An Immersive World for Libraries

by librarianincognita ~ August 23rd, 2011. Filed under: Recommendations, Virtual Reality, Wired World.

I have never got far enough in Second Life to experience using a library within it but I imagine what would be most valuable would be the reference services and maybe digital resources but my question is this, if virtual library services can be delivered without the platform of an immersive world – from a webpage with links to digital resources to IM chats with librarians for reference questions – then what exactly makes the immersive world more attractive?

I like to think that the aspects that make it attractive, is how much it simulates a role playing game (RPG), where you can imagine that you are a physical being entering a library with something to discover. Done well, it can be a powerful and rewarding experience and this where I think Second Life falls short. The technical controls get in the way of the experience (at least for me and I am certainly not a stranger to RPGs, what more someone who has little experience with immersive worlds) that you never actually get round to enjoying the simulated experience. Additionally, without a “quest”, Second Life seems dull, other than discovering new places which becomes stale after a while.

This is where I think Quest Alantis that is used for educational purposes does way better. Information that is discovered within fulfills an objective and provides motivation for the user to explore the immersive world fully. This is not to say that immersive worlds, educational or otherwise, can only be used as a game setting. There is still potential for the library to use immersive worlds but there must be a real outcome for the user, otherwise, it would mostly be redundant. Here are some ways I can see it being used (and hopefully on a more intuitive platform than Second Life):

1) Staff training: virtual worlds can be used to train front-line library staff on customer service. Not unlike the border guards training example for Second Life.

2) Workshops for teens conducted by the library can be done over a virtual platform – how to find books, navigate the library, things that can be incorporated in a quest-like format to make the experience more engaging. These can be done without the stigma of being seen in the library (i.e. uncool)

3) Bookclubs, activity sessions with teens can also be done virtually for those who would prefer not to come to the library.

4) If a library is being built or upgraded, the community can be invited to add their vision of the ideal library on a virtual platform (would require some knowledge of online creation tools) or they can be invited to visit the virtual version of the library before the physical library is ready. This creates anticipation for the real thing.

5) An “after hours” library – should a library ever see a need to extend its service hours. A virtual one is always an option because only one virtual branch needs to be open as opposed to many branches.

At this point, I am still skeptical but should the whole virtual experience become seamless one day, providing services in immersive worlds or exploiting its affordances is something that needs to be seriously considered by libraries.

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