Posted by: Sifriya | March 4, 2010

Exhibiting in Second Life: the Challenges and Rewards

On March 5th & 6th, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries(ACRL) will be hosting an online conference entitled: The Future is Now – Libraries and Museums in Virtual Worlds. This conference will explore the many uses of virtual worlds throughout the various academic and professional disciplines.

Our island is being represented in two ways:
1. Panel presentation: “Academic Librarians in Second Life: A Survey of Roles, Benefits, and Challenges” presented by Denise Cote, Robin Ashford, Diane Nahl, and Beth Kraemer
2. Poster session: Virtual Collaboration – Exhibits & Educational Events at the University of Kentucky Libraries in Second Life by Cheri Daniels & Beth Kraemer (Sifriya Devin & Alice Burgess) – Preview this session below:

As the roles of libraries and museums in virtual worlds are explored through these and other presentations, the complexity of the exhibiting process is a recurrent issue. When a new exhibit is placed on the island, the visual impact is vital yet deceptively simple in appearance. While maximum visual impact is desired, the end result belies the complex process that produced the end result.

From start to finish the exhibit process is much like any RL exhibit. We begin with brainstorming to find a subject that is not only compelling enough to enhance the visual experience that is so important to the virtual environment, but also content rich enough to provide an educational experience. Of the many subjects we entertain as possible exhibit material, we must be ready to supply images that do not violate copyright and that hopefully highlight our unique collections or experiences.

In many instances we have utilized our existing collection of digital images from our Special Collections Library, conveniently housed and browsable through the Kentuckiana Digital Library. While this collaborative online effort houses images from statewide collections, we avoid copyright issues by making sure we only use images that belong to our institution. If we found an image that we felt would greatly enhance the exhibit, permission would first be sought from the contributing library, similar to loaning an image for a temporary exhibit in RL. If the images are not from our own in-house collection and must be drawn from more modern sources, such as the images used in our Common Reading Experience exhibit, permission must be acquired first. Second Life, as one virtual world example, is full of images that are in violation of copyright. These violations are usually due to the misconception that a digital image that cannot be reproduced nor tracked, and which is usually temporary should not fall under copyright protection. Obviously, libraries know better, and our practices in SL are such to make sure we set a constant example of compliance.

After selecting the content and images we need for an exhibit, we need to plan presentation. How will the images best have an impact? What order, size and labeling should they have? What background would best be suitable for maximum visual appeal? Once these things are decided, the images are placed in the exhibit. Sounds pretty easy, right? Not so. For the newbie in SL, walking, sitting, flying are all challenges, but to curate an exhibit, you need to be able to edit an object or create a new one from scratch complete with textures. The textures are your uploaded images and must be displayed on objects created by the avatars. Next the objects have to be sized correctly for the image to appear at the desired size. This is actually a tricky step because in a three dimensional world, you have to view the object from multiple angles to make sure the object is exactly in the correct location,position and size. If the image needs to be bigger, the object must be stretched and then the image repetition on the surface of the object must be adjusted to compensate for the new size. SL has an invisible grid to snap an object to for easier placement, but even with that option, it takes the eye to see if the object is exactly where intended.

Constructing the Unbridled History Exhibit, May 2009

Once the exhibit looks visually ready, content must be added. Sound, video or text can be added to the in
dividual pieces of the exhibit, or they can be added to a central object to dispense the information in a less overwhelming manner. Labeling and signage are important elements to add. Not only do they help put the exhibit into context, they lead visitors to the exhibit area. The same signage information announcing the exhibit then needs to be incorporated into outside advertising: listservs, blogs, group notices, etc.

Another important part of exhibit planning is expandability. How can we expand the exhibit into an opening event that would complement the material? For example, our horse exhibit near May was naturally extended into a Derby-style party complete with horse racing and sipping mint juleps. Expandability can also be in the form of the exhibit itself. Since the space is a virtual one, some exhibits can be expanded outside the walls of the library as was the case of the Prim Cutters exhibit. In that instance, building extensions above and to the side of the library were natural options since the exhibit itself was about building in SL.

Despite the hard and extensive work necessary to exhibit in SL, the rewards are many. Probably one of the most important purposes served by these exhibits is giving our virtual W.T. Young Library a dual role on the island. Even though it was designed as an information dissemination point and meeting space for classes, the expansive blank walls were just waiting for significant content. Instead of wallpaper or murals, the floating exhibit concept was adopted. As a result, visitors and students are treated with new educational material several times a year. Now, after two years of activity, the exhibits keep coming….wonder what we’ll come up with next? Stay tuned!

If you can’t make the full conference, feel free to visit the ALA sim to explore the poster presentations!

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