All Aboard! University Libraries learns emerging technology in order to help others
Thick black smoke puffed from the 611 locomotive as it chugged down the tracks away from the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The museum’s famous 611 train was set to depart the museum and head to Pennsylvania to be featured in a once-in-a-lifetime steam train extravaganza called Steam Revolution at the Strasburg Rail Road.
Before the train departed, life-like photos needed to be taken to allow museum patrons to view the train while it was away. University Libraries’ Jonathan Bradley, head of studios and innovative technologies, and Kelsey Hammer, digital literacy multimedia production librarian, had just the ticket.
Bradley and Hammer traveled to the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke and brought all the bells and whistles with the Media Design Studio’s 360 camera to capture the 611 train, known as an engineering powerhouse of steam, technology, and near mechanical perfection.
The University Libraries’ Media Design Studio faculty and staff are experts in emerging technology. When new media equipment is available, they are the first to get it. The team researches and trains on each new device, performs testing capabilities, and pushes boundaries. The University Libraries then brings this emerging technology to faculty, students, and the community to be used for media projects including video and audio.
“This fits within Virginia Tech’s motto Ut Prosim (that I may serve), to try to help the surrounding community, who often look to Virginia Tech for help with emerging technologies,” said Bradley.
Before getting to work, they were given a tour of the museum where they learned about each exhibit and what makes each collection unique. Bradley and Hammer then worked to recreate that experience for the viewer.
“We worked hard to choose where to put the camera in the outdoor exhibits so that viewers could really feel how huge the trains are,” said Hammer. “That’s a big part of what makes the museum fun and educational!”
The Norfolk & Western Class J 611 could pull 15 cars at 110 mph across level terrain. Only 14 engines of this kind were ever built. The Virginia Museum of Transportation’s 611 with its massive and powerful locomotive, jet black paint, red stripe, and gold numerals is the only 611 train still in existence today. It was built in 1950, cost $251,544, and weighs 494,000 pounds with wheels as tall as the average man.
Bradley and Hammer used the Insta360 Pro 2 camera, which can be checked out from the studio by faculty and students. It’s a cinema-grade 360 camera with 6 high-definition cameras and fisheye lenses arranged in a circular pattern around the outside of the device. It takes six simultaneous videos or images, and records gyroscope and accelerometer data into a file. The software then “stitches” the images together into a photo sphere that can be uploaded to social media or added into a virtual reality experience.
“I think this project is a great teaching tool about the library and digital literacy. It’s a great example of creation and scholarship, both in how we used the library’s technology and how we considered audience, narrative, and patron needs throughout our process, also how we troubleshoot on the ground and in post-work to make our vision possible,” said Hammer.
“Virginia has a wonderful history, including so much work at Virginia Tech, in pushing the boundaries of how we move and transport through planes, trains, automobiles, and more,” said Hammer. “I feel this project represents what the library does best and what we continue to strive to do for Hokies and the community.”