the site of Mechanical Hall, which was destroyed by a fire in 1898. BeaverTracks provides photos of the original building, the destroyed shell after the fire, and the building that replaced it.

BeaverTracks draws its images from collections housed in the University Archives and hosted on the OSU Archives' Flickr photostream. In 2009, OSU Archives became the first university archives in the nation to participate in The Commons on Flickr, an online project aimed at increasing access to important, publicly held photography collections around the world.

Depending on the mobile device, users can also take a historic walking tour of the campus. Using a mobile device's signal and GPS data, the interactive walking tour finds historical locations near the user and plots the directions to them on a map.

BeaverTracks is the latest in a long line of mobile innovations that OSU Libraries is introducing to adapt to the changing needs of users. The mobile web is the next step for libraries in providing universal access to resources such as digital collections. Mobile applications can increase the discoverability of online collections and provide an engaging method for delivering them to patrons.

Self-Guided Tours Through Mobile Apps

Serendipitous exploration and discovery are common goals that cultural heritage institutions share. Cultural centers, historical societies, and other organizations have been using everything from roadside plaques, self-guided phone tours, and 360 degree webcams to inform and educate visitors. Mobile applications, particularly augmented reality, are becoming widely used to provide insitu learning experiences. In-situ learning is a teaching pedagogy that believes meaningful learning will only take place if it is embedded in the social and physical context within which it will be used.

Cultural heritage institutions have been using different types of technologies to provide in-situ learning in the form of self-guided tours of physical collections for several decades. Museum services have evolved with the technology: Early self-guided tours used headphones and tape players, shifted to providing iPod rentals with exhibition-specific podcasts, and now provide similar information through mobile device applications and other innovative means. The following are examples of mobile apps that museums from around the world are creating.

The Brooklyn Museum was an early iPhone app developer and created an application that informs and engages visitors with games, browsable collections, exhibitions, special events, and social features that enable users to recommend their favorite art to other visitors, for example (http://itunes.ap ple.com/us/app/brooklyn-museum-mo bile/id378356586?mt=8).

The Smithsonian Institution has a handful of apps and mobile websites, such as the iPhone apps MEanderthal, which morphs an image into a Neanderthal, and Infinity of Nations, which is a guide to the exhibitions "representing the length and breadth of the Americas." There are also mobile sites such as the National Air and Space Museum site, the National Postal Museum site, and many others that offer information about hours, exhibits, artists, podcasts, and virtual tours of the museums (for a complete list and links see www. …