UW Information School and Oculus VR Recreating the Way Readers View the Library

UW Information School and Oculus VR Recreating the Way Readers View the Library

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Photo: Oculus
Photo: Oculus

It may be the next evolutionary step for library education programs in Washington state, and it’s all thanks to a new partnership between the Washington State Library, the University of Washington’s Information School and Oculus VR.

Oculus has donated 50 of its virtual reality (VR) headsets to the State Library, which is installing them in a select number of library districts around Washington. The UW iSchool, which examines the relationships among people, information and technology, will study the usage trends for the Oculus VR headsets.

“This partnership ushers in a new era of services and capabilities offered by libraries across Washington,” said Secretary of State Kim Wyman, whose office oversees the State Library. “I’m so proud to help put Washington at the forefront of what is sure to become a nationwide trend.”

“This is an amazing opportunity for all residents of Washington who use library services for education as well as entertainment,” said State Librarian Cindy Aden. “It’s so important for libraries to keep up with the developing needs of its patrons and introducing new, exciting technology is key to accomplishing that goal.”

Oculus, which is owned by Facebook, believes that virtual reality is a vast, highly interdisciplinary research space that has only begun to be explored. Since 2012, it has been bringing together researchers and engineers spanning a wide range of expertise to further the reach of VR into several prominent categories, including education, training, and film.

“We already know that VR has superpowers to accelerate learning,” said Oculus Education Program Manager Cindy Ball. “Both VR and AR will have a profound effect on education, from making difficult academic subjects more accessible and increasing the efficiency of surgical training to providing a rich backdrop for storytelling and the development of empathy and understanding.”

The UW iSchool’s approach to information instruction and scholarship makes it a perfect partner for this new VR venture. The iSchool focuses on the organizational and social issues related to the ways people create, store, find and share information. Its research explores ways to help people more effectively use information to innovate and solve problems. The role of new and emerging technologies is of keen interest to faculty members such as Negin Dahya and Jin Ha Lee, who are co-leading this project for the iSchool.

“I think there’s something about VR that really invites you to dream and envision a technological future in a way that feels like science fiction but is happening now,” said Dahya, an iSchool assistant professor. “For a young person who’s moving through this world and having to understand the range of technological possibilities, experiencing VR is, in itself, an important point of learning.”

“It is super exciting that we are working with libraries to make this happen. Libraries are embedded within both large and small communities, with a very diverse user population,” added Lee, an associate professor at the iSchool. “We can use this existing infrastructure to disseminate these tools and technologies and give people access to things that many people cannot access otherwise. I think that’s very meaningful.”

The new VR technology will be available at the Tukwila, Federal Way and Youth Services Center branches of the King County Library System, the Puyallup Public Library, the Mount Vernon Public Library, and the Hoquiam and Shelton branches of the Timberland Regional Library System.

Washington’s Office of Secretary of State oversees a number of areas within state government, including managing state elections, registering corporations and charities, and governing the use of the state flag and state seal. The office also manages the State Archives and the State Library, as well as documents extraordinary stories in Washington’s history through Legacy Washington.

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