Introducing Booksnake

Booksnake lets you explore digitized archival items in the real world. Just aim your iPhone or iPad at a flat surface, tap the screen to place your item, and move to explore. Get in close to see fine details. Step back for an overview. Or walk around to see your item from all sides. As you move, Booksnake keeps the virtual item pinned in place—exactly where you want it.

Booksnake is a digital humanities experiment in how augmented reality can enrich humanities research, teaching, and learning. Want to know when Booksnake opens to public beta testing, or when it launches on the App Store? Join our email list and we’ll keep you updated.

Aim. Tap. Explore.

Booksnake lets you interact with digitized items as if they’re physically present in your real-world surroundings. Booksnake works with any flat surface. Explore an archival map on your office desk. Browse a historical newspaper on your kitchen counter. Read through a medieval manuscript on a picnic table.

Booksnake works by dynamically inserting a digitized item into the live camera view on your iPhone or iPad. Tap “View in Your Space” to open the camera view, then aim your iPhone or iPad at the surface you want to use. Tap the screen to place your digital item on this physical surface. Then move around to explore—just like you would in a gallery or archive.

Explore the World’s Archives

Booksnake connects the powerful augmented reality technology built into every recent iPhone and iPad with the International Image Interoperability Framework or IIIF, an open framework used by dozens of leading galleries, libraries, and archives, museums around the world to share archival images. Booksnake uses IIIF to download an item’s image and metadata, then creates a custom virtual object for you to explore in the real world.

Booksnake makes it easy to find and add your favorite sources. Search online catalogs, filter results, and examine items from right within Booksnake, just like you do in a Web browser. When you find an item you want to download, just tap Add, and Booksnake does the rest.

Collect and Share Your Favorite Items

Share the joy of archival discovery. With Booksnake, you can collect items from multiple different archives into lists. Add context to your lists with a title and description. Then share your list with students, colleagues, or collaborators.

Use a Booksnake list to put students in touch with primary sources. Give museum visitors a closer view of exhibition materials. Or offer your readers, listeners, or viewers a personal encounter with your research treasures.

A Document Camera.
For Virtual Documents.

Show your audience what you see with Booksnake. Use AirPlay to mirror your iPhone or iPad to a nearby TV or projector. Share your iPhone or iPad screen during a video call. Use screenshots or screen recordings to save what you see and share it later.

Booksnake makes it easy to present your favorite sources. Guide students through a birds-eye-view map. Bring an archival manuscript into a conference presentation. Lead a tour of historical photographs. Or share what you see with Booksnake on social media.


How can I get Booksnake?
Booksnake is currently in limited beta testing and is not yet publicly available. Join our email list to learn when Booksnake opens to public beta testing and when it becomes available on the App Store.

Are you interested in offering Booksnake on your institution’s managed devices? Let’s talk!

Will my device work with Booksnake? 
Booksnake works with most iPhones and iPads produced within the last five years. Booksnake requires iOS 16 or later and is available for the following devices:

  • iPhone 8 or later
  • iPad Pro (all models)
  • iPad (fifth generation, 2017) or later
  • iPad Mini (fifth generation, 2019) or later
  • iPad Air (third generation, 2019) or later

Booksnake is not available for iPod Touch.

Is Booksnake available for Android devices?
We’re currently building Booksnake for iPhone and iPad. We plan to develop an Android version as Booksnake moves beyond an experimental stage.

Can I use Booksnake on my Mac or PC?
Booksnake is only available for mobile devices. Booksnake uses the rear cameras on phones and tablets to identify flat surfaces and bring digitized materials into the real world.

Can I add my own images to Booksnake?
Booksnake is a viewer for existing digitized materials in online collections, so it’s not yet possible to add your own images to Booksnake.

This archive supports IIIF, so why can’t I add an item from its collections to Booksnake? 
Some archives only support IIIF for some items in their collections. Contact the archive directly for more information.

Why is it called Booksnake?
The project takes its name from book snakes, the weighted strings used by researchers to hold archival material in place—for example, to keep a book open or a pamphlet unfolded. Just as book snakes help researchers keep physical items in place, Booksnake helps keep digitized items in place.

Meet the People Behind Booksnake

Booksnake is designed and built by a multidisciplinary team at the University of Southern California.

The Booksnake project team consists of:

  • Sean Fraga, project director. Assistant Professor (teaching) of Environmental Studies, USC Dornsife.
  • Christy Ye, iOS developer. MFA candidate, Interactive Media & Games, USC School of Cinematic Arts.
  • Shih-Hsuan Huang, iOS developer. MS candidate, Computer Science, USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
  • Samir Ghosh. Assistant Director, Ahmanson Lab, USC Libraries.
  • Curtis Fletcher. Director, Ahmanson Lab, USC Libraries.
  • Peter Mancall, senior project advisor. Andrew W. Mellon Professor of the Humanities, professor of history and anthropology at USC, and the Linda and Harlan Martens Director of the USC-Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute.

The Booksnake advisory board includes:

  • Rebecca Corbett, Director of Special Projects, USC Libraries
  • Phil Ethington, Professor of History, Political Science, and Spatial Sciences, USC Dornsife
  • Louise Smith, Digital Library Project Manager, USC Libraries.

The Booksnake project’s technical and educator partners include:

  • William Kellum, Deputy Director of Information Technology Design and Development, Library of Congress
  • Mario Einaudi, Digital Repository Manager, The Huntington Library
  • Sarah Thomas, School Programs and Partnerships Manager, The Huntington Library
  • Rebecca Kon, Curriculum Development Specialist, The Huntington Library
  • Julia Lewandoski, Assistant Professor of History, California State University, San Marcos
  • Lindsay O’Neill, Associate Professor (teaching) of History, University of Southern California

From its inception, the Booksnake project has been supported by the Humanities in a Digital World program in USC Dornsife and by the Ahmanson Lab, a part of the USC Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study in USC Libraries.

Booksnake is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities under a Digital Humanities Advancement Grant (HAA-287859, “Booksnake: Building and Testing an Augmented Reality Tool for Embodied Interaction with Existing Digitized Archival Materials”).