Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Digital Services: The Future of RA?

For my birthday, my friend bought me the perfect book: the timely This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson. I’ve only read the first two chapters, and I’ve already encountered several issues that relate to Readers’ Advisory and other class topics. Johnson uses real-life examples to demonstrate how librarians are stepping up to the challenges presented in today’s digital environment and saving the world from what she dubs “information sickness.”

The most thought-provoking idea introduced by the author so far deals with the importance of innovation in the ever-changing world of libraries. She describes a recently developed digital library that uses the virtual world known as “Second Life” to serve its community. This library appears on screen as a ramshackle wooden building that evokes an atmosphere of the late 1800s Wild West. People around the world with Internet access can take the form of avatars, whose appearance they can alter as they please as long as it fits in with the West theme. Virtual cowboys, saloon keepers, and barmaids can walk around the library and browse the “collection” (a list of links to dime novels and other old-time books in digital form). They can also type reference questions in a chat box, which are answered by the librarian Lena Kjellar, who appears on the screen as a woman in a bustle skirt. Interestingly, Lena Kjellar is actually a retired male electrical engineer who has been trained in reference, and who feels that taking on a female form in the virtual world makes him more approachable.

This struck me as a perfect example of librarians adapting to the Digital Age by using technology to their advantage. What a fun, innovative way to offer reference services to patrons! I think Second Life would be equally ideal for Readers’ Advisory, if not more so. I would think that most people who seek RA service have a passion for reading and immersing themselves in alternate worlds, and I think fiction readers would especially appreciate the fantasy of visiting a library in such an imaginative setting. The younger generations of patrons are technology-savvy and many possess an appreciation for video games and similar virtual playgrounds, so it seems to me that this Second Life idea may prove to be an important part of the future of libraries.

Another example of a Second Life library.  Apparently, these are gradually becoming more popular.

Such innovations makes me excited for the future of the profession. I hope that through effective dissemination of such inspired ideas, librarians will prove their worth to the world and people will realize that they need libraries (in whatever form) more than ever. Obviously, we all have to do our part to share information and ideas with the professional community--word-of-mouth is the first step to transforming new innovations into widely-practiced customs.

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