Friday, July 29, 2011

Four Libraries in Four Paragraphs!

There are so many libraries in Second Life that I am not going to be able to blog about each one individually. In order to maximize the number of libraries that get featured, today I am going to give a rundown of some smaller/lesser-known ones. In doing so I will include a picture, the location, the goals of the library, and what services they are offering to acheive them.

The first one on my list is Pleasantville Community Library.

This library is located in Pleasantville, a family-oriented SIM, and thus aims to act as resource for families in SL. From what I can gather, their primary focus is on children's fiction. They have a few SL books, such as Peter Pan and Little Women. Though there are many bookshelves inside the library, none of them are actually touchable.

The library prominently displays a board of landmarks around Pleasantville, and this gives me the sense that this space acts as more of an information center than a functional library, reference or otherwise.

Next up: the library at PAVK, the Wastelands.

One of the smaller libraries I've seen in SL (or anywhere, really), this library contains exactly three SL books. The rest of the wall is taken up by t-shirts available for purchase, and posters encouraging visitors to donate . I understand that SL books are hard to make, but this is more like someone's bookshelf than an actual library. This is especially true considering the books are not even publically available--one must buy them for L$25! Because of this, I wasn't even able to find out what a PAVK was without buying a book. A most unhelpful resource, indeed.

Breakers Library was the third library I visited.

Located in the Breakers New England Community, this exclusively fiction library features primarily New England authors and/or stories taking place in New England (as well as, inexplicably, Shakespeare and Jane Austen). Like Pleasantville, this library also contains an impressive amount of bookshelves. The difference? These ones are clickable!

Each bookcase you touch gives you a notecard, each with a list of authors and works. When one clicks on a title, one is offered another notecard, which links to even more notecards, each containing an exerpt from th e book. While not offering complete works, this is an easy way to sample books before reading them. If one touches an image of an individual book, one is lead to a Google books page. There are no SL books in this library (which I have to say I don't mind).

My final visit was to the American Hellenic University SL Library, located on the American Hellenic University SIM.

Containing no books, this library seems to act as both a resource for AHU students using SLl, presumably for some academic purpose (ex: Tutoring Through Second Life), and an advertisement for the school itself (several large posters link back to AHU's online collections homepage). It also offers a good meeting space for students.

More of these reviews to come!


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Caledon Libraries

For my post today I thought I would take time to recap my adventures around some of the Caladon libraries. Caledon, from what I can tell, is a community that is bounded together by its love of the Victorian Age and the Steampunk phenomenon. Their collection is large by SL standards, but is very specific.
The Recent Acquisitons Table

The Reading Room at Victoria City is aptly named. It’s a small space with some comfy couches and a couple of books to pick up. It’s not a library as much as it is a place to sit down, maybe read a book or discuss books with other people. I think it’s a good extension and a nice taste of what the larger Caledon libraries have to offer.

The Front of the Whitehorn Library

The Whitehorn Memorial Library, also in Caledon Victoria City, is a large structure filled with content, something that is often lacking in places labeled “libraries” in SL. When I first joined SL nearly 3 years ago, the Whitehorn Library was one of the first places I stumbled around. I remember being impressed at the amount of effort that was put into it. There are plenty of books to look at, signs for events plastered all over the walls, and even exhibits to walk through. There are several floors, each filled with books and other objects to keep your attention and keep you busy.

I get the joke now...

I then traveled to Vannevar Bush Memorial Reading Garden. Vannevar is basically a wide-open, outdoor space for people to socialize or maybe read on a bench. There’s very little content, but the books that they do have are mainly classic works about physics and technology, particularly mechanics. Other than that, there is not much else.

Once you get in, you may not be able to get out.

The last Caledon I visited was the Caledon library in Tinyville. As the name suggests, everything here is miniature. I had a hard time even getting through the front door! Once inside- occupying both the first and second floors simultaneously- I found some posters of familiar scenes from children’s literature. The books that they carry are mainly fairytales and folklore. I, myself, love children’s literature so I thought it was a really nice addition to their libraries (if only it wasn’t so small!).
Caledon libraries have way more content than most libraries on SL and present it in a very straightforward way. They encourage participation in events and there’s a fairly high turnover rate of the books they provide (high rate for SL, at least). However, never once in my 3 years of being on SL have I run into someone in a Caledon library. I’ve never even seen a green dot anywhere near me on my map. I hope that there is a time where the traffic is heavier, a time where I’m usually absent from SL. Otherwise, there is a lot of time invested into these libraries for very little attendance.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Rants and Raves: Info Island

For today's post I want to discuss Info Island, but rather than analyzing its success or failure in terms of traffic or use (I may touch on this more in a subsequent post) I wish to simply discuss its goals. I touched on this in my interview with Reference Librarian Rolig Loon, but this time I am going to go only off of my own experiences. I also am going to attempt to assess their effectiveness at achieving those goals, once again based on those same experiences.

The first thing that Info Island attempts to do is act as a resource for real life librarians. I see evidence of this in sites such as the Geneology Library, which offers to help visitors build the geneology sections of their (supposedly) real libraries.

This may have been Info Island's original purpose, as it also seems to be the most practical. However, it seems as if this area is at present the most neglected. The information really only scratches the surface of the question (for example, providing a list of publishers of genology books). Not to mention, sites addressing this purpose are easily the hardest to come by on Info Island.

Rather, their focus seems to have shifted towards (a) acting as functional libraries or informative sites within Second Life, or (b) acting as resources ON Second Life.

When touring around Info Island the most common things you will see are buildings or gardens, each addressing a certain theme and providing access to resources on that theme. For example, in Peace Park, one finds small builds each representing a different world religion (a mini mosque, a small synagogue, etc). There are links to each religions' sacred texts and encylopedia pages outlining the most basic information on that religion.

Other such resources include Mystery Manor, a resource on mystery literature, and the Sci-Fi and Fantasy Portal, which floats above the ground of Info Island. Providing links, notecards, and, in some cases, SL books, these offer a decent amount of information on a very wide range of topics. In my opinion, these are the most effective sites on Info Island. Not only are they going to draw in people with specified interests, but, due to the fact that they are placed outside, not labeled as "libraries," and are interesting and interactive, they are more likely to attract people who aren't seeking out a library to begin with.

As for reference libraries and other non-themed resources, such as the Community Virtual Library I discussed in length in a previous post, these have become more like libraries on Second Life itself. As Rolig Loon mentioned in our interview, the most popular questions she received are how to do things in Second Life. And CVL and others are catering to this with the lectures and SL books they're providing. I am glad that this is working for them and bringing people to Info Island, but to me it does not seem like there is any practical use for these outside of Second Life.

What are your thoughts on Info Island?

A tout a l'heure!


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Friday, July 22, 2011

Interview with Pomona Writer

Pomona Writer is an SL librarian doing double duty in the libraries on the islands of Amatsu Shima, which has a Japanese theme, and UUtopia, actually four islands founded by a group of Unitarian Universalists. Between these two commitments (not to mention RL), Writer was kind enough to take some time and answer my many questions.

                     (Pomona Writer inside the UUtopia Community Library)

Amatsu Shima is a beautiful, Japanese-themed island owned by Suzanne Logan. Logan used to run an Okiya (geisha training school) on the island, which is what first drew Writer to it.

"I just wish I had been one," said Writer, addressing the fact that she, like so many SL librarians, is not a trained librarian in RL, "so SL is a place for me to realize that dream!"

"The materials in the Library [which opened in 2008] were both SL books with opening pages and some click-receive-notecard "books" or posters.  These were about geisha, Japanese poetry, history, art, and literature.  

There was also an archive of posters containing notecards from the similarly-themed lectures given by Rena Winkoop at Hana no Sei, her educational installation, then located on Amatsu Shima. 
A children's room contained some books with Asian themes and some of general interest to children as well." Writer used to read books out loud to groups visiting the library.

"During this period, about 25 to 30 avatars per month visited the library."  Though there is no longer a visitor counter, Writer estimates that this was the library's peak in terms of traffic.

"In 2010, the Library shrank to its present size due to a smaller building and restrictions on numbers of books allowed to be displayed.  It was felt that the textures of the books were causing too much lag." Today the library contains mainly "SL books that open and close," some even authored by members of the community.

"Currently, the Library is more of a pleasant reading room," and while groups continue to meet here, they are generally focused on non-Japanese literature and poetry. Writer credits this to changing interests, part of the natural progression of SL communities.

                                     (Outside the Amatsu Shima Library)

Writer's biggest project is the community library on one of the four UUtopia islands. This is a very library, actually owned by Writer, dealing with both Unitarian Universalism and world religions. Writer also owns a Shintu shrine next door to the library, which serves as evidence of her interest in Japanese culture.

UUtopia was founded a year and a half ago by a group of Unitarian Universalists who had connected previously in SL. Writer has been involved with the community since its very beginning. She sees her library as serving the community in two ways: of course providing an information service, but also contributing to the cause through her land rental fees.

Writer describes her library as an "amateur effort," but considering the fact that she operates it entirely on her own, she offers an impressive scope of books, utilizing SL books, web links, and notecards.

And her effort is rewarded by visitors, 120 of them in less than a month.

Writer credits the success of this library to the enthusiasm of the group as a whole, and also to the fact that people who visit are often interested in religion in the first place.

In addition to the library, UUtopia offers a variety of resources on UU and other religions, in addition to a host of events, including UU services.

"In this case the library is just an addition to the larger effort on this island," sais Writer.

Writer has more plans for the library, saying "there is always something more to do, and of course, I always wish I had more time to do them!"

                                              (Outside the UUtopia Library)

Thank you again to Pomona Writer!

Until next time,


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Friday, July 15, 2011

SL as a Teaching Tool

On June 23 the Express, a D.C. local newspaper, had a short, short article on Second Life titled “The Advantages of Avatars: Virtual worlds give new meaning to ‘distance learning.’” The article didn’t offer any opinions that haven’t been expressed before since the beginnings of SL, mainly, that Second Life offers interactive possibilities beyond that of the purely textual online tools such e-mail, twitter and Wikipedia. However, it is because I have read this sentiment time and time again that it becomes clear to me that those who write about it, in this case, a journalist, are just reporting what is told to them. Journalists years ago wrote about how Second Life would impact long distance learning but how much of that has actually come true?
To a certain extent, yes, I have encountered genuine attempts to use SL as a teaching tool but I don’t see it to be as wide spread or as influential as it was predicted to be. The question is what factors are impeding the success of what has been considered to be the future of interactive education? The factors, in my opinion, are more than just practicality and hardware compatibility. It’s also an issue of the public’s perception of what SL is.
These are some heavy, overarching questions and statements, but we would like to know what is your opinion about Second Life as a tool for TEACHING (focusing primarily on that, not about other academic issues for the time being). Would you benefit from having class in SL versus flipping through Powerpoint presentations? If you’ve had or have witnessed successful instances of it utilized in this way we’d love to know!

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interview with Rolig Loon (of Info Island's Community Virtual Library)

I've been spending the past week or so touring around Info Island, preparing to write a blog post detailing my findings (coming soon). While a pretty good feel for the space, what I really wanted was to talk to someone. I had so many questions building up. For example, I didn't even really know what a reference desk in SL aims to do. What kinds of questions do people have? And I was still curious about that whole Inter Library Loan thing I mentioned before. But the problem that I encountered was that, well, I wasn't encountering anybody who could answer my questions.

Finally, I was lucky enough to come across Rolig Loon, a Reference Librarian at the Community Virtual Library. She was very kind and helpful. She answered all my many questions patiently and seemed to be very informed about all of the SL goings-on. She had data and figures at her fingertips. Most importantly, she is passionate about SL, and she appears to really believe in it.

                                         (Reference Librarian Rolig Loon)

I do not have a transcript of our talk, but I did take notes, which I have used to reconstruct our conversation below. The only direct quotes appear inside quotation marks, everything else is a reconstruction. Loon did agree to be quoted and photographed for this use of this blog.

JoCupcake Resident: Since the reference desk is run by volunteers is there a set schedule, or do people just come in when they have free time?
Rolig Loon: There is a schedule. Because most people work during the day in RL, everyone is expected to put in only two hours each week. Because I am retired I am often here 10-15 hours per week. I have a lot of fun!


JR: Were you a librarian in RL?
RL: No, I was a senior university administrator. However, most SL librarians are also librarians in RL.

JR: What is the traffic like at this library?
RL: We see about 375 visitors each week, around 50 of which are new.

JR: What kinds of questions do people have?
RL: I do see many LIS students who are asking professional questions. However, most of the questions I get are about SL itself, such as asking for directions or help doing things. For most of those questions they are able to find the answers on the posters and links we have here on the walls.

JR: So in that sense, you don't as much need to be a professional librarian as you need to just be an expert in SL, wouldn't you say?
RL: In a sense, yes. Although sometimes if you don't know the answer you need to be able to help the person locate it.

JR: In other libraries I've visited I've seen links for InterLibrary Loan. This seems like one aspect of libraries that does not seem suited for SL because the content is virtual and therefore public, and also because, since one is able to teleport, it would be easier for the actual avatar to go to the information, rather than having it sent to them. Does that make sense? What are your thoughts on that?
RL: Yes, that makes sense..."I think the best answer to that is that even though the information is there many people don't know how to find it." That is really the purpose of libraries and librarians in general.

JR: I've heard rumblings about decreased participation in SL, not just in libraries but across the grid. Have you felt that? What do you know about that?
RL: Yes, because of increased land fees in SL approximately 20% of non-profits, educational institutions and libraries have had to move out or set up in parallel worlds. Overall resident traffic, however, has stayed steady or even increased. We (Info Island, Cybrary City, and Imagination Island) are payed for the next year and a half, so we will be staying around that long.

JR: And after that?
RL: It's hard to say. Everything in SL changes so fast it's impossible to predict two years from now.

JR: Do you see SL as a viable way for RL libraries to remain relevant in a technology-driven world?
RL: Absolutely. What we're really working on is seeing what we can do BETTER than RL libraries.

JR: What are some things that SL can do better?
RL: We are able to gather people from around the world, create virtual resources together in real time, create and modify displays of information in 3D quickly, and communicate to an extent around language barriers (though with Google pulling the plug on dynamic instant translation that will become more difficult).

Thank you very much to Rolig Loon for agreeing to talk to me!

My thoughts on this interview and Info Island (and associated SIMs) to come tomorrow,


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Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Signing

The book signing yesterday went great! I really appreciated everyone who came to get the book and listen to my talk! I hope you guys enjoy the book and let me know your thoughts!
Way more people than I expected came to the talk, some of which I had never met before which was a pleasant surprise. It's not often that you see many people at once together in Second Life, so I was glad that I was able to pull in a substantial audience. I gave a brief talk about what my book was about and some of the major points. If I had more time I would have enjoyed providing a supplemental talk concerning some of the topics I had to cut because of length (i.e. currency, comparisons between Christian, Muslim and Jewish merchants and goods, etc.). If anyone is interested, I'd be glad to discuss some of the topics with you!

We had a great question and answer session. I enjoyed the questions people asked and the discussions they generated afterwards. Getting people interested in discussing al Andalus is one of my goals so I was happy to see people talkative!
I hope that everyone will continue to come to our events. We have quite a few lined up for the summer!


Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Talk at Al Qantara Library

The date, time and location of the book signing has been decided on and it will be at 8 slt in the plaza on July 7th. If you find you enjoyed the topics in this book feel free to ask us for our other books on al Andalus that have been written specifically for circulation within our library. For instance, I allude briefly to the importance of paper production in al Andaus in my most recent work but I have a more in depth work about paper and how it came to al Andalus and why it exactly became so lucrative and successful. Within the same vein I have also written a book about the libraries of al Andalus and how they served as a symbol of al Andalus' reputation as a leading academic center. So if you're interested in learning more about al Andalus, please lets us know and we'll be happy to give you a copy!
While we are blogging about our ventures observations on Second Life, this blog is also a place to discuss topics related to al Andalus, or Medieval Muslim Spain, the inspiration for the al Qantara library in Second Life. If there are topics you'd like to know more about or are interested in discussing please let us know!
We will most likely have some guests posts shortly, so please look out for those!
--Artemisia Sockington

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