Virtual Reality and the Library

My S.O. often jokes that I was a “technology” major in college because in professional settings I often try to emphasize the tech skills I learned while in school. He kind of has a point – I was fortunate to be part of an honors program which emphasized digital literacy and I learned a lot about new technology, old technology, and the myriad ways we can use these things to better (and sometimes worsen) our lives. Combine that with the countless different ways social media skills and computer skills were drilled into me in the Journalism school and through various jobs through college and, well yeah, I guess technology was my big focus.

I’ve tried to embrace these literacies while working at the library – I trained myself on our 3D printer so I could be the point person, I’m usually one of the go-to’s to help patrons with the more challenging computer issues, and I rarely pass up an opportunity to be trained in cool new techy things when I can. That’s how I found myself at the “Virtual Reality Roadshow” a few weeks back learning about the newest developments in augmented reality technology.

VR has always seemed kind of silly to me, maybe thanks to my only real experience with it being those cheesy virtual rollercoaster rides you find in movie theater arcades. What OSVR (Open Source Virtual Reality) developer Greg Aring taught me is that the technology is *way* more advanced than that and the potential applications are endless. Everything from game warehouses where you literally walk through the video game, to medical uses for practicing different techniques, to finding new ways to interact “face-to-face” with people across the globe.

When we first got the 3D printer in the library, so many patrons asked me why the heck we needed one. I told them that it was my belief that these devices, as they became more capable and more consumer-friendly, would soon be in most homes in America, integrated in our daily life much in the same way as computers and regular paper printers already are. After hearing from Greg, I believe VR is the same way and now is as good a time as any for libraries to jump on this technology.

I am sure there are many different ways we could use them in the library – here are just a few of my ideas:

  1. Teach kids how to code their own games/programs for VR (similar to what MSDE and Futuremakers are doing this summer in libraries around the state of Maryland)
  2. Host a VR meetup with an author.
  3. Create interactive displays.
  4. Interactive stories for storytime or just general use – maybe patrons could “check out” a VR game to “read” in the library.
  5. VR scavenger hunt through the library.
  6. VR educational computer programs (we demoed one in the training that let you see comparisons of size on scale of everything in the universe – from bacteria, to the eiffel tower, to Mars and everything in between.)

I’m sure there are a ton more possibilities. As librarians, I think we are uniquely positioned to give people access to this technology they might not otherwise have access to. If your library can’t afford to get one of the fancier lines of VR goggles or if it’s too high-tech for you to set up on your own (I’m including myself in this category, since I still don’t entirely know how it works on the back-end) you can pick up Google Cardboard, a $15 VR viewer that you slide your phone into and can start playing around with the technology. The possibilities are endless! Happy tinkering.




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