Virtual Reality in Libraries

IMG_3890I’ve been working with virtual reality technology and equipment in my library lately, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences since it seems to be something many libraries are looking at or considering. As part of the Pennsylvania Library Association, I volunteer to write blogs for the Youth Services Division. Since only members can access the blog, I thought I would just copy and past what I submitted here.

Virtual reality is fast becoming more commercial and accessible option for programming within libraries. Libraries across the country are incorporating virtual reality into existing programming and developing specific programming around the technology for all ages. At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, thanks to the help of an internal grant, I was recently able to purchase a variety of virtual reality headsets and content creation equipment. I used this equipment to develop programming that was deployed in multiple departments across multiple CLP branches for all ages.

So, what fun goodies did I decide to purchase for this project? After consulting with our digital technology department and other technology educators, I decided to purchase two Samsung Gear VR headsets, two corresponding Samsung Galaxy 6s phones, two Google Daydream headsets, two corresponding Google Pixels phones, two Google Cardboard headsets, a Ricoh Theta 360 camera for content creation, and a selfie stick and tripod to help gather content stylistically. Having this range has been greatly beneficial, because each types of headset has a different strength. If I had to recommend one, however, it would be the Google Daydream.

I have used this equipment for programming ranging from passive to intensive. On the passive end, we used the basic Google Cardboard headsets as a replacement for the popular jigsaw puzzles. We set the headsets out (in view of a desk) along with an instruction sheet that walks patrons through determining if their phone or device is compatible with the headset (most are), how to download Cardboard apps, and offering a list of suggested apps to start with. Staff does have to be able to get some patrons started on the devices, but others help themselves with no need of guidance.

We have also incorporated the Daydreams and Gear VRs into existing game night programming for teens and tweens, brought the headsets to outreach at local high schools, offered family friendly walk-in open play sessions for all patrons (with staff available to teach and supervise), and finally we have offered content creation workshops for teens in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

The content creation programs are a wonderful way to incorporate the ideas of STEAM into your teen programming. It helps them develop soft skills like project management, teamwork, communication, and delegation, and it promotes creative and technical skills. We were fortunate to be able to have access to a simple drag-and-drop program from CMU called Social VR. This program allows you to create a navigable virtual reality experience using still 360 photos and audio. You can create a virtual space with a 360 photo and then annotate it with additional audio and still image pop-ups. You can then string a number of these virtual “rooms” together so users can move from one to the other.

While Social VR is still at a developmental stage and not yet available for consumer use, another option is Audiovista, a CMU offering that is incredibly simple to create and free for anyone to use. You can find out more about what an Audiovista is and how to make one online here (http://www.cs.cmu.edu/~illah/AUDIOVISTA/audiovista.html) or by searching online for Audiovista CMU. Their project page offers video tutorials for creating content using both iMovie and Windows Media Maker.

Content creation programs work best with small groups of teens working together on a single project. We also tend to break up the program into two or three sessions. The first is to decide what they want their project to be about and then go collect that content using the 360 camera and an audio recorder, which can be as simple as a cell phone or as advances as a Zoom recorder. The next day we teach them about how to save and label files properly for a digital project. I’m always looking for ways to teach good digital file management! We then go about actually building the Audiovista and uploading it to YouTube. Sometimes we’ve used yet another day to show off their project to parents. One branch within the CLP system is planning to use their Summer Reading kick-off event as a way to showcase what the kids have created.

When I first started thinking about purchasing virtual reality equipment, I had it in mind that my department (which specifically focuses on job and career development) could use them to help develop soft skills in patrons. I fast learned that the content was not yet available for that kind of work, but there was a lot of potential for using it in teen programming. That being said, the virtual reality programs work well for almost every age group. Some individuals react better to it than others. Make sure to warn patrons and users of the health and safety risks before they put on the headset. People with epilepsy should not use the headsets, and people with extreme motion sickness or vitigo should be aware that their chances of discomfort are very high. While headsets like these are recommended for 13 and up, the only risks that I have found for children using them are the same as other types of screen exposure. You just want to monitor how long they are using the headset and keep those screen time limits in mind.

Are you interested in more information on how to implement any of these programs in your library? I would be more than happy to help! Please email me for more content, such as program sheets, a sample budget, and a list of program ideas. I’m always excited to share ideas and collaborate. I hope you were inspired by this post!

If you have any questions or want to chat about VR programming and its potential, comment! I’d love to get into it!

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