A Look At Second Life

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By ALA Tech Source Blogger Tom Peters

I love virtual libraries, the libraries that have sprouted up in three-dimensional virtual worlds such as Second Life, Active Worlds, Teen Second Life, and others. Like their bricks-and-mortar and web-based digital library cousins, virtual libraries offer information resources and services to patrons, but with some interesting twists.

Bradburyville in Second Life

For instance, the patrons served by virtual libraries are avatars, three-dimensional representations of the people who inhabit these virtual worlds. And the information experiences that virtual libraries enable often are immersive and interactive exhibits, such as the “walk-in” version of the Ray Bradbury novel, Fahrenheit 451, at Bradburyville in Second Life.

Second Life alone contains a wealth of interesting, useful libraries. The Alliance Library System in Illinois has partnered with libraries around the world to create the Alliance Information Archipelago, a cluster of dozens of islands in Second Life where libraries and other cultural institutions offer a wide variety of interesting information experiences.

Some virtual libraries are representations of the real world libraries that created them. The Cullom-Davis Library at Bradley University in Peoria, for example, has a virtual library on Bradley University’s Island in Second Life that looks pretty much like the real McCoy. Other libraries in virtual worlds are out of this world. They may be Jetson-like high rises where you can fly up to any floor and land on the balcony, or they may float in the air.

Many of my favorite virtual libraries are those that serve a specific community of interest or focus on a particular topic. The Consumer Health Library on Health Info Island in Second Life contains a wealth of information for anyone interested in healthy living. The new Sustainable Living Library on Emerald City in Second Life helps real-world libraries and the communities they serve to learn more about, to envision, and to test green libraries that are environmentally friendly.

Virtual Harlem

Who says a virtual library has to exist only in the present? The library on Virtual Harlem in Second Life harkens back to the vibrant era of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and 1930s. The library serving the Caledon community in Second Life focuses on the Victorian period in English history. When you visit that library, you are expected to exhibit the dress and deportment of a Victorian gentleman or lady.

Virtual libraries provide a wealth of services. Some services are traditional, while others are innovative. These libraries often provide reference services, where visitors can ask questions and receive information from the avatars of real-life librarians. Many book discussions are held in virtual worlds, and the number of author talks, museum and gallery openings, and free musical concerts is amazing.

Many virtual libraries in virtual worlds are open to everyone in the real world, because many virtual worlds have worldwide participation. People from many cultures are meeting in these fanciful worlds to work, learn, and have fun. Gartner Research has predicted that by the year 2011 approximately 80 percent of all Internet users will be active in one or more virtual worlds. Many librarians already are exploring these brave new worlds and developing library services to meet the growing population of avatars. Perhaps the greatest thing about these virtual libraries is that you can visit them all from the comfort of your own home, using your computer and the Internet.

About Tom Peters
Tom Peters is the founder of TAP Information Services (www.tapinformation.com), which provides a wide variety of services supporting libraries, consortia, government agencies, publishers, and other information-intensive organizations. Tom has worked previously at the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC, the academic consortium of the Big Ten universities and the University of Chicago), Western Illinois University in Macomb, Northern IllinoisUniversit yin DeKalb, Minnesota State University at Mankato, and the Universityof Missouriat Kansas City. At Grinnell College he majored in English and philosophy. His MLS is from the University of Iowa. His second master's degree (in English) was completed at the Universityof Missouri at Kansas City. His library experience includes reference service, library instruction, collection management, and administration.