Virtual Reality for Libraries on a Shoestring

“Virtual reality is a technology that can bring people places they might not otherwise reach.

John Patrick Pullen, TIME

Child using VR goggles

Technology is disrupting our world at an ever increasing pace. We might not realise it, but the changes we are experiencing are fundamentally changing the fabric of our society. Instead of being fearful, our attitude should be one of thrilling enchantment as we embark on an adventure – an exploration of new frontiers. This requires an investment in ourselves and our commitment to lifelong learning – one of the founding principles of library and information services.

As a Library and Information Services (LIS) professional, one cannot ignore the responsibilities to one’s local community to democratise access to new technologies, and their future applications. Access to these technologies can enhance the learning trajectories of an entire community, leading to better outcomes for all.

Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is considered one of the top tech trends for Libraries by the American Library Association. Virtual Reality is a type of computer-simulated reality, which replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence in that environment to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities create sensory experiences that can include sight, touch, and hearing. It replaces the real world with a simulated one. An example of virtual reality in use is flight simulation.

Whilst many people think the financial costs are prohibitive, VR use in libraries doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. This quick guide will show you, in four easy steps, how you can implement VR on a shoestring. The goal is to deliver new technology and new VR educational experiences in your community in the cheapest way possible.

VR Headset

VR Headset

Step 1- Purchase a VR Headset

Now before you cringe at the thought of spending a few hundred dollars on the latest VR Goggles, the easiest and arguable the cheapest way to try virtual reality is through a set of Google Cardboard goggles. For about USD$15 you can buy your own VR headset (with free shipping). It’s hard to believe that a piece of folded cardboard with some embedded lenses could be so much fun! Keep in mind though, like most VR headsets, these will need to be used with a smart phone.

VR Headsets can be purchased from vr.google.com/cardboard/get-cardboard/ or if you google Google Cardboard you will also find some other suppliers. This link also shows you how you could build the headsets yourself, which could be another great activity to do in your library!

To start your VR experience, you don’t actually need a top of the line headset such as Oculus Rift. However, it goes without saying, the quality of your VR experience increases exponentially with higher level technology. If you do decide to go with a more expensive, higher level VR Headset, make sure you have a compatible computer that is powerful enough to support it if required.

Step 2 – Get a VR app on your phone

Most VR Headsets will require a smartphone and access to VR content, regardless if you have an Android or iOS smartphone. This content can include games, art and culture, leisure (such as rollercoaster rides), science (such as space content), sport (such as hang gliding), music and concerts, documentaries, movies, educational content etc.

VR apps can be downloaded onto your smartphone device via your respective App Store. Simply search VR, and a list of mostly free apps will pop up for you to download.

Start by downloading the Google Cardboard app. This is a great starting point, as it will take you through a set up process, and can take you through a “How to…”. For more information, check out the website.

We particularly love the following apps:

Within

“Within” has some beautiful short documentaries and stories, such as A History of Cuban Dance, The Displaced (the true story of three children who are refugees from three different parts of the world), Valen’s Reef (a guided tour of a beautiful seascape), The Click Effect (where you free-dive with two marine scientists capturing the language of dolphins and sperm whales), and numerous more. Check out their website.

EON Experience VR

EON Experience VR has some great educational videos. These include normal viewing, augmented reality and virtual reality educational content where you can learn your fractions through pizzas, take a tour through The Valley of the Kings and the Temple of Luxor in Ancient Egypt, navigate around a simple compressor, experience the beautiful mountains at the ski resort Chamonix in France, discover artefacts at Machu Pichu, or learn about the male anatomy, plus numerous others.  For more info, check out their website.

Jaunt VR

Jaunt VR provides some beautiful cinematic VR, including the award winning musical The Lion King, or joining Paul McCartney for the writing of a love song, or what life is like on the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, white-water kayaking in Iceland, climbing Nepal’s highest mountains, and hanging out with Zoolander during a ridiculously good looking virtual photoshoot! There is plenty more. Check out their website.

You can stream or download the videos on most apps, whatever you prefer. Also don’t forget YouTube, which has an extensive library of VR videos that you can watch with your VR viewer. Just download the YouTube app, search for #360Video, and visit the channel. You’ll know it’s the right one if it has this avatar:

VR avatar

Step 3 – Connect some headphones to your phone

Connecting headphones will ensure 360 degree binaural audio. Part of the beauty of VR is not only the 3D graphics, but also the use of all of your other senses, especially sound, which combine to create a fully immersive experience.

Step 4 – Enjoy the experience!

Remember to create a safe environment for your customers to enjoy Virtual Reality!

For a more in-depth User Guide in VR for Libraries on a Shoestring, you can check out the free e-book, located here.

Natalia Fibrich

Natalia Fibrich

About the author:

Natalia Fibrich is General Manager of Library Training Services Australia, an organisation delivering 21st century education solutions at Certificate II, III, IV and Diploma levels for the Library and Information Services sector. Natalia’s background is in the organisational psychology field, having completed a psychology degree at Macquarie University. She now loves translating future trends into digestible bites for LIS professionals and students.  Natalia is a cat-lover who spends her free time drinking wine, travelling, and reading! Follow Natalia at @enablepotential or via LTSA at @ltsaustralia, and check out LTSA’s blog.