Sunday, December 10, 2006

Visiting a new world

This post's topic may seem tangential to what I usually talk about, but bear with me - it may not have to do with historical fiction per se, but it does touch upon history (well, that may be a stretch) and reading in general.

I spent Friday afternoon at the University of Illinois undergraduate library seeing a demo of library services within Second Life, a 3-D virtual world where people can interact with one another and the world around them by creating "avatars" that represent themselves. About 25 other librarians from central Illinois attended, and the organizers told us to bring our avatars if we had them (seriously)... and a few did.

Now I'm not a gamer, and the last time I used software to enter a "virtual world" of any kind (other than the Internet itself), it was probably 1985, and everything was text-based. At the risk of sounding like a dork, I'll admit this Second Life thing totally amazed me. I had no idea that people could create a 3-D virtual world that looked so realistic (well, in an anime-like, computer-generated kind of fashion). There are buildings, landscapes, and waterways, and people have re-created a number of real-life contemporary and historical properties "in-world" (the lingo for describing something within that environment). You can see some screenshots of the Second Life environment here, including an image of Caledon, a 19th century library where avatars are required to be dressed in Victorian attire in order to enter.

A number of librarians worldwide have gotten together to provide library services within Second Life, figuring that if they are to remain relevant and up-to-date in the 21st century, they (we) should go to places where patrons are spending their time. And as they have found, if you do enter Second Life identified as a librarian, people will ask you questions, just like they do in real life (aka "first life"). Staff at the Alliance Library System in Peoria schedule regular book discussion groups in this virtual environment. Basically, people can bring their avatars over to a common locale at a certain time and chat with one another online about that week's book. The blog at summarizes current and upcoming library events, such as an immersive exhibit and re-enactment of "Marie Antoinette, the Teen Queen," which has been rescheduled for sometime after Christmas.

And if you attend Bradley University, you can take a continuing education course completely within the Second Life environment.

What do you think of this concept - is this what people will have to do to reach readers in the future? Does anyone reading this regularly visit Second Life? If you're an author, can you visualize yourself giving a presentation or reading here? It was hard to get my mind around the whole concept, and I don't have the free time that it seems to demand, but I found it fascinating in a strange sort of way.


  1. Wow. Way over my head. "Teen queen," that is funny, since M-A was only a teen queen for two years and then she had to grow up just like the rest of us.

  2. It's funny you should mention this now. Next month I'm going to Indiana University to direct the voice talent for their Virtual Shakespeare Project. Beginning with Richard III, they're creating a whole interactive online Shakespeare experience. I imagine the "avatars" will become minor characters in the plays. I've never played in one of these online worlds, but I know they exist. I think I'm frightened by them - if I got into one, would I ever leave?

  3. Anonymous9:50 AM


    Hmmm. On first reflection it seems pretty creepy to me--but that might just be because I have no experience with it. Some people probably think blogs are creepy. ;)

    I think I have quite enough going on in my First Life, though, without trying to add another one!

  4. I just looked up information on the Virtual Shakespeare project at Indiana. The experience sounds very similar to Second Life. I also think your worry is justified! The organizers of the presentation I attended spend a considerable amount of time "in world," beyond what's required of them as librarians. It seems like it would be very easy to get sucked in.