Virtual Worlds and Libraries

Attendees had many questions for the presenters (L-R) Lori Bell, Shawn McCann, and Jeremy Kamp

One track of an entire day was devoted to virtual worlds like Second Life and how they are being used in libraries.  A show of hands by the audience revealed that such usage is becoming fairly widespread, and the presentations will certainly do much to increase the penetration of virtual worlds in libraries.  According to Lori Bell, Director of Innovation at the Alliance Library System, virtual world technology has become a new frontier for libraries and librarianship.  Second Life is attracting new users to traditional libraries through referral.  And librarians like Second Life because it’s fun!  The Alliance Second Life group on Google now has 600 members, and its virtual welcome and information center, staffed for 80 hours a week, answers over 200 questions weekly.

An interesting new trend is the establishment of positions in conventional libraries to investigate and develop virtual world technology.  Shawn McCann from McMaster University suggested that a suitable title for such staffers would be “gaming librarian”, and his job is typical.  Besides normal library duties, he explores games and virtual worlds and their intersection with higher education as well as devising ways for the library to support games and virtual worlds.  If you think this is a way to disguise the fact that he spends a large part of his day playing video games (and getting paid for it!), you’re right.

Why are these trends happening?  Formerly reactive libraries are becoming proactive and embracing new technology.  Games and virtual worlds have become important to higher education, and there is lots of research now available.  And, perhaps most important, gaming is an important part of student culture and has been widely adopted.  (For an article with market research data on gaming, see this report.

Shawn’s wish list for supporting gaming and virtual worlds includes a “gaming laboratory” with the powerful hardware needed to support this technology.  He also would like to offer a gaming collection of books and reports to his users.  And the best way that libraries can support this technology is to do what we do best.

Shawn was followed by Jeremy Kemp, Assistant Director of the Second Life Campus of San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information Science.  SJSU acquired a 16 acre island in  Second Life and developed a virtual campus.  He showed a fascinating video of an interview produced by the local radio station KQED, which explored the campus.  This is the next generation of distance learning and gives students the advantages of not needing to come to the campus but still have the feeling of a campus environment.  Participating professors have found that the education experience is enhanced; if they want to hold a class at the (virtual) beach, it’s no problem!  Jeremy also referred to an IBM report, Leadership in a Distributed World, which provides much helpful information on virtual world technologies.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today and IL2007 Blog Coordinator

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