Second Life and Libraries: What’s the point?

Second Life, created by Linden Lab in San Francisco, is a persistent online world: a 3-D virtual continent where 10% of its 3.7 million account holder citizens log on daily as avatars to socialize, attend classes and events, do business, learn, build and create. Realize your Project Runway dreams, design a Frank Lloyd Wright style building, discover live music from talented independent artists, play a role playing game, or hang out at a neighborhood bar, dancing, drinking virtual beer, and talking to the regulars.
Everything in the space is user created, from the clothing the avatars wear to the landscapes, buildings, and objects. Perks include the ability to fly and teleport (just like apparating in Harry Porter!) and the freedom to be yourself, or someone else entirely.
Imagine if MySpace were 3-D and you could walk around in it to get from user profile to band website. Second Life is social networking software on steriods: social networking software that can be–that IS being– harnessed for library use.
It makes some degree of sense that a simulation modeled after real life, containing venues for employment, entertainment and education, would have a library. A few citizens and groups have created them in the past, but in April 2006, Alliance Library System in IL become the first library organization to plunk down money for virtual land. With a tentative mission to explore the potential of delivering services to (non-traditional) library users who might be in Second Life, ALS hoped to direct users back to the resources of their local libraries. Instead, they have found that the diverse citizenry of Second Life has unique informational and recreational needs, and that librarians are interested in the Second Life platform for professional development.
In the last year, over 200 librarians from all types of libraries around the globe have contributed time, energy, and other resources to creating virtual collections, delivering virtual reference, creating virtual displays, producing virtual programs such as book discussions, lectures and author visits, and much more. Unique partnerships with colleges and universities, museums, library vendors and various organizations have developed, and Alliance’s singular Info Island has blossomed into an Info Archipelago.


As a volunteer for the Second Life Library, I staff the main library on Info Island I for two hours once a week, greeting visitors, giving mini tours and answering questions. Half of the questions come from curious librarians, educators, and students, but the other half seems to be Second Life citizens doing just what they might do in the real world (RL) when they have a question: go to the library!
They want to know how to a job, how to stop their avatars from dancing, how to wear to buy a top hat, what places they should visit, how to move from place to place… many are questions covered in the SL knowledgebase, others are ones that could be answered by Linden Lab’s volunteer help staff, but for some reason, citizens are coming to us.
Businesses and organizations jumping into Second Life for marketing or educational purposes are recognizing the library as expert, and eager to partner. How long has it been since the library–not Google–has been the go-to resource?
Reaching new nonusers is one way we can assure that libraries will stay relevant as information seeking becomes easier, and the public continues to be willing to pay for services on demand like NetFlix and newspaper subscriptions that they once would have utilized via a local branch. Just walking around in Second Life with a librarian label over my head has been a PR dream – “you’re a librarian?” folks ask, taking in my blue skin and dancing queen persona, and their image of the bespectacled dragon with the bun is altered a bit. “Do you have any e-books?” they joke, and it’s an opportunity to say, “Well, yes… but did you know… libraries are not just about books anymore! We embrace stories and information in many formats.”
Second Life is greeted with enthusiasm by some, disdain by others, and caution by many. Is it the next big thing–Web 3.0–or not? And if not, how long is it’s lifespan, and what is the next big thing? Profiled in Wired Magazine and more recently in School Library Journal, Second Life just might be the next big thing. Others see too much hype and LibEtiquette (what else?) mocks it, while visionary and tech guru Clay Shirky takes it with a grain of salt.
As a seasoned gamer, I found the interface clumsy and non-intuitive, and still have some trouble occasionally, flying up into the air when I only meant to type a sentence. I confess to registering an account in July 2005, playing with it for a week, and deciding it was cliquey (none of 4000 or so residents went out of their way to say hello) and a waste of time. When I returned nine months later, I had a ready made set of colleagues and a project to focus on that helped with the learning curve and a gave me a practical application.
Check it out for yourself, if your computer system is up to par (requirements for the software download are demanding, and you’ll need at least a DSL Internet connection). Basic accounts are free, the Help Island tutorial will get you acclimated, and once you’ve mastered teleporting, click the Map button, type Info Island, and click search to locate us. Choose Teleport, and look for the avatars with the word “librarian” hovering over their heads – they will be happy to help you make your way in this brave new world. And once you get there, send me a note to say hello! Click Friends, pick add, and search for Cerulean Vesperia. Librarian.
Resources:
Alliance Library System’s Second Life Library 2.0 webpage and blog
http://www.infoisland.org
Calendar and blogging of events, tours, trainings and news
The Official Second Life Blog
http://blog.secondlife.com/
Press releases and updates from host Linden Labs
Second Life Knowledgebase
http://secondlife.com/knowledgebase/
Starting place for help with SL
New World Notes
http://nwn.blogs.com/
Metaverse Messenger
http://www.metaversemessenger.com/
Real news for a virtual world
Second Life Herald
http://www.secondlifeherald.com/
Another in world newspaper
Second Style
http://www.secondstyle.com/
Second Life Fashion magazine highlight user created content with a focus on haute couture
Second Seeker — Unoffical Second Life Reviews
http://secondseeker.com/
Blog style travel guide to Second Life locations
Becoming an Effective Second Life presenter by Jeff Barr
http://www.jeff-barr.com/?p=707
Covers how to present in this interactive format, and how to avoid looking like a n00b

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