Friday, August 17, 2007

The Ball State University Libraries Begins to Explore Second Life for Its Promise as a Virtual World of Opportunities for Learning, Research

In the July 2007 issue of the Ball State University Libraries’ newsletter, The Library Insider, Dr. Arthur W. Hafner, Dean of University Libraries, reported about a Working Group to explore a Library foray into the multi-user virtual environment of Second Life. A recent continuing education session for library staff provided an overview of companies, organizations, and libraries with a presence in this multi-user virtual environment.

Consider, for a moment, the possibilities that engagement with a virtual world could afford the Ball State University community. Imagine an interactive special collections exhibit featuring rare and archival materials that is available 24/7/365. The exhibit explains the scope and content of the collections and how to use the materials to conduct research and create new knowledge.

Interactive displays link to external web pages and digital resources, and they serve as portals to an expanded universe of information. In-world avatars act as docents and reference assistants to orient patrons to what they encounter there. Professors and instructors lead virtual field trips to the exhibit and assign coursework supported by the archival materials made available in this virtual environment.

The exhibit area would act as a meeting place, classroom, and digital repository. Learning opportunities like this and more are possible in Second Life, allowing libraries to reach their users no matter where they might be in the physical world.

The University Libraries are working to offer reference and instructional services and to mount virtual exhibits in Second Life. The Information Services unit is developing a reference area, promotional displays, interactive tutorials, and an instructional environment. Much like the Reference Desk and library classrooms in Bracken's physical space, these areas will serve the users of University Libraries' virtual resources.

Archives and Special Collections are working on a Middletown Archives & Library that will provide access to digitized archival materials documenting the use of Muncie (as Middletown) as a representative American Community. Some of the digitized resources to be made available include photographs, maps, newspapers, and oral histories.

Through development of such resources, the University Libraries hope to explore the role of academic libraries in the virtual environment. Several questions arise regarding this role, including:
Who are our patrons in such an environment, targeted and unexpected?
How are reference and instructional services to be delivered to avatars?
How do those transactions differ from real life reference and instructional transactions?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of delivering library services to avatars?
How do librarians promote teaching, learning, research, and public service in a virtual environment?

The University Libraries are actively seeking students and faculty as partners to collaborate with University Libraries’ personnel to create opportunities such as those outlined above.

For more information or to express an interest in participation in this project, contact Philip James Deloria, Assistant Archivist for Digital Projects and University Archives,, (765) 285-5078.

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