When I was looking into different options for how to design the available space that was given for this project in the library, I reflected on previous discussions that I had with colleagues and thought back to a very interesting topic of virtual reality and how it can be, and when it isn’t, useful both inside and out of a museum. Many people believe that virtual reality should be outright banned inside a museum because it is only a distraction from the art that is in front of the person. Virtual and augmented realities like Pokémon Go or other screen based programs keep the viewer’s eyes either on the screen or on the creations taking the full attention away from the real art on display. However there are many positive uses of virtual reality outside of the museum, for instance, people who are sick and physically unable to physically visit the museum can now use different facets of virtual reality for their own use and benefit. Thus, I decided to see how it would be possible to integrate a virtual reality system into a library in a way that would not only be fun and enjoyable but also educational. It is also important to note that the intended audience would be teenagers and kids. The library system as a whole needs to find ways to attract them, and utilizing modern technology is one way to do that. By offering them an experience that no one else can for free is a surefire way for them to come in and stick around.
While thinking about different ways of integration, I came up with a few possibilities-such as a virtual reality tour as a finding aid; or for libraries that offer training to help immigrants become Americans to create a virtual reality history, so that users can live through the time periods needed to pass the immigration test. After thinking about this last idea I realized that while it was a good idea it needed to be tweaked to give access to teenagers who wouldn’t enjoy history. Everyone knows that we go to the library to read and enjoy the books, but what if we could take that enjoyment one step even further and take the visualization that happens in the brain when reading and by using VR to create the world from the storybook so that the user can step inside the book. There is one thing to be able to read and envision what is happening in our heads but it is another entirely to be able to act out and see the authors’ world through the eyes of the main character.
Using virtual reality equipment that all ready exists we will create a full body system that places the user in a virtual world out of the library books, so that the user can experience the story as the main character. While the virtual reality software is already available, the story line and graphics and everything needed for the game portion would have to be started from the beginning. Thus part of the money from the grant would have to be put towards a graphic designer along with a story designer as well as someone to rewrite the software. The physical design of the room would be workable with any open flat open area such as an open floor: an empty space with six separated interactive areas each one with a virtual reality machine and space to allow the user to move within it while his mind would be moving simultaneously in the virtual world. Besides from electricity and maybe an Internet connection not much would be needed from the participating library except for its physical space.
Taking all this and putting it together we now have a flat open area with six sections, each section having its own virtual reality headset and software now the thing that is still missing is the six different virtual stories that each system would play. There are definitely some permanent stories that would need to be there and some that would be able to switch out as some books come into popularity and others fade out. On the permanent side (obviously admitting to having a personal bias in this case) would be a Harry Potter storyline that would either focus on one year or make pick different important “missions” from all seven years; the Saga of Darren Shan which while it may be a little unknown it has all the essences of a great storyline- vampires, vampire killers, love and death; the Percy Jackson series which can include the first 5 books or even the second Olympians series; a Series of Unfortunate Events would be a very cool and long story that would keeps users coming back for more as they work their way through the orphan children troubles; the recent favorite the Hunger Games; and my personal favorite the mysterious Shutter Island. Or they could be switched out for books that have historical significance, such as a To Kill A Mockingbird that would let the user feel how it felt to live in the Jim Crow South.
To get all this done we would need to apply for additional grants to help pay for the virtual reality systems as well as graphic designers for the games and audio experts to do the voices and other technology related staffers. While there are many generous grants available out there are three that stand out and seem to have the best fit for the envisioned program. There is the NYC Government that has all different types of program to help students after school; there is the Bloomberg Philanthropies organization that funds virtual reality in different museums and other programs aimed for educating the youth; and finally there is the Grants from Institute for Museums and Libraries (IMLS) which is given through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) that offers technology grants to libraries and looking through their requirements it seems like this program would be a good fit for the grant. Once the money would come through, and the space allotted from the museum work would be able to commence almost immediately.