Embracing Virtual Worlds: Why Libraries Should Dive into These Online Environments Now

By Peters, Tom | American Libraries, December 2008 | Go to article overview

Embracing Virtual Worlds: Why Libraries Should Dive into These Online Environments Now


Peters, Tom, American Libraries


Virtual worlds are here to stay. People from around the planet already are using dozens of virtual worlds such as Second Life to Work, learn, and play and to find, experience, and create information.

In the real world, libraries are trying to create a presence in one or more virtual worlds. However, the development of virtual world librarianship may be dominated by creative freelance librarians acting alone or in loose collaborative groups, rather than by existing organizations and consortia. Additionally, real-world library organizations may face stiff competition from emerging virtual organizations.

Although the development of virtual worlds is still in a chaotic "Wild West" phase, the lesson from the rapid development of the Web seems to be that libraries should dive into virtual worlds now, rather than adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Firms that predict technology trends indicate that within a few years hundreds of millions of people worldwide will be active in at least one virtual world.

What are the fundamental questions concerning the necessary and sufficient conditions that make a virtual world "ripe" for librarianship? I tentatively propose 10 conditions:

* The size and nature of the resident population of avatars;

* The communication infrastructure;

* The transportation infrastructure, which often includes teleportation;

* The presentation infrastructure, whereby information created in the virtual world, as well as information from the real world, can be presented and experienced;

* Portals to other virtual worlds as well as to the information-rich Web;

* Some sort of economy, perhaps a mix of a currency-based economy and a strong-barter economy;

* Property rights and enforcement, both for "real" property in virtual worlds and for intellectual property;

* Zoning and enforcement;

* The ability to record and archive both in-world events and built objects; and

* The ability to create and deliver information experiences. …

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