Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Fresh Perspectives on Reference Work in Second Life

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Fresh Perspectives on Reference Work in Second Life

Article excerpt

In the fall of 2007, an adventuresome group of MLIS students in an advanced reference class at San Jose State University set out to examine the current state and future potential of reference service in an immersive environment. After reviewing the literature on reference in Second Life (SL), they created avatars; explored numerous Second Life libraries; attended a guest lecture by an experienced SL librarian; and engaged in simulated reference interactions "in world." Students were asked to describe and reflect upon their experiences, and to analyze the viability of Second Life as a platform for reference services, addressing the question, "Will librarians find the mother lode or fool's gold in virtual environments?" (1)

Responses to Second Life varied greatly. Many students were concerned that the steep learning curve and technical requirements made SL reference a luxury that few librarians or patrons could currently afford; some saw it as a virtual waste of time. Others expressed great excitement over the possibilities for developing new types of reference tools, and found value in the visual and auditory components of SL virtual reference interactions. Emotional reactions ranged from exhilaration induced by flying and teleporting, to feelings of clumsiness, disorientation, and even nausea. Taken together, these students' essays offered the collective insight of the next generation of reference librarians into what some see as the next generation of Web-based library services. This column presents three of their thoughtful assessments of Second Life's pitfalls, as well as its potential for enhancing reference services.--Guest Editor



When I first started exploring Second Life, it took awhile for me to catch on to the technology; even basic navigation proved challenging. I don't blame the software, just my three-year-old computer and my novice status. The required tutorials were helpful when learning how to get around, and by the time 1 learned how to teleport to the San Jose State School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) location, thanks to the help of Second Life URLs (SLurls), I became more enthusiastic about the process.

Through SLurls and the search functionality, I was able to visit several islands in Second Life including Info Island International, Info Island 1, Health Info Island and Cybrary City 1 and 2.

The Alliance Library on Info Island 1 is set up like a real-life library I was able to pick up notecards, free magazines, newspapers, and even a soda from the vending machine! I could also link to external Web sites, search from kiosks, and see real-time news feeds from Reuters. I thought the Transgender Resource Center was unique. Nearby was an IBM display, and I find it noteworthy that corporations believe in this virtual world's potential impact enough to have a presence here.

At the Peace Park, I learned about different world religions and meditated, and the Reader's Garden advertised upcoming book discussions in which I felt welcome to participate. The Genealogical Research Center provided kiosks where I could link to related Web resources and I was invited to sign the guestbook.

One of my favorite places is Health Info Island. I took the tour, and I'm impressed at the variety of information available. There are varying levels of exhibits and resources, including medical research information, consumer health library classes, and support groups. Visitors can link to Web resources like PubMed and do further research.

In the Cybrary City Islands, I visited academic libraries, public libraries, a state library, and the Special Librarians of Second Life. The libraries resemble libraries I've seen in real life, and include lots of art and colors. I even visited a French library, Bibliotheque Francophone, which prominently features poetry and an art gallery.

While I had several opportunities to leave notecards for librarians who weren't on duty when I visited, I did have one real-time encounter at the Second Life Society Hill Library. …

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