Two years ago, when Patchogue-Medford (N.Y.) Library turned its front window into an augmented reality (AR) aquarium—complete with fish that patrons could color and add to the display—staffers didn’t realize just how effective this bait would be at reeling in new users.
“We’re located on a busy Main Street in the heart of Patchogue village, with loads of vehicle and foot traffic, so we are seen,” said Karen McCahey, promotions library assistant. “But one of the challenges that’s ongoing is to get people in the front door.”
McCahey, along with Community Engagement Librarian Emily Spizzirri, Head of Community Engagement Michele Cayea, and Head of Promotions and Development Laura Accardi, shared how they executed an award-winning marketing campaign at “Learn Interactive Marketing with Augmented Reality,” a January 21 session at the American Library Association’s 2024 LibLearnX conference in Baltimore.
The team recalled hoping that the aquarium idea—which fit with the national 2022 Summer Reading Program theme, “Oceans of Possibilities”—would boost engagement.
Accardi said she had been experimenting with AR since 2018. “I’m not a technology person, but I knew it was fun,” she said. She’d found products from Octagon Studio that allowed patrons to color a picture and scan it with an app that would animate the image on the screen.
The team demonstrated the software to colleagues by coloring fish of their own and adding them to the aquarium. “Once the staff saw that, we had them hooked,” Cayea said.
However, adapting the technology to 30-foot-wide building windows was a much larger challenge. The team found that displaying the aquarium was much different than using an app and a single drawing. The library worked with the Patchogue Arts Council and local company North Stream to set up projectors. They used a rear projection system, positioning projectors inside the library to display the aquarium outside to passersby. To ensure a crisp image, holographic film was placed on the windows and blackout curtains were installed to block light from inside the library.
“Our next hurdle was due to the vast size of our front windows,” Spizzirri said. The system required two projectors to fill the entire area. The library used QLab media playback software to merge the output from those two projectors into one seamless video, as well as a dedicated Mac mini computer to run the system.
In conjunction with outreach to local businesses and schools, the display had a big impact. Summer reading registrations were 30% higher in 2022 than they were in 2021. Library card sign-ups increased 25% in the same July-to-September period, and building visits increased by 33%. Patchogue-Medford Library was recognized with the 2023 John Cotton Dana Library Public Relations Award for its efforts.
The library closed the aquarium after the 2022 summer reading program but still uses AR in its outreach. “Since the campaign, we’ve taken it to another level,” Cayea said, with projections that reflect the season or even specific events. The village hosts the school’s prom on Main Street in front of the library, and “Every year, we display the entire graduating class’s names on our front window,” she said. “We have a fireworks projection for them that lights up at night, so the possibilities really became endless.”