IL06: Second Life Library 2.0: Going to Where the Users Are

The first of the afternoon sessions I went to was about a library project I've been following from afar for a while: the construction of a virtual library in the online game Second Life. So it was really interesting to hear about the ups and downs of this project first hand. I've also been debating about whether to volunteer for the project, and this presentation decided me, although not, perhaps, in the direction the folks presenting would have liked: I have too much going on in my first life right now to have any to spare for a second one (though this might change once I graduate, we'll see). The presentation started off with showing a brief video tour of the library site (called Info Island) on YouTube. Then Lori Bell gave us an introduction to Second Life and the virtual library.

Regarding Second Life:

  • It's not a game - it's a sandbox.
  • It's growing fast.
  • Major companies are opening businesses there.
  • There's a definite feeling of "you gotta try this!" about the game.
  • It's important for libraries to be there.

When the project started, they wondered if folks wanted a library. They do. Folks are getting tired of the sex and gambling that can be found elsewhere in the game and Info Island is one place they can go to get away from it. They now get 45,000 visitors a day (and they only just officially opened), and they're always in need of more volunteers.

There's lots happening:

  • Writers are hanging out here (and some of them are publishing in-game too).
  • There are all kinds of programming - talks, tours, exhibits.
  • They've got ways to access web resources (and some subscription databases that have donated trial subscriptions).
  • Trying to staff 24/7 (though I got the feeling they aren't there yet).
  • Reference service is available.
  • They have book discussion groups.

They're still experimenting with services and such - so if you've got ideas, come try them.

Info Island is gaining a reputation as a safe and welcoming place to hang out in Second Life.

A bit of history:

  • Started in April 2006
    • Since then they've had two islands donated, and have gotten free trials of lots of library software.
    • Have a grant for HealthInfo Island - to create a virtual library of medical info.
    • They have a branch library in Caledon, an area that's a simulation of the 19th century.
  • They're developing lots of partnerships:
    • Tech Soup
    • ICT library
    • World Bridges
    • New Media Consortium
    • Higher Ed Folks
    • Museums

After Lori's introduction, Michael Sauers brought us back down to earth with a bit of a reality check.

Here's what you're getting into if you decide to volunteer:

  • You need a hot system to make the game work - you really need to at least have recommended hardware specs.
  • Communication is like IMing - so if you can't follow multiple conversations or are a less than stellar typist, you're in trouble.
  • You don't have to spend real money to play, but it helps smooth out the experience.
  • Lag happens: the more people playing, the slower everything runs.
  • Your boss and co-workers probably won't view this as work, even if you're doing the same stuff here that you do at your day job.
  • The grid (what the Second Life gameworld is known as) is addictive - the more fun you have, the more time you want to spend there. It's easy for your Second Life to take over your First Life too.
  • Software updates are required, and there are a lot of them (and you're downloading the whole thing, not a patch).
  • Bugs happen:
    • Gray goo
    • Purchased items dissappearing (this is BAD - money down the drain).
    • Sometimes the game just barfs.
  • So, in some respects, it's kinda sorta beta software (and not Google's idea of beta either).

This part of the presentation, along with some brief experience in the game myself (I still haven't gotten out of the tutorial yet), is what decided me on waiting a bit before jumping in and volunteering. Oh, and they mean what they say about the system specs - I tried it on my old PC and... OUCH. (And I've heard some kinda bad stuff about the reliability of the Mac version .)

Tom Peters finished off the presentation with a rundown of what they've learned and where they're going: What they're learning:

  • How to build the infrastructure.
  • Staffing, and how to handle it.
  • Governance & management (no, even in the virtual world, you still can't get away from management issues).
  • Collections:
    • Do we need one, and if so, what do we collect?
    • Should we be the archivists for Second Life?
  • Catalogs
  • Reference Services
    • What does reference servce mean in Second Life?
  • Exhibits
    • These are popular.
  • Events are big draws - and there's a lot more to do here.
  • Privacy, safety, and security issues abound.
    • There have been problems in this area.
    • How do you deal with backups?
    • They've had virtual gang warfare invade Info Island (um, that's bad).
    • In the end, the only things you don't have to worry about are vermin and restrooms.
  • Has potential to be a great tool for professional development, so how to leverage this.

Fundamental questions:

  • What services do we provide?
  • What links to Real Life do we provide?
  • What buildings do we build, and where do we build them?
    • For instance, people like to be outdoors in the game - how to make use of this?

Challenges

  • Self-inflicted burnout (Michael Sauers mentioned this, too).
  • External funding (though they've had some breaks here, thanks to Talis).
  • Implementing library 2.0 concepts in Second Life.
  • Dealing with the rapidly evolving environment and people's reactions to it.

Predictions:

  • Library services to the avatars in Second Life will thrive.
  • In game architecture will evolve away from real world architecture.
  • Libraries, museums, and theme parks are merging in the online world.
  • Events and exhibits will reign over collections.
  • Immersive, experiential learning experiences will be important (walk in books and more)!