There are a few libraries to visit in Second Life, and it’s my intention to write about some of them here, as I think they offer a great opportunity to ask questions like:
What can a library be?
What does a librarian do?
What is the relationship between the librarian, the user and the library space?
Second Life provides an unusual environment to ponder these questions. Time, space, budget, content, collection development – these are all factors which operate differently within the virtual world. I’m curious about which ideas persevere and which ones fall by the wayside.
A few weeks ago I decided I’d have a look at some library spaces in Second Life, and ended up finding the Illumination Library at Luminaux. Lucky me, as it is absolutely exquisite. Having been away from SL for 4 years or so, I can’t think of a better place to start exploring in-world than a build as beautifully realised as this one. I will do the bulk of my gushing about how lovely it is now: this place is absolutely gorgeous. I am so impressed with the time and skill that has gone into putting it together. If you visit, be sure to check out the adjoining sims, home to an equally stunning opera house and ballroom.
Going through my inventory after some time away has yielded some surprises, and also reminded me that being overdressed is something other people worry about. The octopus in a jar is the work of the lovely Meadow McBride – who was tremendously generous and gave me one back when she had a store in the fabulous Steampunk build, New Babbage (which I was pleased to see is continuing to grow and flourish after nearly 7 years!)
The library (in two buildings) and bookshop contain many large interactive books, and it’s interesting to think about how the experience of browsing these digital artifacts differs from the experience of scrolling through them on a browser or within a pdf. These SL books have a spatial relationship with both the library and the avatar, which I feel really encouraged me to notice and think about the materials’ context.
Following on from this observation, I’m also intrigued by the idea of locating and accessing digital material via the navigation of a virtual space. Like a lot of librarians I’ve worked with, my visual memory guides me so much when handling physical items like books – if I’ve shelved something, I can usually locate it on the shelf without any difficulty, even if several months (or years) has gone by.
As I oriented myself within the Illumination Libray, I realised that a user interface which replicates the experience of locating books on a shelf could be a really nifty way of navigating an information space. Of course, I have to ask myself: would someone who used computers from an early age feel the same way? Does my mind understand and respond so well to this metaphor precisely because I grew up with card catalogues and libraries stocked (mainly) with books?
Interact with the library’s card catalogue and you will be redirected to Google spreadsheets organised by author, genre or period. It’s a straightforward solution to the problem of tracking the library’s contents, but I get the feeling it’s not meant to function as an OPAC – the library at Luminaux is about exploring, rather than searching.
This distinction really characterises the space for me – the design of the library is very conducive to meandering, pondering, and reflecting. It would also be an attractive place to hold meetings or discussions, functioning as a place for gatherings and social events in a way that’s quite similar to that of a library IRL.
And much like a library IRL, it offers an experience beyond simply getting access to information. I asked myself: if I’m already online, and able to access any number of repositories of public domain materials, why would I visit the Illumination Library?
My answer: it engages me in a different way.
It is visually and aesthetically simulating, and draws upon more of my senses, including that of proprioception – awareness of the movement and location of parts of the body – something which is intimately linked to the emotional or affective content of perceptual experience.
I was intrigued by the build, and got in touch with Library Director, manager and bookmaker Farzaneh Eel, who very graciously answered my questions about the Illumination Library.
How did you come to be involved with the library?
Illumination Library was already established when I first came to SL in 2007. It was then located on an island called Illumination, so as a visitor I thought of the library there as Illumination Library. I began working at the library when it was later moved to another site. As it lacked a name, I suggested it be called Illumination Library in honor of its former location. Xinoxi Han is the founder and owner of the Library and Luminaux, the Estate where we are currently located. I have been the Library Director, manager, and bookmaker since 2007.
Do you have a collections policy? How do you make decisions about what to include?
There is not an official written policy. Nineteenth century works and older are the focus of the collections since I work with public domain / non-copyrighted materials, to the best of my knowledge.
Before 2007, the Library’s initial collections were focused primarily on genre literature (Adventure stories; horror stories, etc), philosophy, Latin classics, religious works, children’s books, and some world classic literature. Since I joined the Library in 2007, I have grown the collections primarily in the areas of world classic literature and especially in non-English language literature and world authors translated into English. Our multilingual collections now include works in approximately 20 languages ranging from Arabic to Urdu. Including women and minority authors has also been a focus of mine.
Another interest of mind has been to diversify the types of book objects included in the collections. You will see in the Library my interest in the history of written literature and books, book-binding, and also many types of SL book objects, ranging from cuneiform tablets to medieval illuminated manuscripts to accordion-folded sutras, books with Chinese stab-binding, and so on, all within the beautiful surroundings of the build itself.
Among SL libraries, Illumination Library and its sister library Bibliothèque de Coeur (another library project of mine – SLURL ) are unique in the breadth of their collections, the inclusion of working audio books and multiple other types of interactive books, plus the overall aesthetic of the reading and learning library experience.
Who is the library for? Is there a particular way it is intended to be used?
As far as my work as library director and bookmaker goes, I build it for you, the inquisitive visitor and learner. It is a library to visit, browse, enjoy, and revisit. Because the books are interactive, visitors can indeed come here to read, browse, and listen to real books. We also have occasional discussions, events, RL/SL class visits, and hunts, and would like to have more.
Everyone is welcome at the Library as long as they abide by our Covenant. As it says in the Covenant, we consider Illumination Library to be “…an educational gateway, here to meet the intellectual, cultural and aesthetic needs of SL learners, educators, and all inquisitive residents.”
Our Covenant rules are simple and focused on respect, courtesy, collegiality, and good manners. (We do not tolerate any form of harassment, griefing, or begging; nudity / sexual play or indecent exposure; racist/sexist language or behavior; guns, weapons, cages, etc. Anyone involved in those types of activities will be promptly ejected and banned.
There are a few private residences on the Estate. These are well marked and trespassing should be avoided.) Infractions of the Covenant are rare but dealt with promptly and effectively on the few occasions they occur. As a result, Illumination Library is indeed a peaceful, welcoming, and safe place for all SL residents interested in cultural and educational pursuits.
I noticed that there are several places for prayer – I’d love to hear about why you included them. It’s particularly interesting to me as I feel like libraries are moving away from this perception as being sacred, silent places, and so I liked that there was space at Luminaux for prayer and contemplation.
I included [the prayer rug in the Main Library] to accompany an ancient Qu’ran I made (located in the Asian & Middle Eastern Reading Room). I happened across the prayer rug in my SL travels, so it seemed like a very good addition. It is so nice that you noticed this.
In addition to the lovely Catholic chapel, there is also a contemplative Buddhist shrine that I added, a large collection of Christian religious works in the Illumination Library Annex building, and a beautiful singing Qu’ran from the original Illumination Library collections. You are correct that the entire build presents a restful and magical place to relax and begin learning.
Thank you for this amazing build! I am so excited to see how it will continue to evolve in the future…
The library collections and events will indeed continue to grow. We just completed a very successful book exhibit on Renaissance Women Writers, and other exhibits and events are in the works. To stay apprised of events and news, we invite people to join our Group, which is called Second Life Literary Foundation. I would especially invite readers who are interested in leading or helping with relevant book discussions and readings to contact me directly. Thank you kindly for your interest in Illumination Library!
I would definitely encourage everyone to visit the Illumination Library at Luminaux (and to embiggen some of the pictures I’ve included, so that you get to see Luminaux in all its glory) – in addition to being a fabulous example of a Second Life library, it is also a gorgeous location in its own right.
I look forward to continuing to explore what a library can be within the context of Second Life, and I think that this build has been a fantastic starting point for these reflections. I’d like to say a really big thank you to Farzaneh Eel for taking the time to share her thoughts and ideas – it was lovely to hear more about this place, and I look forward to seeing what happens next 🙂