I Have a Feeling We're Not in Kansas Any More!

by Bill Sowers, Cataloging Librarian and Second Life Coordinator

Bill Sowers in Second Life
In August 2006, I received an e-mail from Christie Brandau sent to the staff of the State Library of Kansas suggesting that we consider jumping into a virtual world called SecondLife.com. Within this online game, librarians had begun setting up a place called Info Island where they were experimenting with the possibilities and potentials of providing services to a new and growing online clientele.

So one evening my wife, Diana (an employee at Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library), and I joined Second Life (often referred to as SL). We stumbled into a world populated by the bold, the beautiful, the brazen and the brash and sought out a group of librarians, educators and library supporters bent on bringing new ideas and concepts into virtual reality.

Joining SL was relatively easy. We went to http://www.secondlife.com and clicked on “join” at the top of the screen. We then proceeded through a series of pages where we selected a name for our new selves within SL, a body (called an avatar or AV) and whether we wanted to pay for extra “perks” within SL. There is no need to pay any money into Second Life to enjoy your experience there and it is better to start off without investing any money into the game.

After joining, we loaded the software at http://secondlife.com/community/downloads.php that enabled us to get into SL and begin our adventure. Our entrance into SL began as it does for every “newbie,” at a location set up specifically for novices to the game. At this center we learned the basics of walking, flying, getting clothes and changing our appearance. We then did a search for Info Island and teleported to the island. It’s a very Star Trek sort of place in some ways.

The first couple weeks on Info Island were spent exploring the various libraries and collections that were available and being developed on the site. A virtual environment is something like being a cartoon character in a place made to appear three dimensional. We walked through buildings with books, computer screens, photos, statues and other objects. Clicking on some items provided us with links to websites on the Internet. Other objects brought forth “note cards” with essays, books or instructions on programs available within Second Life. One evening we watched a woman performing a monologue as Queen Anne Boleyn. Another evening was spent looking at computer art created by an artist in Real Life (often referred to as RL) on display in the Info Island Gallery. A display on the Declaration of Independence currently being exhibited by the Library of Congress was duplicated on Info Island and we strolled around large representations of the signers of that document.

As we wandered the islands (for there was now an Info Island and an Info Island II) we met librarians from around the world who encouraged us to join the group and volunteer for projects. A government documents collection was needed and we offered our services and became involved in setting up a library area from scratch, providing everything from tables and chairs to resources and note cards on U.S. government information as well as resources from other countries. The learning curve on all levels was immense and our first efforts proved to be very basic in scope and coverage.

State Library of Kansas in Second Life
In October, the State Library of Kansas was given a building on a new island just south of Info Island called Cybrary City. We had learned a lot from our activities in the Government Documents Collection and the Genealogy Collection we were also participating in. We took on the new State Library of Kansas building as a means of promoting Kansas library services and information on the state of Kansas. The State Library of Kansas Virtual Branch was the first library to open its doors on Cybrary City and we have continued to develop it. In early December, the State Library’s Management Team had a short staff meeting on the second floor of the building with each staff member present with their own avatar. In mid December, a virtual library was opened by the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library on Cybrary City.

Inside the State Library of Kansas
in Second Life
Articles that are both pro and con regarding Second Life and the influx of libraries and educational institutions into the virtual game abound on and offline. Our experience has been, and continues to be, a positive one. Probably the best way to see what is happening within Info Island is to create an avatar and go see it yourself. Info Island, by the way, has become a whole archipelago.

Some helpful links on the Internet and within Second Life (called SLURLS) are:

Second Life Library 2.0

Take a YouTube tour of Info Island

Institutions and Libraries in Second Life

Second Life Education Wiki

SLURL for State Library of Kansas Virtual Branch in SL

SLURL for Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library virtual site in SL

This is going to be a serious professional environment but it is also a lot of fun. Enjoy! And please say hello to Rocky Vallejo (Bill Sowers) and Cindy Elkhart (Diana Sowers) if you run into them.

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