Discovering an Insomniac’s London, a Boundless Library and a Cult of Beauty with My iPad

In January, I took Roger’s advice and bought an iPad 2.  Since then, I’ve been getting to know my sleek black rectangle and learning how librarians can use it to help people uncover information.

My discovery began when I read “Mobile Information Literacy: Let’s Use An App for That!,” an article by Stefanie Havelka and Alevtina Verbovetskaya in the January 2012 issue of C&RL News.

“…We think it’s time for librarians to take mobile sites and apps seriously,” these two librarians at Lehman College wrote. “We need to know which free apps are trustworthy, and then recommend them to our patrons…Who, if not librarians, should recommend the right apps to our users? We can apply the same collection development skills we use when evaluating ‘traditional’ resources to determine which apps or sites are authoritative, and then recommend the best ones to our users. This process is really no different from what we’ve already been doing for years. The only difference is the platform on which these resources are available.”

I’ve also been observing how librarians are increasing their ability to respond to an increasing demand for mobile-enabled collections and services. In “Using the iPad for Reference Services: Librarians Go Mobile,” an article in the April 2011 issue of C&RL News, Megan Lotts and Stephanie Graves outline their library’s experiences acquiring three 32GB, Wi-Fi only iPads that nine reference librarians share for roving reference. Each named after a variety of apple — Fuji, Pink Lady, and Red Delicious — the iPads have increased these Southern Illinois University-Carbondale librarians’ exposure to mobile technology.

But the most helpful exercise in realizing the iPad’s role in information discovery has been taking “There’s An App for That: Libraries and Mobile Applications,” an online learning course from Infopeople, a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) project that provides training programs through the California State Library. In the course, I became familiar with apps for reading, productivity, reference, creativity, and specialized fields like medicine and law.

In addition, I learned mobile terms like “jailbreaking,” “tethering” and “capacitive touches.” I posted my thoughts on how reading habits have changed over the last ten years and what I anticipate for the future of reading. Most beneficial of all, I acquired a new skill: writing reviews of apps.

When the focus of the class turned to making libraries mobile, I was introduced to responsive web design and “mobile first” design methodology. Comparing the Worthington Libraries mobile website and its new mobile app showed me two new ways that my neighborhood library is using emerging technologies to deliver excellent service to patrons. An online class meeting showed me how easy it is to develop a mobile site with Springshare’s Mobile Site Builder, an add-on module within Libguides, a resource libraries use to create research guides, course guides, and full websites.

Assignments included writing in-depth and comparison reviews of several different types of apps. These exercises provided the perfect opportunity to spend more time exploring the Martha Stewart Living Magazine for iPad, which offers the same inspiring ideas for cooking, crafting, decorating, and collection that the print version of each magazine does, but with interactive extras like how-to videos and behind-the-scenes footage from photo shoots. Discovering the Merriam –Webster Dictionary HD app not only taught me definitions for recently coined words like “crowdsourcing” and “robocall,” but also is expanding my vocabulary through my taps on the app’s “Word of the Day” feature.

This was also my chance to spend time with “Dickens: Dark London,” an app that the Museum of London has developed to coincide with an exhibit I’d love to see.

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Charles Dickens, an exhibition at the Museum of London recreates the atmosphere of Victorian London to show how the city inspired Dickens’ writing.

“Dickens and London” presents paintings, photographs, costumes and objects to illustrate themes — such as poverty, childhood mortality, and prostitution — that Dickens incorporated into his works. Highlights of the exhibition include manuscripts written in Dickens’ own hand and a specially commissioned film that explores the similarities between London after dark today and Dickens’ descriptions of the city at night-time. The exhibition runs through June 10, 2012.

To coincide with the exhibition, the Museum of London is offering an iPhone and iPad app that takes users on a journey through the city that Dickens knew. Since Dickens was an insomniac who roamed the streets for inspiration, the app follows Dickens on his night walks of London.

Illustration by David Foldvari from the Dickens: Dark London app, courtesy of the Museum of London

The app takes the form of a graphic novel. David Foldvari provides illustrations in an inky, distinctive style. Mark Strong, an actor in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” narrates accompanying audio for the app. Bonus material features illustrated excerpts of some of Dickens’ most famous novels.

Just as Dickens released his own writings in serial form, Dickens: Dark London will be published monthly throughout the run of the exhibition. Compiled from a selection of short stories featured in Sketches By Boz, the editions of the app will be brought together on an 1862 map of London, overlaid on a modern satellite map of the city, allowing users to make then-and-now comparisons of the city.

Stamfords 1862 map of London, with the location of Edition 1 (“Seven Dials”) marked, courtesy of the Museum of London

An animated sequence of falling rain and an eerie, dark background of the city set the stage for the app. From the first screen, users can choose to learn more about the exhibition, see the map, and access five different editions of the graphic novel.

“Seven Dials” (with a bonus section titled “The Fog”), “Newgate Prison” and “Gin Shop” are available now; “The Streets” and “The Pawnbrokers” will be released soon. As I read “Seven Dials,” I learned about “The Dials,” a notorious London slum where seven obscure passages led to overcrowded streets and courts, populated with disease and poverty-stricken people.

Red hotspots on the illustrations provide links to extra content about important topics of Dickens’ day, such as how disease spread through miasma, or air-borne pollution; child poverty; overcrowding; and “the baked-jemmy,” which refers to either a baked sheep’s head or a short crowbar often carried by burglars. Other hotspots provide instruction in how to recognize social class by clothing and Irish immigrants in London. Period illustrations from the Museum of London’s collection provide archival context for the information. Kate Rosser Frost, senior press officer at the Museum of London, shared these illustrations from the app with me. One is the work of David Foldvari; the other is Stamfords 1862 map of London, with the location of Edition 1 (“Seven Dials”) marked on it.

Two more iPad apps have proven to be irresistible information-discovery tools. First is “The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement, 1860-1900,” the Victoria & Albert Museum’s first iPad app that complements the exhibition of the same name. In addition to providing information about objects in the exhibition that were created by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, the app contains the audioguide to the exhibition, narrated by Rupert Everett. A walking tour of Aesthetic Chelsea features exclusive maps and photographs of the area, performances of poems by William Morris and the Rossettis, and audiographs of key Aesthetic women like poet Elizabeth Siddal, model Jane Morris and actress Ellen Terry.

Next is “Biblion: The Boundless Library”, the New York Public Library’s free app that explores documents, images, films, audio and essays from the library’s best collections. Apple selected Biblion as a top iPad app of 2011 for the Education Category and Wired magazine named it one of its “Outstanding Apps for Readers.” The first edition of Biblion highlighted one of the library’s best archival collections: the official corporate records of the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair. The next edition of Biblion, to be released this spring, is “Outsiders: The Afterlife of Shelley and Frankenstein.” The edition complements the library’s current exhibition, “Shelley’s Ghost: The Afterlife of a Poet,” which uncovers the legacy of Percy Bysshe Shelley, his wife, Mary, and her parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. New social media features will encourage conversation among those who download the app.

This entry was posted in Art, Books, England, History, Libraries, Museums, Special Collections. Bookmark the permalink.

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