Brian C. Gray
Kelvin Smith Library, Case Western Reserve University
Libraries have always been very innovative in looking for new methods to reach patrons beyond the physical walls of their buildings. Communication tools have progressed through a series of transitions from the addition of phone reference, to supporting chat services and instant messaging, and recently 3-D online virtual reality environments. Library staff are now conducting programs and services in online environments, such as Second Life, World of Warcraft, Sims, There, Entropia Universe, and Home (Playstation 3).
Second Life (http://secondlife.com/) has become very popular for library programming, education, communication, and collaboration. Second Life is free to participate, unless you decide to pay for additional virtual items and services. Second Life does offer some challenges as it requires a person to install software, possess a fairly new computer with a powerful video card, and have access to something better than a dial-up Internet connection. Second Life is a visual display of a 3-D environment, which includes text and voice chat. It offers the capability to stream video or audio, import images, or display materials that may be represented in PDF or other media on the traditional web. Second Life does possess a learning curve as the movements, such as the ability to fly or “teleport”, may be challenging for some users. Avatars (virtual people) travel around to various themed “islands” that are created by people and organizations for socializing, instruction, or specific activities. It has its own economy and many real-life activities are duplicated throughout Second Life.
A separate environment called Teen Second Life (http://teen.secondlife.com/) exists for minors.
Second Life has shown to be very powerful for certain activities and programs. Library employees have used it as an opportunity to collaborate or socialize with professional colleagues from all over the world. Some people now even use it as a replacement for expensive web conferencing software applications. Organizations have used it as a tool to offer services to home-bound, disabled, or those that do not travel to the library. Others have used Second Life as a platform to display digitized collections and thus increasing their use. Organizations that offer on-site conferences and presentations have streamed the activities live in Second Life to increase opportunities for distance participation.
Case Western Reserve University is working with other Cleveland institutions to bring various organizations and programming into Second Life. ClevelandPlus consists of 7 islands that include structures such as the Kelvin Smith Library, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and many other recognizable landmarks. For example, Undergraduate Admissions (http://admission.case.edu/) is using it to recruit and assist incoming students in touring campus and other Cleveland landmarks.
As the largest repository of chess-related items in the world, Cleveland Public Library has built an island to allow online users the opportunity to experience chess-related materials, as well as other digitized items such as photos and sheet music. It even includes several playable life-size chess games.
Ohio University has rebuilt the entire campus in Second Life. It is being used for classes, research, and various outreach opportunities.
The Alliance Library System in East Peoria, Illinois, has been directing the efforts of a series of islands for libraries and library-related organizations in the Second Life Library 2.0 project. Participants include all types of libraries, the American Library Association, and library support organizations and vendors. Activities have included book discussions, themed events, reference services to visitors of Second Life, and other social activities. The themed Renaissance Island will transport you right back to the 19th century. One very moving event was after the Virginia Tech shooting when people from all over the world gathered to show their respect and discuss the situation at a temporary memorial built on one of the library islands. It was an international sharing that would not have occurred outside Second Life.
Companies and other organizations have also discovered the benefits of Second Life. The ability to build 3-D models for education has brought in organizations like NASA that built a Spaceflight Museum or Nature Publishing that offers the opportunity to move around inside a eukaryotic cell. Technology companies like IBM offer programs, conduct virtual press conferences, and even recruit future employees. Reuters has assigned a reporter to live in Second Life and report about trends and activities. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Graduate School of Library and Information Science, is offering classes in Second Life on Virtual World Librarianship. San Jose State University's School of Library & Information Science is also offering classes in Second Life, which included a visit by the American Library Association President Loriene Roy as avatar Mukwa Dibou. Harvard University has taught a course called CyberOne: Law in the Court of Public Opinion within Second Life.
Libraries and other organizations in Second Life still have a lot to learn, since it has only existed since 2003. While it offers many challenges, it has created a new medium for innovation and library-patron interactions. No one knows what the future holds, and many participants will admit it is still not for every organization or person. Some even suggest we are seeing the future of Internet communication and interaction.
Second Life locations to visit (“slurl” is a Second Life url): Info Island http://slurl.com/secondlife/Info%20Island%20International/125/238/23
Cleveland Public http://slurl.com/secondlife/Cleveland%20Public%20Library/128/128/0
Ohio University http://slurl.com/secondlife/Ohio%20University/128/128/0
Additional Second Life Resources:
Second Life Library 2.0 http://flickr.com/groups/secondlifelibrary
Ohio University Second Life Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFuNFRie8wA
Info Island Blog http://infoisland.org/