Libraries in Second Life: Linking Collections, Clients, and Communities in a Virtual World

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This article examines the purposes, users, collections and the community integration of different libraries which exist within second life. It attempts to address two questions: “What are the kinds of libraries which exist in Second Life” and “What are the best practices for designing libraries in Second Life?”

I think the authors made a thorough examination of the libraries which have emerged in Second Life and clearly identified the factors which have shaped their development such as the inherent flexibility of the Second Life platform. They covered seventy-five in total and categorized them based on purpose, users, the collections, the facilities offered and the creativity of the visual design of the library. Some of these were merely buildings designated as libraries to add detail to virtual towns/cities but offered no functionality whatsoever. Others acted as extensions of physical libraries, offering access to some of the physical library’s collections. Others were used to demonstrate the creative potential of the Second Life platform, containing collections in imaginative structures that had no basis in the physical world.

The authors also identified a number of general aspects of these libraries that would be useful to note when it comes to establishing design practices. As mentioned above some of Second Life’s libraries consist of very creative visual structures. Stanford’s Virtual Libraries do not resemble the physical library but instead consists of a tower which contains various exhibits from the library’s collections. Access to the library’s spaces is provided by a miniature steam train which travels around the exhibits offering a novel way for visitors to see the available resources. The authors suggested that such exploitation of the immersive nature of Second Life did offer a more enjoyable user experience than simply accessing materials from a database. However they also noted that it was important that virtual libraries in Second Life were clearly identifiable as libraries. Even when the creative freedom of the platform was heavily exploited when designing the structure, visual cues such as a card catalogue were used to confirm the purpose of the structure.

Another design practice issue the authors noted concerned the formats in which the collections were available. Second Life offers three formats. The innate notecard format of the platform is easiest to use but a little awkward to read. Collections outside Second Life can be linked to but that raises the question of why go to all the trouble of using Second Life to access them in the first place? Finally materials can be displayed as attractive digital books but these take time to design and implement.
The authors conclude by stating there is no single model of best practice for designing Second Life libraries and list a number of general design practices for virtual libraries. I thought that these were too general and could be summarized as “It depends on the users.” Perhaps future work could refine the suggested practices into more detailed steps.

Gantt, J. T., & Woodland, J. R. (2013). Libraries in second life: Linking collections, clients, and communities in a virtual world. Journal of Web Librarianship, 7(2), 123-141. doi:10.1080/19322909.2013.780883

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Eanna O’Keefe – LinkedIn

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