University of British Columbia (UBC) Library’s First Folio Gets Interactive with Shakespeare xR
From the UBC Library:
How do you provide public access to an exceptionally rare and fragile volume like UBC’s First Folio?
Published in 1623, the first edition of William Shakespeare’s Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies has stood the test of time, passing through countless hands over the centuries to become a tangible piece of human history. When UBC Library announced its acquisition of a First Folio in January 2022, it came with a mandate to ensure public access to the text.
“Dr. Patrick Pennefather was a key member of the team who worked to bring the First Folio of Shakespeare to UBC. His vision for developing digitization projects that explore emerging technologies like AI, augmented and virtual reality has presented the Library with the opportunity to develop new partnerships, in our effort to provide unprecedented public access to the First Folio,” says Katherine Kalsbeek, Head of Rare Books and Special Collections. In particular, collaborating with UBC’s Department of Theatre and Film, and the Emerging Media Lab at UBC, the library developed an ambitious digital media plan.
Later that year, UBC Library released a digitized version of the Folio on UBC Open Collections, making the rare volume openly accessible to researchers around the world and the public at large. While the process to digitize the First Folio took more than a year, it was well worth the wait as the digital First Folio has already been viewed thousands of times online. But this 2D digitization was only the first step in a larger plan.
Shakespeare xR is the culmination of these discussions, an Emerging Media Lab project that wrapped in August 2023, led by Dr. Pennefather and his student team. The project “reimagines some of Shakespeare’s classic characters taken from Shakespeare’s First Folio across different technological media” such as web-based AR, AI and an interactive touch table. Using the 2D scanned files created by the UBC Library Digitization Centre team, part of the Shakespeare xR project focused on integrating these scans into an interactive touch table.
The biggest challenge, says Dr. Pennefather, in translating the 2D text images into a 3D digital experience was file size and optimizing the user experience.
“How do we reduce the size [of the scans], but make it readable on the touch table? It’s a big challenge because we had to make sure that people can see the annotations,” says Dr. Pennefather. “We have to be able to make some difficult decisions sometimes to ensure that we are optimizing this book for digital.”
In consultation with faculty in the UBC Department of English Language and Literatures, Dr. Pennefather’s team struck a balance between retaining key details in the text while creating an optimal user experience.
The touch table will be installed on campus in the coming months, and meanwhile, Dr. Pennefather says his team has been working on refining the Folio for the touchtable. Some of the scanned pages of the Folio have not been able to be integrated within the touchtable and so a next phase of development will include securing those pages from other digitized libraries of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
About Gary Price
Gary Price (email@example.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. He earned his MLIS degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Price has won several awards including the SLA Innovations in Technology Award and Alumnus of the Year from the Wayne St. University Library and Information Science Program. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com.