Virtual reality (VR) is emerging as an effective technology that librarians can use to help develop geographic information literacy among students of all ages. This area of gamification motivates learning by providing an enhanced 3D learning environment. A core limitation of two-dimensional course materials is the presentation of objects on a flat surface which can impede the understanding of spatial relationships. In contrast, VR creates an immersive learning environment that engages multiple senses. As VR equipment becomes increasingly affordable, libraries, especially academic ones, are beginning to adopt VR as a tool to promote learning among students (Lewis, n.d.) and a multitude of studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of VR as a tool for library learning (Massis, 2015).
Digital natives (i.e. those born after 1989) in particular, lack information literacy skills despite their fluency in texting and social media engagement. These students are ill-prepared for the rigors of high school and academic learning environments and lack basic information retrieval and evaluation skills (Radford et al, 2008). Librarians are finding that virtual gaming can help students develop information literacy skills by providing a highly engaging and motivating learning environment that allows students to contextualize information (Behesti, 2012). A study by Behesti (2012) looked at the effectiveness of developing a virtual reality library to increase the information seeking skills of teenage users. Based on the physical metaphor of a library, the VR environment (called the VRLibrary) presented age-appropriate web pages as virtual books housed in different rooms. By providing an environment in which students could explore information choices assisted by virtual help, the VR setup enabled students to develop their information seeking behaviors in an environment that was engaging and rewarding.
Studies (for example Behesti, 2012 and Chen & Tsai, 2012) have also found that VR can provide library instruction for institutions with limited staffing resources. VR programs environments can assist students as they progress through Kulthau’s (1991) six-stage information seeking process (Behesti, 2012). In particular, contextual assistance, in the form of librarian avatars, can mitigate the anxiety many students experience from information overload (Chen & Tsai, 2012). Chen & Tsai’s study found that VR-based library instruction was as effective among primary school students as traditional instruction.
While still very much an emerging technology, the adoption of VR by libraries as a tool to build information literacy is showing promise. In addition, VR programs have been successfully used to increase participation in child reading programs (Hellyar, 2016) and promote special collections (Parhizkar & Zaman, 2009). The use of VR as an instructional and educational tool will surely continue to grow in the number of libraries adopting this technology.
Beheshti, J. (2012). Teens, virtual environments and information literacy. Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 38(3), 54-57. Retrieved from http://asis.org/Bulletin/Feb-12/FebMar12_Beheshti.pdf
Chen, C. M., & Tsai, Y. N. (2012). Interactive augmented reality system for enhancing library instruction in elementary schools. Computers & Education, 59(2), 638-652. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131512000589
Hellyar, D. (2016, April 26). Libraries can use new visualization technology to engage readers [Blog]. Retrieved from http://informatics.mit.edu/blog/guest-post-diana-hellyar-library-use-new-visualization-technologies
Kuhlthau, C. C. (1991). Inside the search process: Information seeking from the user’s perspective. Journal of the American Society for Information Science, 42(5), 361-371. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/download/9302263/insidesearch2.pdf
Lewis, R. (n.d.). Virtual Reality: Soon to Become Mainstream in Libraries? Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-411752398/virtual-reality-soon-to-become-mainstream-in-libraries
Massis, B. (2015). Using virtual and augmented reality in the library. New Library World, 116(11/12), 796-799. Retrieved from http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/full/10.1108/NLW-08-2015-0054
Parhizkar, B., & Zaman, H. B. (2009, November). Development of an augmented reality rare book and manuscript for special library collection (AR Rare-BM). In International Visual Informatics Conference (pp. 344-355). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-642-05036-7_33
Radford, M. L., Silipigni Connaway, L., Agosto, D.E., Cooper, L. Z., Reuter, K., & Zhou, N. (2008). Behaviors and preferences of digital natives: Informing a research agenda. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 44, 1-15. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/meet.1450440133/full