Libraries have entered the virtual world of Second Life (SL)! The Alliance Library System (ALS) in Illinois and the Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (PLCMC) in North Carolina have established a library on the "Alliance Info Archipelago" in the adult area of SL and the "Eye4You Alliance Island" in the teen’s area. They have been extremely successful, the Info Archipelago receives about 5,000 visitors a day, and Eye4You receives between 2,000 and 3,000 daily visitors. Services provided include reference, programs, exhibits, collections (web resources, EBs, audio books), book and genre discussions, and training.
One of the questions that the ALS and PLCMC developers had was whether the SL avatars would want or need library services. The answer was a resounding YES. Over 400 librarians from around the world are therefore volunteering their services and bringing their expertise to the Info Archipelago. They see the following advantages:
- SL is a new professional frontier and it’s where many users and non-users are.
- Attract new users to the traditional library through referral.
- They can investigate library services in virtual worlds and provide services 24/7.
- SL is an opportunity to meet and work w/librarians worldwide.
- They can learn and use the 3D web, emerging web interaction interface.
Surprisingly, even in SL, one of the more frequent requests is for books.
A major challenge in SL is that it is highly addictive and time-intensive, so the rate of burnout for the volunteers is high. Another challenge is that colleagues or managers of the volunteers may be skeptical that they are actually working in SL. Other lessons learned include:
- Virtual world residents DO want a library—they are coming in droves!
- Collaboration is very important
- The exhibits are very popular and the events draw crowds.
- SL is fun and is a catalyst for amazing growth. The speed at which it is growing is unbelieveable.
As a result of their involvement with SL, ALS and PLCMC have received huge national and international attention and have become recognized as key innovators and leaders in the library community.
Columnist, Information Today and CIL 2007 Blog Coordinator