Recently, I wrote about my inaugural foray into RuneScape. I don't know if I'll go back, but I'm glad I had the experience, because it provided an orientation, to a non-gamer like me, to Second Life (SL). Many of my good friends and colleagues are involved in the Second Life Library (SLL) initiatives (both teen and adult), and I've felt remiss in not checking out their much-lauded work. Were it not for the involvement of Lori Bell, Matt Gullett, Kelly Czarnecki, Tom Peters and others, I don't know that I would have been so keen to check it out.
Second Life is a subscription-based 3-D virtual world where residents participate in a local economy, and which more and more includes real life markets. SL's one million-plus residents interact with other residents, set up shops, hangouts and other venues. Much of it is social, but real life commercial endeavors and non-profits have purchased space for development (like the Autism Museum that's in development). I had a Saturday morning with no pressing obligations (save for my first life), so decided to set up an account. (My SL resident name is Turtleneck Diqui.) I also asked Juniorette to concurrently explore Teen Second Life (TSL).
My initial impressions after two visits: creepy, confusing, intriguing, overwhelming, and compelling in an addictive way. I can't say that I enjoyed it. While I enjoy blending into the non-touristy areas of new cities I visit in real life, I felt anxious and very much a foreigner in Second Life. While I could hear Juniorette shouting out about the orientation process she was going through, I somehow missed out on the adult version of orientation, and quickly found myself in an area where other "residents" were checking me out, asking how one "got it on" in SL, and in which one gent was calling attention to his massive male member. When I communicated (by typing a message into the chat interface) that I was just looking for the library, interest in me as a playmate pretty much dropped off.
I hightailed it out of that area by "flying," and found myself over a body of water, which freaked out my virtual self as much as my real self is freaked out being in an airplane over water. Once I got back on dry land, I managed to find Info Island and the Second Life Library. Maybe it's because it was a Saturday morning, but I was disappointed to find it empty. Lack of staff has less impact in SL than it does in a real library, so I wandered around and checked out some resources. I tried the virtual reference feature (a QuestionPoint interface), but it wasn't staffed in real life either. So I wandered around to the different subject-oriented information access points in the library. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but when I clicked on a kiosk and found a list of standard online web-based information sources, it was a little anticlimatic. For instance, when you are at the Genealogy kiosk, you get a list of outside websites such as Cyndi's List. Now that I think about it, there was something terribly uninviting about an unstaffed library. I realize that the SLL is staffed by real life volunteers, but I think my experience would have been so much more positive with a helpful presence.
For me, my first visit to SL was too much like a visit to a real library might be for most users--too hard to use. I was also suprised at how much the SLL was modeled after a real life library, albeit with more comfy seating. With so much discussion and insistence on meeting our users where they are, I'm puzzled at why a cutting-edge, virtual library looks and operates so much like a regular bricks and mortar library.
I made a second visit last night, and found a bunch of people outside the library talking about the upcoming program with author JC Ripley (scifi author J R Hutchins, in real life), who has created a "walk-in" book within SL. I'm pretty sure it was a group of SL Library principals, as they appeared to be discussing SLL operations. Shortly after I arrived, many of them left, heading to the virtual outdoor auditorium where Ripley would be delivering his text-based talk. I hadn't planned to attend the talk as I was only going to be on for a few more minutes, but couldn't bring myself to exit SL. It's not like I was enjoying myself or finding really compelling content and services, but I kept moving and clicking and playing around with commands, hoping to get more comfortable with my virtual self and its environment.
After losing track of time, I realized that the talk was happening, and decided to lurch on over. When I got there, I found at least a couple dozen others seated on benches in the auditorium. I wasn't so much interested in the content as I was the process and interface. I thought it was going to be a live podcast, but SLL host Lorelei Junot explained that it was chat-based. The other participants, including Ripley, were really enjoying the program. It was very much a conversation, a jovial one at that. Residents came and went, and the Info Island blog reported that over 50 unique residents attended the program. It was pretty nifty, and I can see myself as an active participant in a program that's more up my alley. I'll be putting the SLL blog into Bloglines in hopes of finding more compelling (to me) future programs. (As an aside: I almost made a dreadful faux pas upon my departure from the program. I clicked the "take off" command, thinking it would launch me from the venue, but instead got a sub-menu that said "clothes." "Take off." "Clothes." Oh, my! I didn't figure it an appropriate setting for a striptease, so just logged off.)
I realize that my post here is somewhat counter to the very positive feedback garnered by SLL so far. I hope it's taken as a constructive offering. I do understand that SLL is ahead of the curve and a likely glimpse of how we'll be working as librarians in the future. Right now, though, the model is unfathomable or irrelevant to 90-95% of those in the profession and about as compelling to most potential users as a bricks and mortar library. I am interested in seeing the project succeed and not become an idea or destination based on the vision and planning of a few people who totally get it. You know, like the real thing.
I've asked Juniorette to report to me on the Teen SL Library, and I will be showing SLL to my colleagues at La Crosse PL.