Nevada State Library Enters New Phase of Virtual Reality Project

Demonstrating a growing institutional commitment to virtual reality and augmented reality, also known as extended reality (XR) technology for educational applications, the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records has continued to expand its NV XR Libraries pilot program.

Demonstrating a growing institutional commitment to virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), also known as extended reality (XR) technology for educational applications, the Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records (NSL) has continued to expand its NV XR Libraries pilot program. In recent months, NSL has launched a first-in-the-nation VR cataloging project, uploading records of library-relevant VR content to WorldCat; partnered with the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), on a VR/AR digital preservation program; launched a training program to teach librarians to use 360° camera equipment and related production software to create new VR content; begun planning a VR job-training program that will enable patrons to explore virtual work environments such as kidney dialysis clinics; and more.

NV XR Libraries began with just $22,000 in seed funding, a portion of the $500,000 appropriated by the state senate in 2017 for special projects and technology at NSL. The state library has since developed partnerships with XR Libraries, which launched in 2016 as the project coordinator for Califa’s California Virtual Reality Experience; interactive educational publisher Lifeliqe; Nevada-based free public STEM education cloud platform Network Computing Laboratory (NCLab); and the Nevada Career Explorer job coaching platform.

A cohort of 16 public, K–12 school, and academic libraries from across the state are now involved, exploring uses for VR ranging from UNR’s digital preservation efforts to supplementary coursework for high school life sciences and history classes.

“We hope to reinforce what the teachers are teaching in school,” Washoe County branch manager John Crockett explained in a recent report on the project. “If they’re teaching about Roman ruins, kids can walk around the same ruins they are learning about.”

Indicating that there may be a variety of unanticipated uses for the technology,  the report also explains that a speech pathologist has noted “significant progress and increased articulation” for one of his patients following weekly sessions using the Churchill County High School Library’s HTC Vive VR station.

“The early adopter librarians who are involved with it have been so enthusiastic about not only bringing the technology into their library spaces, but also learning how to use it,” said Tammy Westergard, assistant administrator for library and development services for NSL and a 2016 LJ Mover & Shaker. “It goes from, ‘OK, we’ve done the professional development part—I know how to use this, I know how to set it up, I know how get content’—to ‘how do I create a library program that allows teachers to come in and experience it?'”

Participating libraries are offering what Westergard described as “general population experiences” to introduce any interested patrons to VR, “but all of these pilot libraries are also required to partner in a formal learning environment—in a school or workforce training space—and make content available in concert with a teacher…to help enrich” classes or training programs.

 

360° PRESERVATION

Librarians at the NV XR Libraries cohort are now being trained to create VR content using 360° camera equipment, and, ultimately, to teach patrons to do the same.

This initiative has dovetailed with work that was already underway at NV XR Libraries partner UNR. In 2017, Multimedia Production Specialist for UNR Libraries Michelle Rebaleati began using 360° video equipment that the library made available for student projects to create an interactive map of murals on buildings around Reno, and later to record a portion of the annual Burning Man festival at Black Rock.

“We realized that it could be a great tool for cultural preservation,” Rebaleati told LJ. “And all of our projects [help us] learn, so that we can then turn around and teach” students and faculty to create their own VR content.

UNR Libraries has since launched a VR laboratory, which VR specialist Luka Starmer described as “a convening point for VR [on campus]. All of the departments—like journalism, computer science, the medical school, art history—they all have their own silos dabbling in VR. But our library has become the place for students and faculty to get their hands on it.”

Starmer noted that the utility of VR for digital preservation has already been illustrated by Rebaleati’s 2017 mural project, since “a portion of that archive has already changed. Murals have been painted over, and buildings have been knocked down. So we’re already seeing the value.”

UNR Libraries recently began exploring the use of 3-D scanning to digitally preserve culturally important objects and make them interactive and widely accessible online.

 

AVAILABLE TO CHECK OUT

NSL has also taken a leadership role in facilitating the discoverability of VR content, launching what the state library believes to be the first-ever VR cataloging initiative, led by cataloger and government publications librarian Kelly Robertson. Robertson has been creating MARC records for NV XR Libraries content, such as the “information experiences” created by project partner Lifeliqe, and is uploading these records to WorldCat.

“Out of almost 3 billion records in WorldCat, there was not a single one that we could find that had a MARC record for VR content” prior to launching the cataloging initiative, Westergard told LJ. Records for equipment for checkout, and books and other materials about VR, were abundant, but “technology requires hardware and software,” she said, later adding that there may be a lack of records because software publishers have only recently begun creating a significant volume of VR content in subjects that libraries would be interested in collecting.

“We firmly believe that the virtual medium is simply another form of learning and belongs in any library collection, just like paper, maps, videos, or photos,” the NV XR Libraries report states. “Kelly [Robertson’s] work creating these catalog records makes virtual reality technology even more accessible to library users throughout the world, and highlights the educational nature of the technology.”

Westergard said that NSL will have a presentation about NV XR Libraries at the American Library Association’s annual convention in June. Beforehand, they’re planning a cataloging VR Hackathon, asking groups of librarians in Marin, CA (where XR Libraries is headquartered) and Carson City to hack together for nine hours, uploading VR content records to WorldCat.

While use of VR has not yet become widespread in the consumer marketplace, Rebaleati said she has every expectation that it will take hold in homes, schools, and academic institutions in the coming years. “I think, right now, we’re in what I like to call the first bubble—we’re getting [VR] into people’s hands, and people are starting to realize what it can be used for.” The second “bubble” will result in widespread adoption.

“It’s still really new and fresh to people,” Rebaleati said. “A common misconception about the technology is that it’s just for gaming. I think that over time, people will start to realize VR has a lot more uses, and it might actually have better applications within educational spaces,” than for games.

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Matt Enis

menis@mediasourceinc.com

@MatthewEnis

Matt Enis (matthewenis.com) is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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