Academic Library Services in Virtual Worlds: An Examination of the Potential for Library Services in Immersive Environments
Journal of Information Technology Education Volume 9, ISSN 1547-9714
Current literature on libraries is abundant with articles about the uses and the potential of new interactive communication technology, including Web 2.0 tools. Recently, the advent and use of virtual worlds have received top billing in these works. Many library institutions are exploring these virtual environments; this exploration and the enthusiasm it has generated led to our library's interest in developing library content in a virtual world. EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative defines a "virtual world" as "an online environment whose "residents" are avatars representing individuals participating online" (EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2006, p. 1). Virtual worlds may also be described as "virtual communities" or "virtual environments" (Porter, 2004). In higher education, terms such as "virtual campuses," "cooperative learning ecosystems," and "virtual research environments" are also used to describe the virtual world concept (Cartelli, et al., 2008; Galarneau, 2009; Sonnenwald, et al., 2009). Virtual worlds grew out of the world of computer gaming, in which MMORPGs (Massive Multi-Player Online Role Playing Games) have used such software to provide an immersive, interactive gaming experience. Where virtual worlds differ from MMORPGs is in the lack of any defined goal or quest. A virtual world is more of a social environment than a game, and as such is a logical extension of social networking software such as instant messaging. Theoretically, one can reproduce almost any real life activity within the virtual world--including library services and higher education. As early career librarians, the authors of this article are all members of the reference department at the main research library. All three authors are tenure-track library faculty who are experienced users of communication and web technology, are not intimidated by new software, and are thus more likely than not to explore new technology. When approached about the possibility of adding content to an already-established university site in Second Life, we decided that we first needed to address the all-important underlying question: How will a virtual world help us, as an academic library, accomplish our purpose? As we set out to answer this question, we found that all is not perfect in-world. Virtual world environments are not particularly easy to use and, once established, do not necessarily accomplish the desired goals. On the other hand not all difficulties that accompany libraries in virtual worlds lie within the virtual world itself. A virtual presence requires a significant real world commitment. In order to assess the usefulness of virtual environments, we examined some of the traditional services offered by libraries and determined what would be required in order to re-create that service in a virtual world. We then examined three virtual world programs, including Second Life, to determine if they provided what was needed in order to offer the library service. What we discovered has made us rethink what we hoped to add to our existing university space in Second Life and what direction we should go in terms of new technology. (Contains 5 tables.)
Ryan, J., Porter, M. & Miller, R. (2010). Academic Library Services in Virtual Worlds: An Examination of the Potential for Library Services in Immersive Environments. Journal of Information Technology Education, 9,.