August 10, 2007
Second Life Librarianship
I'm currently taking a Virtual World Librarianship class through the UIUC Continuing Education Program. The class lasts for 6 weeks, meets for 2 hours on Friday morning in Second Life, and is supplemented by a class forum in Moodle (an open-source course management system, I quite like it).
My virtual self, or avatar, is sitting primly on a bench in the auditorium on Info Island waiting for class to start. My avatar is named Grumpator Garrigus, of course! This class, our third, looks like it will be pretty interesting. The topic is virtual collections and exhibits. The instructor has set up a display of library items on the stage.
I want to just mention a few things about Second Life as a game. It really isn't one. There are no goals, no objectives, no quests, no experience points or statistics, nothing. However, it really is an interesting virtual world. Granted, a lot of the activity in Second Life is gambling or sex, but really, is that much different from the real world?
I wouldn't be very interested in playing Second Life on my own - the controls are cumbersome, and I have plenty of other games to play that are more appealing to my tastes, such as the killing and looting of things and leveling up. But I can really understand how some people would really like Second Life. It's a very open and social environment. You're free to do what you want - you can change your appearance, customize to whatever you like, you can explore islands, visit exhibits (I learned of one today that UC Davis put up that simulates hallucinations), go dancing, or just socialize with people (or gamble or have sex, of course). Many people aren't into RPGs, shooters, strategy games, etc, and would just like to go shopping. Second Life is the game for them. Additionally, most of the content of Second Life is created by the residents, or players, so there are varying levels of quality, but a lot of fascinating stuff.
There is quite a bit of educational activity in Second Life - there are book clubs, book fairs, medical exhibits and simulations, and a lot of universities have a presence there. Libraries are really starting to explore service possibilities here, and some of it is really exciting.
Our first two classes had some really interesting content, and I learned quite a bit, but I think that virtual instruction in Second Life, much like virtual courses for college, really have a long way to go to take advantage of the opportunities offered by a virtual medium. In our first courses, our virtual selves sat primly on benches and watched the instructor type the lecture. For 2 hours. Today's class will actually have a tour, which is a little more interactive, but poses its own problems with herding a bunch of newbies around and letting them navigate on their own. Second Life connects in many intriguing ways with the internet - for example, you can link audio files, web pages, etc. directly in Second Life so that they play or display there without having to leave the SL environment. That opens up a lot of instructional possibilities, but it takes some imagination and probably a little extra work for the instructor in order to make it work.
So, halfway through this class, I'm less skeptical about librarians taking time to provide services in Second Life, but as far as I'm concerned, I doubt I would spend much time in SL unless it was part of my job. I still prefer to spend my free time sniping terrorists in Ecuador with my clan, or running dungeons in Azeroth with my friends.