Library takes on VR tech (Q&A)

In a departure from what you’d expect from a traditional library, one US university has invested in VR technologies and is offering VR lending, experiences and forums at its library. Tim Kridel finds out more from Pete Schreiner, North Carolina State University Libraries fellow.

TK: How did the North Carolina State University (NCSU) library system decide to start using VR? For example, how does it fit with trends in library science? 

PS: VR provides new ways to interact with information and media and that is at the heart of library science. As VR becomes more prevalent in entertainment, education, business, training, etc., librarians are naturally interested in fostering patrons' use of the technology.  

At NCSU Libraries, we strive to put emerging technologies in students' hands quickly so they can use these tools in their education and careers. Providing access to VR is a natural continuation of that goal. The library is an ideal location for this, since it is open to all students and faculty, as opposed to specific departments which may have technology available only to those enrolled in a particular field of study. As with other technologies, people need to try it to discover how it can be applied to improve their work. 

TK: How are NCSU libraries using VR? 

PS: Here's a link to a recent short article: We approach emerging tech like VR with a standard four-point plan: 
1) Make technology available. We lend VR and AR equipment such as the Oculus Rift, Microsoft Hololens, Google Cardboard, and 360 cameras. We also provide equipment such as high-performance computers and the HTC Vive, and software for VR creation, for use in library spaces. 

2) Create community. We host demo events for people to try out VR and learn what it is and what it can do. To build support for VR on campus we are involved in a campus-wide VR interest group who hosts meet ups and sharing sessions to keep up on what others are working on at NC State. 

3) Provide services and support. Our staff experiments with the technology to gain expertise and help patrons with their research and projects. We provide tutorials for getting started with equipment. We host presentations by people in the VR field.

4) Host exploration and creation space. We have recently launched two spaces in our main branches for VR. The Hunt Library has the VR Usability Lab for experimenting with the HTC Vive. Our D. H. Hill Library has a VR Studio equipped with several VR workstations for experimentation with, and creation of, VR.  The Studio is staffed for one-on-one assistance with the equipment. We provide tech consultations for interested users and offer workshops in getting started with VR.  

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