A Library for Avatars

By Tom Peters | Avatars need libraries, too, you know. An avatar—in this context—is "an icon or representation of a user in a shared virtual reality." Last Thursday, the Alliance Library System officially announced that this summer it plans to begin offering library services to avatars who live and work in the 3D virtual space Second Life. Second Life has significantly more than 100,000 registered avatars, but at any given time a few thousand are actually online and active, so this global virtual village currently is about the size of Vegetable City, Iowa. You can set up one avatar for free, but the real folks at Second Life do ask for a credit card number or Paypal info. for verification purposes.

As Jenny Levine posted on The Shifted Librarian blog last Wednesday, the genius behind this project is Lori Bell, the Director of Innovation at the Alliance Library System. (Full-disclosure note: It has been my pleasure to work with Lori on a wide variety of innovative projects over the years, and I plan to get involved in this one too.) Lori thinks it's high time for a community of avatars in a 3D virtual-reality space to have a good, full-service library.

Late last week, Lori gave me a virtual tour of the new library. At the time, I was using a loaner avatar with lime green hair (he was a nice enough bloke, but a bit jiggy in the pre-Will Smith sense of the term). Since then, I've set up my own avatar, who I named "Maxito Ricardo," in honor of my real dog Max. (Max wants to know when his avatar will be available in Second Life. If a pet avatar is a cat, I suppose that would be a Tenth Life avatar.) Second Life Library 2.0

The new library has a space and some furniture, bookshelves, and computer equipment. Lori thinks it will be called the Second Life Library 2.0, because there will be a concerted effort to incorporate several library 2.0 ideas into this new type of library. An inside joke behind the name is there already are a couple of library projects underway in the Second Life virtual-reality space, but neither one reportedly is developing quickly.

The virtual space is somewhat like the real world. You can build things, buy things, work, play, study, etc. You can move around by walking, but you also can fly (à la Neverland), and teleportation is a quick way to get from virtual point A to virtual point B.

It will be interesting and fun to watch and help this new library develop. Lori says that public programs (lectures, discussions, presentations, and the like) probably will be a key part of the initial stage of development this summer. OPAL (Online Programming for All Libraries—And All Library Users), an international collaborative in which Lori and I are involved, will have some online events in the new library.

Eventually, the library will offer virtual collections and services that the avatars may use. Your avatar could sit in a comfortable chair and read an e-book, for instance. Who knows? As the intelligence of the avatar increases, yours may be able to do some reading for you—the real person—then summarize it and/or help you apply the knowledge gleaned from the book.
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