Thursday, August 11, 2011

Community Library Case Study: Rosehaven Winterfell

One thing I have learned throughout the process of learning more about libraries in SL is that a library's effectiveness, particularly that of a neighborhood or community library, is not only dependent on the quality or amount of resources they provide, but also how well those resources coincide with the focus of the community. A library can work really hard to have usable and well-presented resources or organize events, but if the members of the community are not interested in them it is not a worthwhile use of their time and efforts. In my experience, RL community libraries offer a wide range of general materials, also often having an emphasis on local interest materials. This same concept applies to SL, although on a more drastic level, as communities are much more thematic than in RL.

Most SL libraries do take their target audience into consideration, especially since the libraries themselves are usually founded by members of the community. In some instances the theme is clear (Japan, New England, Steampunk), clearly dictating what materials and events people will be interested in. In some cases it is less clear. There are, for example, a large number of generally "dark, fantasy" communities out there. What does that mean in terms of the library resources most desired by the populace?

To explore this question I visited one such community: Winterfell, and Rosehaven, its public library.

Link to Rosehaven: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Winterfell%20Anodyne/121/28/22

Rosehaven Library holds an impressive amount of information for an SL library. Walking in, one sees many bookshelves lined with books:

As I've learned before, this isn't always as good a sign as it seems. Many libraries (inexplicably) have shelves you can't touch, or offer only one link or notecard for each entire bookcase. However, here each book can be touched separately, each leading to its own URL.

There is a lot of information available, and it is even divided up into subcategories, yet these categories are all over the map, not giving me any sense of the community's focus. Yes, there are many categories that reference "the imagination," hinting to the fantasy vibe of the community. But there are also books on the mythology of the British Isles and bookbinding. Even in the section entitled "Just Plain Winterfell," which I would obviously assume would give some sense of the main topic of interest, I found a seemingly random assortment of poetry and fiction.

Aside from the unfocused assortment of texts, many of which seem to obscure or individualized to attract the interest of the larger community, my main complaint is that there is no real way to search for something specific. Rather, one must randomly select books and hope to stumble across something of interest, which, again, seems unlikely given the options.

I don't want to be too hard on this library because I feel that more work has been put into it than many others I've seen. I am impressed by the number of resources, yet I feel that they weren't chosen thoughtfully enough to make the library a real success within the community.

In contrast with the downstairs, the upstairs of the library contains no books. What it does contain is a really nice and comfortable meeting area (I was even offered a sniffer of cognac!).

And from what I can tell, this space does seem to be in use. Below is a poster for a book discussion group:

As you can see, the subject of the discussion was "A Feast of Crows," a fantasy novel (and a dark-looking one at that). This is an encouraging sign. Not only does it show some recent activity within the library (more so than the supply of books is able to, since we don't know when those were created), but it is also focused on the general theme of the community. Somebody involved with this library knows how to generate interest. I am going to try and track this person down and learn more about the library's direction and how it's doing.

Until then, (Whew! That was long-winded.)

--Jo

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