Google Glass

5 Ways Public History Institutions Can Use Google Glass

Google GlassOn Thursday, July 17, 2014, I brought Google Glass to the Library Company of Philadelphia at the invitation of its Director, Richard Newman. Our mission: To find out how public history institutions can use Google Glass to enhance and broaden their outreach.

We experimented with Glass for four hours.

In this post you will discover our experiments with Google Glass and the five ways we think public history institutions can use Glass to innovate history interpretation and increase outreach with virtual visitors and school groups.


5 Ways Public History Institutions Can Use Google Glass

After a brief tutorial on how to use Glass, Rich and Nicole Scalessa (IT Manager & Reference Librarian) took staff members around the Library Company to find out how their institution could use Glass to offer visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the Library Company and its holdings.


1. Exhibition Previews

Our first stop took place in the Library Company’s exhibition space.

The Library Company's exhibition “That’s So Gay: Outing Early America" featured panels and cases describing the history of homosexuality and its portrayal in early America.

Rich had a staff member don Glass and follow him around the exhibition space. Periodically, Rich stopped around the exhibit and offered commentary about the panels and objects he and his staff member were looking at.

Rich and Nicole believe that videos taken with Glass offer the Library Company an additional way to present information about their exhibit to virtual visitors. They speculated that they could use this video in conjunction with a blog post that explains the exhibit. Both forms of media would express the same information, but visitors would have a choice in how they want to discover more about the Library Company's exhibitions: print or video.

2. Conservation Demonstrations

As the caretaker of over half a million rare books, manuscripts, pamphlets, and graphics, the Library Company of Philadelphia has an in-house conservation team and a book bindery.

Library Company of PhiladelphiaOne of our experiments took place in the book bindery.

Rich asked one of the book binders if they would wear Glass and provide an explanation of how she helps take care of rare books. The book binder spent the next 10-15 minutes discussing a new technique she used to repair an old English binding.

The book bindery video revealed that Glass videos offer a more personal touch than videos taken with a traditional video camera.

Google Glass takes videos of what you see as you are seeing it; video cameras capture the same footage, but from a less personal vantage point.

The book binder’s video offers visitors the opportunity to feel like the conservator is conducting an one-on-one tutorial of her binding repair technique.

This finding prompted Rich and Nicole to wonder if the Library Company might use Glass to create not only interesting behind-the-scenes footage of the Library Company, but also to create series of informational tutorials that would appeal to different types of visitors; guests who may not know anything about the Library Company vs. those who want to know more about the inner workings of the institution.

The experiment also made me wonder: could an institution such as the Library Company use the intimate way Google Glass captures video to create a series of conservation videos or live demonstrations that they could sell to raise funds to support such work?


3. Intimate Collection Commentary

Rich and Nicole continued to experiment with the intimacy of Google Glass videos.

In another experiment they asked Librarian James N. Green to show and describe one of the Library Company's more recent acquisitions: an early directory of London called The History of London from the Foundations of the Romans to the Present Time.

Jim donned Glass and discussed the significance of the directory. He spoke for 15-20 minutes and in that time imparted valuable information.

Historians use city directories to learn about the people, places, buildings, jobs, and governance of a city in times past. The Library Company's copy of this early London directory is unique in that it is not only a first edition, but its owner (one of Benjamin Franklin's book dealers) wrote commentary about the people, places, architectural styles, and important events described by the directory in the margins around the entries.

Jim equated the directory and its contents as a Facebook-like timeline of the owner's life. For example, near the entry of the great plague, the owner described the experiences of one of his relatives during that dark and troubled time. He also added information about people, places, and events when he felt entries lacked sufficient detail.

Jim's tutorial on the London directory was engaging and informative. Anyone who views his video will feel as though they are standing next to Jim and yet seeing the book as he sees it.

At some point the Library Company may opt to use Jim's video to highlight their acquisition. They could use the video on their website to inform visitors about Library Company's holdings.

They could also include the video in one of their e-mail newsletters and use it as a special thank you to members and donors whose support made the acquisition of the directory possible.


VIP-Pass4. Behind-the-Scenes Tour

Our last experiment with Glass involved a trip to the basement.

The Library Company has one of the oldest, if not the oldest, library card catalogs in the United States. Rich, Nicole, and I took Glass to visit this historic artifact.

Nicole wore Glass and filmed our explorations through the card catalog. We marveled at the sheer size of the catalog and debated its date by the handwriting on the cards.

We explored the catalog as an exercise in how the Library Company and other public history institutions can use Google Glass to offer additional behind-the-scenes content to its visitors and members. The historic card catalog resides in a staff-only area.


5. Live Stream Videos

Although we limited our experiments to video, we did not limit our ideas.

The three of us speculated how the Library Company could use the forthcoming Google Hangouts video conference app to live stream library tours and exhibitions into classrooms.

The ability to live stream video from Glass would open the doors of the Library Company to more than just local school groups.

I also imagine that librarians and archivists could use this app to offer specialized reference help.

When a researcher inquires about a particular manuscript or book, the librarian could pull the book or manuscript and use Glass to offer a live stream of the item to the researcher. The librarian and researcher could then have a live conversation about the book or manuscript while looking at it.

There is no date on when Google will reissue its updated and enhanced Hangouts app for Glass, but possibilities abound for how it will enable institutions like the Library Company to enhance in-person and virtual visitor/researcher experiences and interactions with their institution.



I left the Library Company impressed with Rich and Nicole’s ideas for how public history institutions and museums could use Google Glass to promote their work and enhance (and increase) visitor experiences with their institution.

I had considered how museums might use Google Glass prior my visit, but my early thoughts dealt only with enhancing the way visitors could view exhibits; Glass could help visitors focus on an object instead of the text placard below it.

I imagine this would work similar to QR codes, visitors would scan a code on the object case or placard which would call the information panel into their Glass view screen. Visitors could then look at the object while reading about it.

However, Rich and Nicole have shown me that Google Glass offers public history institutions many different ways that they can enhance visitor interaction and experiences with their institutions.


What Do You Think?

What do you think about the possibilities that Rich and Nicole experimented with?

Can you think of other ways public history institutions could use Google Glass to broaden their visitor outreach and/or enhance their historical interpretation?


"A Day with Google Glass" by The Library Company of Philadelphia

 Montage courtesy of The Library Company's Youtube Channel


Secret Swiss Bunker: Fortress Fürigen through Google Glass

Fortress FürigenOn Sunday, August 24, 2014, Tim and I visited Fortress Fürigen (Festung Fürigen) in Stansstad, Switzerland. The fortress used to be a part of the secret Swiss defense system of bunkers and fortresses, which the government used during World War II and the Cold War.

Today, you can visit Fortress Fürigen as a museum.

In this post you will find a brief history of Fortress Fürigen as well as a video that tours the interior of the bunker, which I took with Google Glass.


Brief History of the Fortress

From the outside we nearly missed Fortress Fürigen, which is concealed inside a rock face overlooking Lake Luzern. We entered the fortress from a camouflaged wooden shed that thankfully had a large, red open flag flying outside of it; without the flag we might have walked passed and missed it.

In 1941, the Swiss built a series of bunkers like Fortress Fürigen to combat a Nazi invasion. The invasion plan called for the Swiss government to fall back to a secret bunker at Brünig in the Berner Oberland, and for the Swiss troops to fall back from the border regions into alpine strongholds like Fürigen.

The Swiss built Fortress Fürigen to protect roads and rail lines that led from Luzern and Zürich into the Berner Oberland. Fürigen stands as a small example of a hidden Swiss fortress as it could house and feed only about 100 people for three weeks.

After World War II, the Swiss renovated its fortresses to defend against the Soviet Union and nuclear war. When the Cold War ended in 1990, the government decommissioned Fortress Fürigen and opened it as a museum.

The fortress extends 200 yards inside the mountain. The tour includes the troops’ living and dining quarters, an ammunition room, sickbay, and two concealed gun rooms.


Google Glass and Fortress Fürigen

Fortress Fürigen seemed like it would be a really neat place to visit and I knew there would be no way to capture its elaborate tunnels with my camera. So, rather then take pictures, I seized the opportunity to experiment with Google Glass. The 28:00 minute film below is the footage I took with Glass.

The occasional narration you hear in the background comes from Tim. I tried to keep bystanders out of the video as much as possible.

What Do You Think?

Do you have any suggestions on how I might improve my films through Glass?

Do you have suggestions for other ways I could use Google Glass videos to capture historic places?

*Please note that Glass does not have the capability to focus or add light to its photos or videos.


Google Glass for Research: Translation with Word Lens

200px-WordLensLogo5Feb2012The Word Lens app allows Google Glass users to translate text instantly.

Will this quick and easy-to-use tool help historians with their archival research?

On May 6, 2014, I tested Google Glass and Word Lens in the archive of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

In this post you will learn about how Word Lens for Google Glass performs during archival research.

Word Lens

In early 2014, Quest Visual released "Word Lens," an instant translation app for Google Glass and smartphones.

Quest Visual designed Word Lens to translate printed words from one language to another. Thus far you can use Word Lens to translate Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, and Russian into English or English into Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, or Russian.

Although we still live in a world where Optical Character Recognition software cannot read handwriting well, I wondered how Word Lens would work on manuscripts.



As expected, Word Lens could not read either of the handwritten manuscripts I viewed.

I attempted to translate from English to French and from German to English. The app just stared at the text.

History of Mankind Ms N543 pg 21 GG1


Printed Book

I also attempted to translate printed text from Matthias Sprengel’s Grundris der Stantenkunde der vornehmsten europäischen Reiche (View of the Civil Polity of the principal European States).

Printed in 1793, the printer used Fraktur text, a blackletter typeface derived from a calligraphic hand of the Latin alphabet. The type contains more angles than the rounded and smooth curves of modern typefaces.

Word Lens cannot read Fraktur.

PicMonkey Sprengel Grundris der Staatenkunde der vornehmsten DA27 GG1


Printed Text

Word Lens can read printed text in common typeface.

I used the first lines of David Sanders' diary to test Word Lens on common typeface.

Unfortunately, the text proved too small for Word Lens to read.

Unwilling to give up, I transcribed Sanders’ first lines into a Google Doc and adjusted the font size.

So how big does your text have to be for Word Lens to read it?

At least 18 points.

PicMonkey David Sanders Diary Misc 1755 Mar 27 GG1GG Translate Text picmonkey



Word Lens translates well enough to give you a rough idea of what the text says.

It does not always translate every word nor does it translate the meaning of idioms, but neither does Google Translate. Not all phrases translate well from one language to another.



Word Lens works well on street signs and posters, but not on manuscripts.

Word Lens cannot read handwritten text, Fraktur, or printed type smaller than 18 points.

Word Lens makes a better travel translator than research assistant.

The capabilities of Word Lens and like software may improve as engineers and programmers develop better OCR software. However, historians who study periods before, or cultures without, a uniform spelling for their written language may have to wait longer because we will need software that can translate languages with multiple spellings for the same word.


Questions blackboardQuestions?

What would you like to know about how historians can use Google Glass for research or as a history presentation tool?



I am grateful to the librarians and staff at the Massachusetts Historical Society for allowing me to test Google Glass on with their books and manuscripts. They were helpful and gracious hosts who were as excited as I was to see what possibilities this 21st-century technology offers historians. They have also allowed me to include the images I took with Glass in this post.

I would also like to thank Rebecca Schuman for her assistance with both German translation and Fraktur.


Google Glass for Eyeglass Wearers

  NOTE: If you don't wear glasses, please scroll to the bottom of this post and tell me what you would like to know about using Google Glass for historical research.


Google Glass LogoPrescription eyeglass wearers can wear Google Glass 2 ways:

1. You can purchase prescription-ready frames for $224.

Price does not include prescription lenses.

2. You can create 3-D-printed plastic clips to attach Glass to your existing eyeglass frames.

These clips cost between $1-$10 to make, plus shipping if you don’t own a 3-D printer.

In this post you will learn about the pros and cons of each option.


Glasses Clips3-D-Printed Plastic Clips

Just before I purchased Glass,  TechCrunch announced that eyeglass wearers could attach Google Glass to their eyeglass frames with custom clips.

I decided to try the plastic clips and purchased Glass without prescription-ready frames.

When my Glass arrived, Tim followed the directions posted by Adafruit and measured the Glass unit and my existing eyeglass frames with digital calipers.

Tim used his measurements and Autodesk 123D to design my clips. When finished, he uploaded his design to and ordered the clips.

It cost $6.98 for the clips plus $6.50 for shipping. The clips arrived 1 week after we ordered them.


Clips1Clip Pros & Cons


1. Clips are cheap.

At $13.48 with shipping, they save eyeglass wears approximately $700 (the cost of the frames with prescription lenses).

2. Clips are lightweight.

My clips weigh 2 grams.


1. Clips require exact measurement.

You must measure your eyeglass frames with exact precision. If you don’t, the clips won’t hold your Glass steady or in the right position.

2. The color of your clips may not match your eyeglass frames or Glass.

It is hard to judge the exact color of the plastic online.

The price of your clips will fluctuate depending on the color of plastic you choose.


Processed with RookieMy Thoughts on Clips

I ordered 2 different sets of clips and neither set worked perfectly.

The first set proved too big. Tim used this set to refine his measurements.

The second set held Glass better.

The clips held Glass securely to the side of my eyeglass frames. However, every time I nodded or turned my head the Glass optics fell out of its optimal viewpoint.

After 2 attempts and 1 month I gave up on the clips and ordered a pair of prescription Glass frames.

I want to use Glass as a research tool. I need it to hold steady when I take a picture or look at an object.


Google Glass Prescription Frames: What You Should Know

Finding an Optician

Google recommends that you use a preferred provider to fit your prescription-ready frames with lenses.

I went to my regular optometry shop as Google listed someone in Connecticut as my nearest “preferred provider.”

My optician loved the fact that I had Glass. She had never seen one before. Initially she felt confident that she could fit my Glass frames with lenses.

But then she looked at the box.


Glass SpecificationsPrescription Specifications

Google recommends a prescription lens range of -4D to +4D for its frames.

These specifications presented a problem for me.

The prescription lens required for my right eye fell outside of the recommended range.

The optician made several phone calls to try and find out whether the recommended prescription range had to do with fitting the lens inside the frame or if a greater-than-recommended prescription strength would affect my ability to see the Glass optics.

After a few hours of inconclusive research she asked me to find another optician.

Fortunately, Tim works for Google and has several coworkers with both Google Glass and poor eyesight. He asked them where they had their lenses made.

They all went to Central Square Eye Care, an optical shop in Cambridge, MA.


Thick LensesOutside Recommended Prescriptions

An experienced optician can fit Google Glass prescription-ready frames with lenses that exceed Google's recommended range.

Optician George Skelton made mine.

It took a bit of trial and error, but 2 weeks after I dropped off my frames, Skelton called to tell me he had succeeded.

My new lenses are made of a new, ultra-lightweight and thin material. It took my eyes several hours of continuous wear to adjust to seeing out these new lenses.

Unless you look at the top of my frames, you cannot tell that my right eye sports a thick lens. The Glass optics hide the thickness from the front and side views.


Total Additional Cost

Eyeglass wearers can expect to pay a premium if they want to sport Glass with prescription lenses.

It will cost you $1500 for Glass, $224 for the frames, and hundreds of dollars more for the lenses.

My lenses cost $500.


Questions blackboardWhat Would You Like to Know?

What would you like to know about Google Glass?

Is there a specific capability you wonder about and would like me to test?

Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.

My experiments with manuscripts commence at the Massachusetts Historical Society on May 6, 2014.