The Virtual Librarian: Development of a Life-Like Character for a Kiosk-based Information System

1st Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Bernhard Jung (ISNM)

2nd Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Andreas Schrader (ISNM)

Since last decade computers are witnessing a new paradigm in human computer interfaces technology. Arrival of new gadgets and technologies are boosting the way into the realization of friendly and easy to use interfaces. Virtual human characters are becoming an integral part of interfaces because of their services and utilities they offer. Human computer conversations are becoming more interactive and user friendly. Libraries contain huge amount of information relating to almost every aspect of life. Because of the technologies, libraries have been evolved from card based catalogs to online access able media. Many of them are also helping their readers with the aid of information systems installed in the library. These systems mainly help the users in searching the books and they employ conventional user interfaces to fulfill these tasks. By taking a step ahead of the situation, this thesis report introduces the concept of using virtual human characters to support the user personalization in the library environment. The new aspect is the user personalization and the improved user and tangible interface supported by the intelligent virtual humans and books. Not only these virtual characters know about the library in detail but they also learn what their users are looking for. As realization of the above concept, a kiosk based information system, named Neva, is developed for the McLuhan Documentation Center at the ISNM International School of New Media at the University of Lübeck, Germany as a test case for the libraries. By employing state of the art technologies like RFID to identify the users and Haptek character animation to realize the character support, the system offers a simple and user friendly interface. Neva offers various services to the users based on their interest and fields. For example, when a user logs in, it alerts the user if there is any book needed to be returned before the deadline passes. It also lets the user know if there are any newly arrived books in the library matching to his or her interest. It does not only support the contents available in the library but it also receives the information from the WWW by accessing Amazon book web services. The combination of text, graphics, spoken language, facial expression and gazes are used to present the results to the users. The Neva experience and the users’ feedback motivate us not to limit its capabilities to libraries only but to extend them to other areas where information is difficult to manage like museums and exhibitions. The visits at the museums and the exhibitions can be more fruitful and less time consuming with the help of such virtual humans and tangible interface based information systems.