WA Secretary of State Blogs

Reality Check

From the Desk of Joe Olayvar

A woman with a VR headset and controls on her hands. The background is a library.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a device craze going on.  Nearly everywhere you look in any town or city across the globe, someone is absorbed in conversation, web searching, or game play.  Yes, we’ve come a long way since the Atari or the early phone and its five pound battery pack.  But like every technology, there’s always something new that will eventually overshadow it, or at least add a new facet; in this case, it’s Virtual Reality; better known as simply VR.

VR is nothing new, but it’s influx into the consumer market is.  At first glance, it’s a new platform that takes gaming up a notch with immersive 3D graphics and audio.  But in reality (pun intended), the potential for VR is literally ground breaking on so many levels.  Its ability to transport the user into worlds of every description will reinvent how we learn, conduct business, recreate, experience social media, and even heal.

With this in mind, the Washington State Library has launched the “VR in Libraries” project in partnership with the University of Washington’s Information School (iSchool) and one of the leading VR companies in the world, Oculus.  This two-year project will have several phases.  The initial Pilot (Phase I) includes studying the educational possibilities of VR in six libraries, thanks to the team of iSchool researchers led by Negin Dahya.  The following phases will take advantage of what is learned and ultimately see forty seven VR systems being rotated roughly every six months to reach as many Washington State Libraries as possible by the close of year 2020.

In the course of the project’s two year span, fifty VR systems will have been shared with over 180 libraries.  But at projects end, these VR systems will be granted to fifty Washington State libraries as permanent homes.  That is virtually a real win, win for our communities.

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2 Responses to “Reality Check”

  1. Given that many libraries hold patron privacy as a core value, I’m really disappointed that this project is going with Oculus VR and not something more privacy-conscious.

    Valve is a Washington company, couldn’t they be a good partner with the Vive, and leave Facebook out of it?

  2. Hello Ahniwa,
    This project came to fruition because we were approached by Oculus. We in turn suggested adding a research component and it has now grown to be a partnership between the iSchool, Oculus and WSL. The idea behind this project is to learn how impactful this technology is and what libraries can learn from it. Cindy Aden, our State Librarian said, “One of the reasons to get VR into libraries is to reach diverse audiences who can lend their own experiences and perspectives to building apps that share in a deeper and more impactful way, their point of view. Oculus is committed to the education value of VR which is why they were such a good partner for this endeavor.”

    As far as privacy, each Oculus profile is identified by library when using the VR system, there is no personal information at all. So when a user is online, they are “seen” by the outside world as the library, not a person and all the stats and surveys collected are voluntary and void of personal information.

    I hope that gives you an explanation and addresses your concerns.