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CILIP Umbrella: Second Life

My final session I attended was on “Professional inspiration to join the communities of Second Life”. I went along to this one out of pure curiosity – I’d never used Second Life at all, I didn’t really understand what it was for and I absolutely didn’t get how it could be a useful tool for librarians. I’m usually pretty dismissive of SL in general for these reasons – but someone pointed out to me recently that these are exactly the same points that I usually hear when I’m trying to explain Twitter to someone who doesn’t get it, so I thought I should really swallow my pride and find out what it was all about!

It was a very engaging presentation overall. Keri Weekes, of Weekes Gray Recruitment, kicked off with some examples of how she’s found SL useful in the library recruitment sector. She pointed out to begin with that SL, like any other virtual service, allows you to overcome geographical barriers to participation. This is particularly pertinent in recruitment, as most professional events tend to be held in London (and I believe Weekes Gray are based in Manchester). She specifically mentioned a recent careers fair for the LIS industry, organised by Alliance Virtual Library and held within SL – complete with a resource centre, careers advice, and tours around virtual libraries.

Keri gave some examples of ways that libraries can use SL, such as marketing and publicising services, holding events, engaging users, collaborating and networking, and building virtual libraries. She also suggested that SL could be useful for LIS graduates wanting to gain work experience, but unable to find any in the real world – apparently you can volunteer in a virtual library (she didn’t give any further details as to what this would involve and how it would compare to real life work experience from an employers perspective, which was a shame – I thought it was a rather bold claim to make without addressing any of those points!). Keri mentioned a few potential barriers to use, such as time difference – a large proportion of SL users, particularly LIS professionals, are based in the States, so events tend to be held on US time. She did emphasise that technical proficiency (or lack thereof) is not a barrier to use – Keri’s 61 year old mother apparently runs a nightclub in SL!

Sheila Webber from the University of Sheffield then took over the presentation, with an excellent live demonstration of the Infolit iSchool. After all the talk about SL, it was good to get a look at how it actually works in practice, what the interface is like, etc. It did look like the Infolit iSchool is doing some interesting stuff, and the interface looked a lot better than I’d thought (had a brief look around SL once on a friend’s login – was very clunky and unresponsive at the time, I’m thinking now it was probably an issue with their PC). Sheila also mentioned that SL is incorporated into the MA Information Literacy at Sheffield – they have a piece of coursework which requires that the students use SL to conduct interviews. It did seem odd to me that they would require students to use SL specifically – I’m all for encouraging the use of web 2.0 tools, but they are tools – is it a good idea to have such a strong focus on one particular example?

All in all, I think I get the point of SL now. Most of the arguments made for why it is useful had an eerily familiar ring to them: it allows you to connect with people you’ve never met and probably wouldn’t in real life; it can transcend time and distance barriers; it’s participatory, and allows you to connect and explore ideas with like minded (or indeed completely differently-minded!) people… So, SL is basically Twitter with a graphical interface. It probably shouldn’t have taken me this long to figure that out! I do get the point of it more than I did before this session, but in all honesty I don’t think I’d use it. Compared to Twitter, where an account takes seconds to set up, you can post as often or as little as you like, and contributing only takes as long as the time to type 140 characters, SL does require a substantial time commitment. Unfortunately, time is the one thing I really don’t have right now! I may re-evaluate once I have finished my dissertation and actually have some of my life back, but in the meantime I think I’ll stick to Twitter.

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