We improve archival access with AR

We improve archival access with AR

Unlocking the Cage

We designed and produced a mixed reality experience for Exeter Library. Our AR book brings award-winning author Kim Sherwood’s academic essay ‘Unlocking the Cage: Women in and Behind the Exeter Library Rare and Early Printed Books Special’ to life.

By combining AR, animations and atmospheric sound we increased archival access. The resulting interactive art piece launches in March 2022 to celebrate International Women’s Day.

This mixed reality experience was based on the original essay by Kim Sherwood
Written and narrated by Kim Sherwood for Libraries Unlimited, Devon
Produced in collaboration by Jay Auborn of dBs Pro and Chris Price of Zubr Curio
Executive producers Daniel Clark and Michael White of Libraries Unlimited
Music by John Matthias and Jay Auborn of dBs Pro
Animations and illustrations by Sarita McNeil
Book design by Chris Price
Book fabrication by Rosie Sherwood
Sound engineering and production management by Yaz Kahveci
Audio implementation by Máté Moldován
Augmented reality app development by Chris Mugridge of Zubr Curio
Videography by Simone Einfalt of Zubr Curio
Video starring Miriam Lamnabhi of Zubr Curio






AR portraits


Minute experience


We collaborated with author Kim Sherwood, illustrator and animator Sarita McNeil, and sound artists John Matthias and Jay Auborn from DBS Music to make this AR book for Exeter Library and Special Collections.

Special thanks to Daniel Clark and Michael White of Libraries Unlimited for commissioning the project.

Thanks too to Evolve and Arts Council England for their generous funding and support.

Sharing the stories of women writers

You might not expect to find an AR book in a library. AR for libraries is still rare, but we found it the perfect medium to increase archival access and showcase women writers who break the trend of the male-dominated literary canon.

Beneath the floor of Exeter Library is a room known as the ‘Cage’, the home of the Rare and Early Printed Books Special Collection. 800 books line the walls of the Cage. Almost all were written by men. As author Kim Sherwood discovered during months conducting research in the Cage, only eight books kept there are by women writers.

Kim’s original essay, ‘Unlocking the Cage: Women in and Behind the Exeter Library Rare and Early Printed Books Special’, reveals the immense impact of these women writers. From critics, poets, translators and novelists, to women who donated books to the library after the previous collection was destroyed during the Blitz.

We were tasked with creating a family-friendly experience that highlights the contributions of these women and enables greater archival access through sound and bespoke animations.

AR book

Improving archival access through mixed reality

Usually accessing books from the Cage requires special permission and a librarian to escort and supervise you. To increase archival access we wanted to give library-goers a way to learn about the women writers behind the words in an exploratory and visual experience. We chose mixed reality to share the stories of seven overlooked and forgotten women.

Collaborating with DBS Music allowed us to share Kim’s research with families in a more accessible manner. Sound artists Jay and John composed an immersive soundscape of atmospheric sounds layered with Kim’s discoveries and the stories of the women writers she uncovered.

We also designed and printed a physical book with quotes from the seven women writers included in Kim’s essay alongside beautiful black and white illustrations by Sarita McNeil.

Viewing the tactile book using an ipad transforms it into a mixed reality experience. What better way to create approachable AR for libraries than making an AR book that can be read with or without technology?

We produced 3D animations of Sarita’s 2D illustrations, and timed them with DBS’ ambient soundscape to bring women writers’ voices from the past into the present day.

Each page of the AR book acts as a trigger for the mixed reality experience, resulting in a subtle form of AR for libraries delivered through the familiar experience of reading.

These books are sealed away in the basement... Women wrote eight of them.

Award-winning author Kim Sherwood

These books are sealed away in the basement... Women wrote eight of them.

Award-winning author Kim Sherwood

AR for Libraries

AR for libraries doesn’t need to be disruptive or jarring. By mimicking the usual experience of reading, our AR book feels approachable and accessible for the less tech-savvy. The forgotten stories and voices of women writers are made tangible and easy to access through our use of mixed reality.

Library-goers get a safe taste of the world of the Cage in an easy-to-use, group experience which will hopefully lead to greater use of the Library’s Special Collections. By introducing them to the Cage through the AR book they can gain confidence engaging with archival material.

This format of AR for libraries also improves archival access: 2D collections assets like watercolours and sketches have been augmented and brought to life, and are used as the trigger for the AR experiences. People who may never have considered examining archival documents are now able to view and enjoy these assets.

Although some worry that mixed reality or using AR for libraries might distract people from physical books, using technology to look beyond the text to the women writers who wrote, collected and donated these books creates a unique opportunity for families to listen and learn together.

Want to learn how you can use AR in your own work? Get in touch and we can advise on the best way to use mixed reality or AR for libraries.