About a year ago, I wrote a post on the history and current uses of virtual reality (VR). I have continued to think about VR over the past year, and today, I had the opportunity to visit a virtual reality lab.
I was able to use a VR headset and engage in different virtual settings. One setting had me standing on a sunken ship watching a whale swim very close. Another setting had me riding an elevator to the top floor and then walking across a thin bridge. Even though I knew I was perfectly safe, it always amazes me how instincts kick-in! I did not enjoy walking across that thin bridge!
In our discussion after the visit, we brainstormed some concrete ways virtual reality can, and may, impact the work we do in the future. Personally, I think we are still a way off from VR being an integral part of our daily lives. However, technology often takes leaps in ways I do not expect. Therefore, I think it is important to stay current and be prepared.
Here are a few ideas for how VR may change the way we work in libraries:
- A new way of conducting research: VR creates new opportunities for conducting research. Library users could visit virtual locations for a different perspective on a topic, or visit virtual representations of physical spaces for an experience they could not get outside of VR. VR could also allow users to browse archives or closed collections, assuming the collections were replicated in a virtual space.
- New ways to make collections available to users: Similar to the previous idea, VR also creates new opportunities for libraries to make their collections available to patrons. Resources in a collection could be recreated in a virtual space for users to hold, view, read, watch, and interact with.
- Resources to collect: As VR continues to grow and expand, I am concerned about what information we may lose because we are not capturing it for preservation. Like other digital information, virtual realities need to be collected and preserved.
- Making the technology available for patrons: Libraries need to consider how VR technology fits into their missions. VR can take a reader inside a book, provide a new perspective on a historical event, and introduce readers to a new way of engaging with others. Just as makerspaces fit within the missions of some libraries, there is also room for VR.
- Virtual workshops: Many libraries provide training and workshops for their patrons. In the future, some of these events may occur in an immersive virtual experience. Workshops and training could move from video-conferencing technology to immersive platforms where everyone feels that they are in the room together.
There are likely other uses for VR that I have not considered, but hopefully these ideas help you see how VR may impact the work we do in libraries.
Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri, and a frequent presenter on topics related to libraries and librarianship. Her expertise includes information literacy, educational technology, and library and information science education. Please read Lauren’s other posts relevant to special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all types, sizes and budgets.
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