LIBRAREA, A VIRTUAL 3-D WORLD FOR LIBRARIANS
Jack Colbert, Flint River Regional Library, Griffin Ga.
"Vilified though it may be, groundwood pulp is one of the great inventions of the late nineteenth century: it gave us cheap paper, and cheap paper transformed the news."
Nicholson Baker, "Deadline", New Yorker, 24 July, 2000
"You don't want to be one of those mindless futurists who sit in front of a lonely screen…libraries are places, a community thing."
Librarian of Congress James Billington, from a speech to the National Press Club, April 14, 2000
The internet is the future of libraries; so let's just quit wringing our hands over damned paper and get on with it."
Librarea is a virtual (3-D) world, accessible on the internet, and available for any librarian to build in, free.
Over the last 6 months, 14 librarian/builders (from 4 countries) have committed to build in Librarea, and 9 are actively building now. During this same period, about 800 visitors have entered this world, and I estimate, (based on the proportion of geeky, library-related nicknames chosen) that at least half of these visitors have been librarians.
The purpose of Librarea is to provide librarians with an area to build and experiment with virtual library models. Librarea is built with a program called ActiveWorlds, which offers many possibilities for librarians: the building process is easy and can be taught in minutes, any object can be linked to display any webpage, it can handle streaming video/audio, chat functions, internal mail, and finally, a variety of available "bots" are available that can automate functions and interactions within the environment.
The long range plans for librarea are this: librarians build libraries in a ring, sorted (clockwise) by Dewey, and then fill in the center area with stacks built from an OPAC from an actual, physical library. These stacks will radiate outward like spokes in a wheel, so that each set of stacks will terminate at a special (virtual) library devoted to the subject represented by that particular range in Dewey. Each book in these stacks, when clicked, will activate a browse function in the (physical) library's OPAC (visible in the rightward web-browser window) that will display 20+ bibliographic records from the indicated range. The final product will integrate the three major library components: paper (Bibliographic records), web-based resources, and actual librarians, in an easy, intuitive interface.
A particularly interesting library-related application in this environment is bots. (If you visit Librarea, you'll meet "Libby", a librarianbot, at the entrance) There are a many different bots to choose from in AW, they perform a variety of functions, all are free or shareware, and all are improving rapidly.
What else could a library do with this? Well, besides the obvious applications for virtual reference, a public library could provide its community with a place to meet on the internet, a sort of virtual marketplace, where library patrons could communicate with each other in a familiar place where they feel a sense of ownership. Then again, this technology could be used to reproduce the actual physical features of a community. Imagine, for instance, a cemetery, accurately rendered in 3-D, with grave markers linked to web-based genealogical charts. Conceivably, a library could simply seize the entire physical landscape of its community, (see: world domination) and offer that space, free, to patrons who wish to build.
Librarians are concerned, and rightfully so, with what our role in the future is going to be. The warehouse full of books is fast becoming an anachronism, and the need to redefine what it will mean to be a librarian in the future is creating a lot of free-floating anxiety among the members of our profession. Already, digital reference resources in even the smallest libraries in my state (Georgia, US.) far outstrip what was available in the largest universities just a few years ago. Soon, that process will repeat itself, for monographs.
I suggest that our role as librarians in the future is inextricably tied to the internet, and that we must accept that fact and get on with it. It should be the librarians who provide the comprehensive, definitive web portal for our communities. We're the logical ones to do it; we are the only ones who have the resources and knowledge to make it happen. Librarea might not be the answer to an enhanced web community presence for libraries, but it is a start towards making library homepages essential local resources that will continue to be supported even after the books are gone.
If you'd like to visit Librarea, go to http://www.activeworlds.com/ to download and install the free browser. Then, open the browser and click the "Worlds" tab, top left, to scroll down to "librarea". If one of the librarian/builders is in, (the best times are late afternoons or early evenings EST) feel free to ask questions. If not, you can write me and I'll be glad to set a time to meet with you inside and show you around the place.
* * * * * * * * *
YOUR TURN: TIME FOR AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION
There are a couple of articles I'd like to write, but I can't do them without your help.
FIRST: Face it. I'm an American. I try not to be too parochial, but I still tend to talk about what I know best, which is American issues and interests, even when I'm picking web sites for NeatNew. You can do something about this, because a lot of you are from other countries. What I'd like you to do is tell us what web sites we should go to for really good information in any format -- text, maps, pictures, recordings, videocams, whatever -- about your countries. E-mail me your favorite 4 or 5 sites, each with a brief description, and, to make it easy for me to organize your contributions, could you use the subject line "Australia sites" or "South Africa sites," or whatever your country's name?
SECOND: The wife of a friend of mine is in the intriguing position of being director of a library that has not been built yet. According to the press release, she "will oversee the details of the floor plan, infrastructure and technology of the facility. In addition, she will manage the ordering, collection and processing of over 50,000 books and materials necessary to have in place by the library’s opening day. Besides building the collection, she will hire staff and develop programs and activities."
Think about that. She has the opportunity to build from scratch a library as close to her ideal as the available money permits. I'm hoping to talk her into writing an article about it when she has a spare moment, but, I ask you, if you could build the library of your dreams from ground zero, buy an entire opening day collection for it, choose furnishings and equipment, hire the staff for it, what would your library look like, and what kinds of people would be working there?
Here are some questions you might think about: What would your library have in it? What would your customers see when they walk in the door? For that matter, where would you situate your library? What would you want it to be near, if anything? How might you landscape it? What policies would you like to institute from day one? How would you arrange things to make each of your constituencies feel welcome? What kind of staff do you want to hire for your library? Or for that matter, any other questions that occur to you. Again, if you want to contribute, e-mail me, using the subject line "ideal library." My e-mail address is .
* * * * * * * * *
I know one or two things, and one thing I'm sure of is this: if there are a million stories in the Naked City, there are a million beginnings of stories sitting around on disk drives, in spiral notebooks, under the canceled checks in the bottom left-hand drawer of desks. Stories are like romances. Starting them is thrilling. Seeing them through to the end is hard.
Liz Langley. Pop Tart: A Fresh, Frosted Sugar Rush Through Our Pre-Packaged Culture
* * *
You are welcome to copy and distribute or e-mail any of my own articles (but not those by my guest writers) as long as you retain this copyright statement:
Ex Libris: an E-Zine for Librarians and Other Information Junkies.
Copyright, Marylaine Block, 2000.