This fascinating session started with a 3-minute video tour of the InfoIsland Library, the new library service that’s been built within the virtual-reality world of Second Life. Lori Bell said it’s been a globally collaborative project. Second Life is not really a game, she explained; it’s a virtual world. Reuters just joined SL with a news bureau. IBM is putting up a business there. Wired magazine just opened an office. It’s important for libraries to be there, said Bell. She said the virtual library site receives some 4,000 to 5,000 visitors per day.
She admitted that Second Life has an interesting dimension. “Pornography and gambling have tended to lead the innovative efforts.” More avatars are becoming tired of the sex and gambling so they’re pursuing info-related activities. It’s increasingly being used in higher education, especially for distance learning activities. “Besides building a virtual library, we’re still about books and reading.”
Partnerships are important to the effort. Lori detailed a number with groups like Tech Soup, ICT Library, World Bridges, and more. “Why reinvent the wheel,” she said. “It’s important to be collaborative in our efforts.”
Michael Sauers provided some reality checks for libraries that might consider participating. If you don’t have the recommended zippy hardware, participating in SL will be a frustrating experience. If you can’t multitask—follow several conversations at once—don’t do it. You don’t have to spend real $$ but it helps. The more people at an event or in a location, the more lag there will be—say up to a minute for text transmission. Your boss and others may not view this as work. It’s a time suck. People can be rude. Don’t plan on keeping track of an acquaintance based on appearance—because they change! There are update requirements and sometimes system problems. And, as cool as it is, sometimes it just doesn’t work.
Tom Peters said the effort has experienced a kind of a pent-up release of creative energy. He considers one big area of development to be events and exhibits. There are some privacy and security concerns. Especially for reference service there’s a question of maintaining privacy of the communication. The group is still addressing some fundamental questions like what type of services are needed, what types of library buildings and collections, and are collections even needed? Challenges continue to be volunteer labor (and self inflicted burnout), external funding, expertise mining, disaster preparedness, and implementing Library 2.0 concepts.
Tom’s predictions: He thinks that library services to avatars will thrive. Architecture will evolve away from real-world architecture. Libraries will increasingly include elements from museums and theme parks. Themes and events will become more important. Even if Second Life eventually disappears, the lessons learned from the project will aid future libraries’ efforts.
Peters, Bell, Sauers, and moderator Donna Scheeder in Track C: The Second Life Library 2.0