Virtual Libraries in SL: “Patrons not only read about characters in a novel; they interact with them”

February 25th, 2009  |  Published in Real Life in Second Life, SL Entrepreneur Magazine  |  4 Comments

By Compe Lockwood

I visited the library today. Okay, that sounds pretty mundane – but don’t click that mouse just yet! This is pretty cool. My librarian is an avatar and so am I.

In this library, books aren’t checked out; they’re rezzed. Patrons don’t drive; they’re teleported. Dewey Decimal System meets Second Life. You may never be hushed in a library again.
Of course, cyber data is no stranger to the internet. But the marriage of Second Life with real world libraries is a match made in pixels. “This is an excellent learning platform,” said Lori Bell, aka Lorelei Junot of SL and Alliance Virtual Library’s Info Island’s Director of Information. “It’s a whole new way to teach and learn; the possibilities are endless.” After touring Lori’s SL jobsite, all I can add is, “you aren’t kidding.”

In addition to linking over 50 libraries around the world, Info Island houses Peace Park, Science Fiction Gallery, Mystery Manner and other areas ready for exploring. Let them take you to The Land of Lincoln. Want to learn more about Honest Abe? How would you like to meet him? He lives here.

“Patrons not only read about characters in a novel, they have an opportunity to interact with them,” said Bell. “We have virtual worlds straight from the pages of history, characters in period dress, ready to visit.”

My visit with Henry the VIII was postponed because I wanted to meet Barack Obama. His Inauguration site is here; I saw it in my pajamas. There are point and click info centers on the President, Vice President, their wives and lives in an inaugural setting. Don’t leave without your free inaugural gown or tuxedo – it comes in handy for Washington balls. The free Joe Biden tee shirts are cool too.

This is more than a library – it is a clearing house for other data houses. Countless thousands of books and reference materials start right here. “We want to reach people who might not use traditional libraries,” Bell added. “More people will spend time in virtual worlds, we are here for them.”

The information desks are staffed by worldwide volunteers. “It works well,” said the head librarian, “being from all points earth, staffers work in different time zones so usually someone can help you any time of day.”

Patrons can enjoy the virtual library 24/7 at the Ohio Pulbic Library Information Network or OPLIN.

(Patrons can use the virtual library 24 hours a day; a luxury rarely afforded to real world libraries.)

“Any time of day” is music to college students’ ears, which is why they are among virtual libraries’ biggest fans – like the scholars of SL’s Bradley University. Barbara Galik, SL’s Puglet Dancer, is more than an Executive Director; she’s an ambassador. Virtually founded in October, 2006, “Bradley was a pioneer in virtual college libraries and I think we’ve lead the effort in SL.”
“I’ve been around computers and libraries a long time,” she said from the Peoria, Illinois real world campus. “We [libraries in general] were not prepared when the internet evolved and we spent years catching up. But the virtual and coming 3-D world will not find us off guard. For our students and visitors, we are ready for them.”

Not only are they ready, they house them. Bradley has virtual dormitories in the form of skyboxes floating above campus. Cyber college dorms function like RL counterparts, except you can’t hide beer in pixel ceiling tiles. But they do offer great access to the knowledge housed below.

Here at the Cullom-Davis Library (based on the school’s real life version), patrons access the university’s vast catalogs, linking them to pertinent websites. “There are study group areas,” said Galik, “where students gather, meeting face to face. It is so much more effective than texting. Visitors collaborate on projects sitting around the table in SL from around the world in RL. They have most of the tools and data they require right here at their disposal, waiting to be ‘checked out.”

Like most cyber libraries, interactivity is the key. On my visit to Bradley today, I noted student art displays and photographs of campus adorning the walls. Visiting speakers occasionally hold meetings and many services are open to the general public. Try that in the real world without a library card.

But the razzle-dazzle joys of cyber research mean nothing if patrons can’t access it. Second Life’s libraries understand this, offering help for the cyber-challenged. So for those who think Blue Tooth is a dental disease; fear not.

Ironically, one obstacle holding virtual libraries back is the wait for patrons to catch up. “We do a lot of Second Life hand holding,” said Laura Solomon, Library Services Manager of the Ohio Public Library Information Network (OPLIN). OPLIN is an independent agency within the State Library of Ohio. “Our site conducts basic and intermediate lessons on all aspects of SL, from elementary building objects to navigation.”

Patron enjoying OPLIN's Virtual Library in Second Life.

(Patron enjoying OPLIN’s Virtual Library in Second Life.)

A vast array of Second Life functions and features are taught here – skills, etiquette, even how to walk and dance. As Solomon adds,“before our visitors access SL libraries, they must know how to access SL. We can teach them.”

If you see her alternate self, Lebachai Vesta, working at the virtual desk, helping customers and offering advice, she’s probably doing the same thing in the real world. Laura holds the same office and performs similar duties in real world Ohio. “I multi-task a lot,” noted the manager. OPLIN online has similar features to the Ohio office, except virtual snow isn’t as cold.

Gone are the days of thumbing through stale card catalogs, paying for overdue books, and being told to lower your voice. Like the Barrier Reef, today’s virtual libraries are teeming with life (I know the Barrier Reef is teeming with life because I looked it up in an online library).

A Second Life search reveals dozens of libraries springing up – public and private sector, business and education. And as it goes with the cyber world in general, this is only the beginning. More brick and mortar knowledge centers will build online presences.

Many advances in video, audio, and other technologies have started here. At the click of a mouse, today’s avatars have thousands of books at their command. Join them. It’s a real page turner.

Info Island

Bradley University



  1. Riven Homewood says:

    February 25th, 2009at 4:16 pm(#)

    What a great article! Such a fine profile of the many ways real life libraries are represented in SL.

    In addition to the fantastic work that’s being done by real life libraries, sl has a number of libraries that exist only in cyberspace. The Steelhead Public Library is an example, as is the Caledon Library. Our consortium, the Alexandrian Free Library, now has about 10 member libraries that are the intellectual focal points for a wide range of SL communities.

  2. admin says:

    February 25th, 2009at 4:45 pm(#)

    Hi Riven,

    Thank you so much for the feedback!
    I would love to learn more about The Alexandrian Free Library. Can you email me additional information and I can put a SLENTRE reporter on the story.

    Thanks so much,
    Avarie Parker

  3. Lori Bell says:

    February 26th, 2009at 9:21 am(#)

    Thanks for this terrific article! It does a great job of giving people an idea of what is going on in libraries in sl. Thansk again.

  4. Hyperconnectivity… « Artificially Mythic says:

    March 17th, 2009at 10:45 pm(#)

    […] and opinions people have on using SNS’s in libraries and at work. The promotion/use of Second Life to present the same information is also quite interesting, and one I need to look at (the things […]