Curio: the new app from the State Library of NSW

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Last week I was lucky enough to get a tour of the State Library of New South Wales new AMAZE gallery which was launched alongside their great new app Curio.  This app was developed in partnership with Art Processors the team behind the ‘O’ from MoNA in Hobart Tasmania.  Curio uses wifi and Bluetooth to connect to the many beacons that are positioned discreetly around the Library, this then enables Curio, a free iOS and Android app, to display the objects from the collection around you with a rich variety of media.  Not only do you get content within the exhibition space but also rich media and information throughout the Mitchell Library.  They are offering visitors who don’t have mobile phones the ability to borrow Google Nexus 7 tablets.  On the first day they had all their devices loaned out by members of the public browsing the content whilst in the galleries.  One difference here in comparison to the ‘O’ is that everyone can get the device given to them as they walk in, I believe there are times/days that the SLNSW can hand out devices otherwise its bring-your-own.Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 11.00.58 AMIt didn’t take too long to download using the free wifi (always a good sign).  The design is good and the interface is really easy to navigate which I think is important as it is easy to overcomplicate things in tech.  The app will locate you in the gallery and show you the content that is nearby to your location. I started looking at the content at the entrance to the Mitchell Library which covered the Tasman Map, Portrait Bus of Arthur Fleischmann. the Mitchell Vestibule and Illuminated manuscripts.

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As I went deeper into the content of the map the features started to stand out, including the reminder to keep saving your tour.    You can choose different options to get the information associated with each object and these include:

  • Summary (the long significant statement)
  • Snippets ( these are very short statements and great if you don’t want the academic summary)
  • Stories ( I came across one that was written by well known journalist David Marr)
  • Close up (I was happy to see that you can zoom into the images which are great quality)
  • Media including videos  (happy to see my old Powerhouse intern featured here who went on to get a job in digital at SLNSW-that was a nice surprise)

There is no ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’ feature here but you do get to rate the content as you go: these choices include Provocative, Memorable, Surprising, Boring and Okay. One of the features I really like is ‘Poems’ and ‘Old News’.  It was lovely to stumble upon a poem that related to an image of Circular Quay that I had delved into.  Connecting the rich content together from within the Libraries collection is a great way to get access to content that you may not find yourself.  You can continue this experience at home after you have been in the galleries through saving your tour and also through the libraries website.  This is so important as there is so much rich content in this app that you need to experience it in multiple ways and at multiple times, which I think has been an important and well thought through feature of the Curio experience.

Different to the ‘O’ is that ‘Curio’ works even when you are not in the gallery.  You can have an experience via the map feature and choose to go through the content whenever you like.  This is smart as I have spent more time on Curio away from the gallery space, albeit I had limited time, but I think a lot of people would be inclined to continue the experience in their own time.

One feature that I have thought might be something that could have made the app more participatory is the inclusion of visitor stories that relate to the content.  An ‘Upload your story’ feature. They are doing extensive evaluation and tracking of how users are interacting with content in the gallery spaces and online so this will be an important piece of research for the sector if they can share the data.

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The State Library of NSW are doing some great things in digital and I congratulate them on making this app work so well.  I need to go back to the gallery and experience this app again to see what other content I can explore in the gallery space.

To finish in the words of Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive, 

the State Library of NSW partnered with Art Processors in our Digital Excellence Program to develop an interactive platform that will transform the way people experience the Library – which dates back to 1826 – and the extraordinary objects and little-known stories it holds.

 Curio with the AMAZE Gallery beautifully shows the 

depth and breadth of the State Library of NSW collection.