Second Life: A Virtual World. Why Are Librarians There?
First Monday

Second Life: A Virtual World Why Are Librarians There? by Ilene Frank



Abstract
Educators and librarians have been exploring Second Life, a 3D virtual world. With more and more users in virtual worlds, educators and librarians need to keep themselves informed about the ways these platforms can be useful. Librarians involved in Second Life are experimenting with services and activities to discover the best way to use virtual worlds. This paper recaps a presentation given at WebWise in Miami, Florida, March 2008.

 


 

Second Life: A Virtual World

 

Figure 1: Second Life
Figure 1

 

Second Life is a 3D virtual world — an MUVE (Multi User Virtual Environment). Second Life is a 3D virtual environment opened to the public in 2003 by Linden Lab. Second Life is not a game. There are no winners or losers. There is little in the way of rules of behavior beyond some basic community standards of behavior and terms of service. Residents of Second Life build or find or purchase digital objects to create environments that mimic real life — or create environments that are nothing like real life. Would you like your representation of you — your avatar — to appear some years younger than in you do in Real Life? Would you rather appear as a dragon or perhaps a tiny hobbit–like creature? How about appearing as a ball of light? All of that is possible and you can change your mind about your appearance at will. Would you like to own a unicorn? Would you like to own some digital chickens that lay digital eggs? Would you like to study the murals in the Sistine Chapel in 3D? Would you like to visit an exhibition of interactive sound sculptures? Would you like to visit a museum of all the types of rockets that have been shot into outer space? How about visiting a Van Gogh Museum where it is possible to enter a painting and experience a Van Gogh environment in three dimensions? Second Life is a place where all of that is possible.

While there are arguments about exactly how many people are users of Second Life, at any given time there are around 35,000 to perhaps 50,000 avatars online. Many users are from countries other than the United States. According to a 2007 item in Second Life Reuters, 54 percent of users were from Europe with only around 31 percent from the United States (Reuters, 2007). You may run into a group of avatars who are texting each other in German or Portuguese. If you don’t speak the language, Second Life has some translation devices your avatar can wear that do a fair job of translating text from one language to another. The average self–reported age of users in Second Life is 33 years of age with 11.5 percent older than 45 years of age (Reuters, 2007).

Why should librarians and educators care about virtual worlds such as Second Life? That is where our users are headed. More and more of our users are becoming familiar and comfortable with virtual worlds. Nick Yee (2006) studied the demographics of 30,000 users over three years using online gaming environments. Users ranged from 11–68 years of age with an average of 26.57 years of age. These users spent an average of 22 hours a week. The Gartner Group (2008) estimated that 80 percent of active Internet users will be using virtual worlds by the end of 2011. Virtual worlds are becoming a familiar and favored environment for many users. The Association of Virtual Worlds (2008) lists 250 virtual worlds.

An aside: One issue is the computing power necessary for running virtual worlds. Running Second Life and other virtual worlds requires a LAN or broadband connection and a fairly high–end computer with an appropriate graphics card. Another problem for educators is dealing with students who have physical disabilities. Developers are looking into ways to make Second Life more accessible. While these are deterrents for some, it seems that virtual worlds continue to evolve and are likely to become as ubiquitous and common as e–mail as a form of communication.

 

Figure 2: World of Warcraft
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Figure 3: There com and Club Penguin
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To give you an idea of how many are using virtual worlds, World of Warcraft boasted of ten million players in January 2008. There.com has one million users. Club Penguin has around 700,000 paid accounts and 12 million active users.

 

Figure 4: Other 3D virtual worlds
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But virtual worlds are just for play, aren’t they? Play is one use, but not the only use. Virtual worlds have captured the attention of educators who are eager to explore the possibilities of simulation, role–playing, and creation that are possible in virtual environments. Virtual worlds — such as Active Worlds (http://www.activeworlds.com) and Croquet (http://www.opencroquet.org) open source software — are only two examples of virtual worlds that have captured the attention of some educators. Forterra’s OLIVE platform has been used for training by the U.S. Army. Educators are taking virtual worlds as an environment for educational purposes seriously.

Given that there are so many virtual worlds, why has Second Life gotten a lot of attention? Why was Second Life mentioned over and over again at the 2008 WebWise meetings in Miami? Here are some possible reasons.

Users can join for free and stay on Second Life without spending any money. This was one of the draws in my own case. Once I got curious about Second Life, I was able to explore without spending any money — especially without having to hope for support from my institution. I took advantage of a free entrance fee which allowed me to try out a sophisticated 3D environment. I finally decided to get a premium membership so that I would have some Linden dollars (the Second Life currency) to donate to teachers offering “how to do it” classes and library activities and to do some occasional shopping. While I decided to spend some real dollars in Second Life, it is not necessary.

There is an additional aspect to the free entrance fee. Since Second Life is open to anyone over 17 years of age, I could explore Second Life without waiting for my institution to decide to provide a server, software, and technical support and decide that I, as a librarian with no programming skills, could have access.

Residents of Second Life can build whatever they can imagine. There are classes to help new users learn to build items if they are inclined to learn the skill. Others may also choose to purchase items created by others. Along with being able to build, users own the digital objects they create. They can make them freely available to others or sell them for Linden dollars — the currency of Second Life. One drawback of Second Life is that objects cannot be exported for use in other virtual worlds at this point. Some question the efficacy of becoming overly involved creating digital objects for this platform when lack of exportability is the case. What happens when some other virtual world becomes a more attractive option? This seems inevitable given on–going development of virtual world platforms. Educators have experienced the toil involved in transferring course materials from learning management systems such as WebCT to learning management systems such as Blackboard. Nevertheless educators involved in Second Life are developing a comfort level with virtual worlds that should stand them in good stead.

Second Life allows users to interact with others from around the world using text chat or voice. Of course interacting with others who may not share the aims of educators and their students can be a drawback. Educators ought to provide some warning to their students about the potential for troublesome situations and how to deal with them. In fact there are classes in how to deal with griefers — the term for trouble–makers. I would add that running into griefers is not a regular occurrence. In my own case I have only run into two situations in the two years I have been on Second Life. Even the worst cases of griefing incidents can be handled by logging off though this sort of thing could throw a class schedule off track. Some feel that students do not need any distractions when doing course work. It is possible to “lock down” an area in Second Life so that only certain avatars such as a particular group of students are permitted. Even with that option, some educators argue that it makes sense to abandon the open aspects of Second Life in favor of “education–only” virtual worlds. Other educators argue that encountering and handling these kinds of difficulties can provide opportunities for students to learn new social skills.

Another reason that Second Life has become a favored space for a number of educators is that Linden Lab has made an effort to reach out to educators. “Education” has a section of the Second Life Web site at (http://secondlifegrid.net/programs/education). The section includes lists of educator resources, examples of what various institutions are doing in Second Life, etc. Linden Lab fosters a discussion list entitled SLED (Second Life Education). SLED has more than 4,000 users and it is a busy list. Educators discuss their activities, technical issues, sociological and psychological aspects of Second Life.

One recurring topic is appearance of the teacher–avatar. Should the instructor maintain a professional “real life” appearance?

Collaboration is the norm. “How do I ...?” questions are answered. Educational tools such as PowerPoint viewers and quiz tools are shared. Educators team up to collaborate on projects. Sharing extends to the use of space for educational purposes as well. SLED in monitored by Lindens (employees of Second Life) who are attentive to the problems and concerns of educators.

Linden Lab provides educational pricing for land for those educators who want to “buy land” in Second Life. As noted earlier, spending money for land is not always necessary. Educators interested in trying out a few class sessions can find someone happy to share space at least temporarily. Other individuals and organizations, such as the New Media Consortium (NMC), have set up additional rental options. The New Media Consortium can provide additional services such as access to builders. (see http://virtualworlds.nmc.org/services/).

Educators and librarians are so enthusiastic about using Second Life that they are willing to explore Second Life outside of the usual administrative structures on their campuses. Some are spending their own time and sometimes their own money to pursue projects in Second Life. In other cases institutions provide funding to develop a presence on Second Life.

So what are educators doing on Second Life? They are creating classroom spaces that mimic real life as well as learning spaces that could never exist in real life. One on–going debate on SLED is whether or not learning spaces should mimic real life. Some educators note that their students new to Second Life find it less confusing to encounter areas that relate to spaces they already know. Some think that constructing familiar–looking spaces is also an easier sell to faculty who are skeptical about Second Life. A classroom building on Second Life might be created to resemble a real life campus building even though avatars can fly or teleport from floor to floor rather than climb stairs and there is no need for roofs since there is no need to provide protection from the weather. In fact any imagined environment could be used. For example Cynthia Calongne holds office hours in an underwater environment. No need for breathing apparatus.

 

Figure 5: Educational uses of Second Life
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Some other examples include:

  • A British Literature classroom provides a place for students to gather. The bookshelf includes links to the Web where students can retrieve study assignments. Clicking on portraits of authors brings up notecards with poems or short biographies. See Beth Ritter–Guth’s LiteratureAlive! wiki for more information about her Second Life projects including information about other more immersive environments based on literary texts at http://collegeenglish.wikispaces.com/literaturealive.

  • On Genome Island, students can take a self–guided genetics lessons at the Bunny Farm. Students can use an in–world presentation to learn to predict the color of rabbits depending on the cross of the bunnies.

  • Second Life also allows for access to real world events. For example, the MacArthur Foundation announcement of their Digital Media Learning Education grants was streamed into Second Life in October 2006. Without traveling I was able to view the event in real time sitting with other avatars that could in turn be seen real time by the participants in the real world.

  • Anything that happens in real life can happen on Second Life. Issues such as intellectual property in virtual worlds are up for discussion in Second Life. A presentation on “IP and Virtual Worlds” was given on Second Life at the Best Practices in Second Life Education 24 hour–long conference held in Second Life on 25 May 2007. The conference drew over 1,000 participants. By the way this conference was not driven by any administration’s mandate. Self–starters simply envisioned the conference, organized a group of volunteers, and even got real life sponsors to help them host this impressive event.

 

Figure 6: Role playing
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  • Role–playing is easy to accomplish in Second Life. Avatars can dress like characters from history, fiction, etc. In one case, teachers developed packs of clothing representing the dress of various immigrant populations to the United States. Students study the immigrants and their historical context and engage in role–playing to display what they have learned.

 

Figure 7: NMC Teachers Buzz
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  • In an example of professional development the New Media Consortium (NMC) has held sessions called Teachers Buzz — meetings of educators who share information about their educational activities in Second Life. For example researchers working with middle school students on the Teen Grid of Second Life discussed their observations and excitement working in this virtual environment. In other cases participants might visit educational locations on Second Life to see what instructors have developed for their students — or what students themselves have created.

 

Figure 8: Sistine Capel, Vassar Island
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  • Second Life also allows users to replicate the sense of being in an important architectural site. Developers of Vassar Island have replicated the interior of the Sistine Chapel in order to give the faculty there an idea of the kinds of locations that can be portrayed on Second Life.

Those are some examples of activities in Second Life by educators. What are librarians doing in Second Life? Librarians are following suit. In some cases they are replicating traditional librarian services such as answering reference questions and pointing to collections of information. Librarians are also involved in adding to the cultural life of Second Life residents by providing programming in the way of book talks, story–telling events, art exhibitions, musical performances, etc. Lori Bell, Director of Innovation at the Alliance Library System, Tom Peters from TAP Info Services, and others began sending out enthusiastic messages about their explorations and vision of the role librarians could play in Second Life early in 2006. The pioneers encouraged other librarians to give Second Life a try.

 

Figure 9: Librarians First Official Meeting April 2006
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Figure 10: Librarians meeting April 2007
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The first official meeting gathering a small group of librarians together in Second Life took place in April 2006. Librarians are good at self–organizing and — contrary to some stereotypes — are interested in new technology, so the presence of librarians in Second Life has continued to grow. By the time of the March 2008 WebWise conference, there were approximately 650 librarians in the Alliance Library Google Groups discussion list and approximately 800 librarians in the Librarians in Second Life in World group and another 1,400 “library friends” in yet another in–world group.

While librarians have provided collections and answered reference questions (which I’ll discuss below), there are other aspects to Second Life that seem even more vibrant to me. Librarians are providing programming in the form of book talks, art exhibitions, meetings for professional development, and opportunities for networking.

 

Figure 11: Examples of libraries in Second Life
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Figure 12: The Holodeck ICT Library
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Some examples of libraries and library organizations in Second Life include McMasters University; Tufts University’s Tisch Library; ALA InfoIsland; and, the ICT Library. The Information & Communications Technology (ICT) Library run by the avatar Milo Czervic holds a collection tools for educators such as image viewers, scripts in the Linden Lab scripting language that can be used to make digital objects do things, etc. These items are generally very low cost and/or free to residents of Second Life.

 

Figure 13: Clearwater Public Library in real life and in Second Life
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Figure 14: Clearwater Public Library streaming video
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To use a Florida example, librarians at Clearwater Public Library have developed an island with a recreation of their real–life library. The island includes facilities for meetings such as an open–air auditorium set up to play streaming video.

 

Figure 15: Teen Grid Second Life
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Librarians are also active on the Teen Grid. Teen Grid in Second Life is available to teens 13–17 years old. Adults who want to work on the Teen Grid have to go through a real–life background check which is submitted for approval by Linden Lab. The Eye4You Alliance is a group of librarians helping teens hold events such as a “Festival of Authors” that included the personal appearance of some authors. This age segregation can cause problems for educators. Some students beginning college might be younger than 18 and there are parents who would like to comfortably work with their children on Second Life. There are on–going discussions about additional ways to set up a safe space for teens and adults to work together. This difficulty is another reason that some would like to see the development of education–only virtual worlds.

 

Figure 16: Adam Ramona's Exhibition, Library Gallery, Info Island
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As mentioned earlier librarians are also instrumental in setting up cultural events such as art exhibitions. The Library Gallery on Info Island was the site of a display of interactive sculptures by the avatar Adam Ramona and another display of Daruma Picnic’s work, which is also interactive. Daruma is an art librarian in real life so providing a venue for this work was a good way to highlight contributions that librarians can make to the intellectual life of a community.

 

Figure 17: Daruma Picnic's Singing Interactive Sculptures, Library Gallery, Info Island
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Following Adam Ramona’s lead, Daruma Picnic, a librarian in real life, developed a singing interactive environmental piece. As avatars move through the environment, sounds provided by Daruma’s co–workers are triggered.

 

Figure 18: Reference desk, International Info Island
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What about the more traditional services that librarians offer in Second Life? It turns out that Second Life is not the best place to read large quantities of text. Is the concept of “library” viable? Does the concept of “library” encompass more than collections? One of the traditional services that librarians are offering is reference service. Librarians want to be the trusty–worthy sources of information — including information about Second Life. Volunteer librarians, library science graduate students and library friends work at a reference desk. The 2007 Annual Report of the Alliance Library System (2007) provides statistics on reference service offered centrally on International Info Island. Thirty–two volunteers were able to cover the reference desk 78 hours a week serving over 6,700 avatars. A majority of the questions were about Second Life, with only a few real–life reference questions. A small group of patrons spoke no English and only a few used VoIP (voice over IP) as opposed to text–based chat. Librarians have developed some lists of those with language skills and have translated notecards into various languages to hand out to non–English speakers. Second Life tools include some automatic translation devices which help to some extent.

 

Table 1: Librarians and library friends offer reference service.
Source: http://www.alliancelibraries.info/slendofyearreport2007.pdf.
2007 Reference statistics
Patrons served6,769
Second Life directional questions1,921
Second Life reference questions2,292
Real life directional questions186
Number of reported voice patrons46
Number of patrons not speaking English37
Number of volunteers32
Scheduled hours of volunteer time78

 

Librarians continue to seek ways to market their services and develop tools which will help them answer reference questions from avatars.

Interestingly some rules have been instituted to keep this reference area professional. Unless there is a meeting planned, it is possible to log on to the Information Island Archipelago and find few avatars. This is a criticism of Second Life in general. It can be difficult to run across others. Using the search tool to find events such as musical performances is one way to be sure to encounter other avatars.

One place to find a fellow librarian is at the reference desk on International Info Island. In any case the reference desk is also the landmark for avatars visiting the Island, so a trip to the Island usually means landing at the reference desk. That means that the reference desk area becomes a gathering place. Librarians would meet there and pass the time of day. If an avatar came along to ask a “real” reference question, there might be some problems. For example, an avatar’s question could be overheard by others, making privacy an issue. Also, often, idle text–based chitchat among the librarians does not cease. With all of the text–chat going on, new users can find themselves overwhelmed and confused by many off–topic messages. The librarians running the reference desk instituted a rule akin to the rule for running service desks in real life: No socializing at the reference desk! In order to promote good behavior of librarians and still allow for a place for librarians to congregate, a meeting spot has been built some distance away from the main reference desk. It is within eyeshot of the reference desk — but out of range of text–based chat. Will more rules become necessary? Second Life is apt to become more like “work” with more rules as time goes on.

Another question that continues to be examined is the role of centralized service versus an institutional presence. Is there a need for individual libraries on Second Life? As yet there may be few users from a particular institution clamoring for library service. Since many of the questions asked at the centralized reference desk are about Second Life, it might make sense for all librarians to support a centralized reference service rather than continue to support individual libraries. Perhaps a “world library of Second Life” would be the best solution. However institutions also gain by having an identifiable presence. As I’ll mention shortly we have had others from University of South Florida find us on Second Life since we have our building. The avatar Puglet Dancer — the director of the library at Bradley University in real life — points out that the reputation of Bradley University has spread due to their participation on Second Life. In our case, our USF Building on Second Life is not staffed, but since “University of South Florida” comes up with some entries when using the Second Life search option “all”, we have been found by students, faculty, and staff at USF — and by some local Tampa residents.

One more point about location: We also enjoy being found and finding other librarians which happens in our current location on the information archipelago. We will want to establish a library presence on our university’s islands as USF becomes more involved in Second Life.

 

Figure 19: University of South Florida
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What else are we doing in Second Life at the University of South Florida? So far there has been a slow ramp–up of a USF presence in Second Life. We librarians had the permission of our Head of Reference/Instruction, Nancy Cunningham, who has a sense of humor and a willingness to give new things a try. I would like to make it clear that this does not mean that we have become full–time avatar librarians. We have not abandoned any of our regular assignments. The three of us who have become the most active users do our usual real–life reference desk hours, our lectures on the use of the library, our collection development assignments, etc. We are allowed to use Second Life at the Library, but not to abandon the other tasks that provide support to our users in real–life. The three of us have all also spent time using our own computers at home during our “non–work” hours — whatever “non–work” hours means to interested professionals.

It might be worth mentioning the potential of becoming addicted to using Second Life. Of the three of us, one of us was spending significant amount of time on Second Life and had to make a point of setting some personal limits on use.

As early adopters we were able to secure a building on Cybrary City due to the generosity of Lori Bell. Rather than use our building strictly as a library building, we named it the USF Building in order to encourage others from USF to use the building as a meeting space. We also have an in–world “USF group” and since those things show up in Second Life searches.

So far our library has not paid to support our participation in Second Life. During the second year of our stay in Second Life, the three of us put on a fee–based hands–on workshop and donated some of the proceeds to the Alliance Library System. We wanted to make the donation because we had used one of their open air auditoriums for the in–world portions of the workshop and felt it was in our interests to support the work being done by other librarians. Alliance Library System accepted the donation in lieu of a fee to keep the USF Building for the second year. Due to our University’s budget constraints, we will probably find a way to make yet another donation to keep our USF Building on Cybrary City for the 2008/2009 academic year. Again, at this time we like our location. We are next to the University of Florida Library among libraries. We find that this is one place to meet other librarians and library science graduate students who are using Second Life.

 

Figure 20: USF Sarasota Manatee Campus
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The USF Sarasota–Manatee campus purchased an island at the prodding of two faculty members. These faculty members were working on a project that involved students in Florida and Mexico. They hoped to use Second Life as a meeting place. When they were first getting interested in Second Life these two faculty members found my name using the search feature in Second Life. Since I already had some experience, I was able to assist them in finding some of the information they needed about using Second Life as a place to teach. I was able to put them in touch with some of the other educators using Second Life. Eventually USF librarians and the faculty members put together a keynote address about Second Life for a USF technology symposium. The USF Sarasota–Manatee Island was developed and a few faculty members have used it for at least some class meetings. By March 2008 the technical support person, as well as the two faculty members mentioned above, had left for other positions. It is not clear how those efforts to use of Second Life will be continued.

 

Figure 21: USF Health Sciences Center
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USF Health — which includes medicine, nursing, and public health — has purchased some islands which are under development. There is an attempt to recreate the buildings used by the College of Nursing and the College of Public Health. The developers plan to use Second Life to familiarize distance learners with the campus environment and to allow distance learners a place for role–playing interviews with patients.

The USF Center for 21st Teaching Excellence — our faculty training division — has recently purchased an island and put one staff member in charge of developing the island to attract faculty users. We librarians have been invited to some meetings about developing the space and we will be doing at least one workshop about the use of Second Life for faculty during the Fall 2008 semester. Again, can our teaching these workshops come under a strict definition of library service? Could some library administrators object that this kind of activity is not part of the library’s primary mission? That argument could be made, but again, our administrators see these activities as a good way to partner with our faculty members. Partnering with faculty on Second Life can lead to collaborating on providing information sources for students, etc.

There are some interested staff members at the USF St. Petersburg campus who have been teaching themselves Second Life even though there are no official plans to use Second Life at this time.

Even though their candidate was defeated, many informants who participated in the Leave No Voter Behind campaign felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. According to a paid staff member:

Some faculty members have made an attempt to interest their students in Second Life. One of our engineering professors teaching a course in 3D imaging had us come to two class meetings to introduce Second Life. The students all signed up for avatars and spent some time exploring with an option to use Second Life to develop one of their class projects. Some of the faculty members at our School of Library and Information Science have provided at least a taste of using Second Life. Some faculty members in the College of Education have also been providing students with some exposure to Second Life.

None of this amounts to wholesale widespread use of Second Life at the University of South Florida. However interest is growing. We are pleased that librarians are able to provide information about this virtual environment. Again, our work with faculty in Second Life falls into the “much more than books” category when it comes to library services to be sure. Again, our administrators in the library continue to encourage us to explore Second Life. They feel that librarian–faculty collaboration is always valuable.

 

Figure 22: Librarians socializing at the TX950 Club
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Figure 23: More socializing
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There is one more aspect of Second Life that ought to be discussed: Second Life is fun. Is it ok to have fun? Some librarians presenting about Second Life are reluctant to talk about “fun” as a component of being a Second Life librarian or educator. I suppose this is a reflection on what our culture considers the nature of work. If we are having a good time, we can’t possibly be working. I would rather think that enjoying work is a plus. Working with colleagues in Second Life can be fun. Librarians have done a good job of creating opportunities to socialize I would like to suggest that socializing as an important component of getting to know your Second Life colleagues. The librarians hold themed dances on a regular basis. One good thing about Second Life: Your avatar can be a terrific dancer in Second Life even if you are not a dancer in Real Life. One location is the TX950 Club. Those of you in libraries will recognize TX 950 as the Library of Congress cataloging classification for taverns, barrooms, and saloons. In any case the kind of bonding that might take place around the water cooler or in the break room in a Real Life work environment, can take place on the dance floor in Second Life. It is easy to show up at a social situation such as a dance party and spend a little time with your peers. YouTube is a good source of machinima on Second Life. Machinima are movies made in gaming environments and virtual worlds such as Second Life. Along with tutorials and tours, you can find librarians dancing; see the Cumber Buns Screen Test posted by srharris19 on 24 January 2008, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1AgfSPl5kk.

Is Second Life worth the time? After all you already have a first life. I hope I’ve piqued your interest in virtual worlds. I would suggest that developing a comfort–level in the virtual world environment will stand you and your library users in good stead. If you are a library administrator and have a librarian on your staff interested in Second Life, I suggest that you give that individual permission to explore and learn more about operating in a virtual 3D environment. If you are a librarian who is interested in Second Life, I suggest that you give yourself permission to explore and learn more even if you have to do it in your spare time without the support of your administrators. You may be doing this exploration in your off-work–hours on your own computer. You will find other colleagues on Second Life in the same position.

If you are interested enough to try Second Life, I urge you to try using the NMC (New Media Consortium) portal to join (http://sl.nmc.org/join/). The NMC is devoted to encouraging the educational community to use Second Life. Once you create your account on Second Life thought the NMC portal and download the software, you will find yourself at an orientation site used by other librarians and educators and students. Some of you may be more comfortable in that environment rather than in a more general orientation location.

How do you find other librarians and events to attend? I found that aimlessly wandering around Second Life looking at landscapes wasn’t particularly interesting. I had tried out Second Life early on, but I didn’t get it. Not a gamer — since games always seem to involve killing something — I found the whole concept of Second Life completely puzzling. One of the first things you are encouraged to do on Second Life is change your appearance. Since my real–life fashion sense is nil, fussing over my appearance in a virtual world was not appealing. I found the interface daunting and I didn’t run across anyone to talk to. I am one of those users with an abandoned account and an abandoned avatar. I was only persuaded to try again after reading enthusiastic e–mail messages to various discussion lists from Lori Bell, Tom Peters, and others who have a history of spotting the latest technologies useful to librarians. If they were involved, Second Life had to be worth another look. So my current Second Life birthday is June 2006. Since I had been following e–mail postings about where to find librarians, I was able to make my way to Cybrary City island and meet some fellow librarians. My epiphany came one day when three of us were arranging furniture in our USF Building. We were able to move and discuss the placement of furniture in real–time using text chat even though we were geographically dispersed with two of us in Florida and the third in Illinois. I find a sense of “being there” that goes beyond watching an event on television or using instant messaging. So how can you find other librarians?

As mentioned earlier Second Life doesn’t have a great population density. I see more people crossing the street in front our university library than I may encounter in Second Life in the course of a day. At any given time there may be more than 50,000 avatars online, but they are spread out over what would be a large geographic area if Second Life were real–life real estate, it can be difficult to find others. The search tool in Second Life can be useful for identifying groups, institutions, and events — but the search tool is not as well–developed as it could be and it is easy to miss things. The e–mail discussion list for librarians — the Alliance Library Google Group — and the educators discussion list (SLED) are probably the best sources for information about events. There are also calendars to consult that consolidate some of the educational and library events on Second Life. One calendar, SLEDevents, can be found at http://sledevents.blogspot.com/. Note that often the times for Second Life events are based on Pacific Standard (or Daylight) Time since Linden Lab is in San Francisco. Be sure to check for the time zone designation given for events.

To conclude: Even though it may take some time and patience to explore Second Life, it is a worthwhile journey. Interest in virtual worlds is increasing and you will be ready when your users show up on Second Life needing help from a knowledgeable, trust–worthy librarian.

A note: Second Life was mentioned by other presenters over the course of WebWise 2008. By the time I gave my talk it might have been considered superfluous. However I presented myself as someone who struggled to learn to use Second Life but found the struggle worthwhile and that seemed to strike a chord with some members of the audience. They also reacted to my age. I am obviously in my 60’s — gray hair and all. One member of the audience commented, “You made me feel better about Second Life, because I see that you are old. If you can do it, maybe I can do it too.” End of article

 

About the author

Ilene Frank has been a librarian in reference and instruction at the Tampa Library, University of South Florida since 1974. She is also an adjunct associate professor in the Masters in Distance Education certificate program at the University of maryland University College (UMUC). She has been teaching online since 1996 and is interested in the applications of technology for teaching and learning.
E–mail: ifrank [at] lib [dot] usf [dot] edu

 

References

Alliance Library Second Life Library end of the year report 2007, at http://www.alliancelibraries.info/slendofyearreport2007.pdf, accessed 8 July 2008.

Association of Virtual Worlds, 2008. The blue book: A consumer guide to virtual worlds. Second edition. Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.: Association of Virtual Worlds, at http://www.associationofvirtualworlds.com/thebluebook/the_blue_book_may_2008_edition.zip, accessed 8 July 2008.

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Editorial history

Paper received 21 July 2008.


Copyright © 2008, First Monday.

Copyright © 2008, Ilene Frank.

Second Life: A Virtual World Why Are Librarians There?
by Ilene Frank
First Monday, Volume 13 Number 8 - 4 August 2008
http://www.firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/2222/2010





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