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Join A Discussion
  What Collection Would You Develop?
"Id like to develop a collection of transportation resources that focus on post-automobile ways and means and technology."

It is one of the more exotic places where libraries go. Librarea, a construct of librarian Jack Colbert, resides in a unique online location within a cyber-community called Activeworlds. In it, librarians have the opportunity, and the pleasure, of selecting collections entirely of their own choosing.

I met with Jack Colbert recently to better understand Librarea. Jack had sent me an email about Librarea, and after downloading the Activeworlds browser, I did a bit of exploring there. My first visit was intriguing, but I knew I needed some guidance to navigate effectively within Librarea and sample the collections within. Since Jack lives within a reasonable driving distance, we agreed to get together. From the friendly confines of his home office, we had this conversation.

TW - Can you give me a 25 words or less description of Librarea?

JC - OK. One sentence. Librarea is a destination, a world, within the ActiveWorlds Universe, where individual librarians build virtual (3-D) environments, with objects that can be linked to web-based resources.

TW - To visit and participate in Librarea...must you be a librarian?

JC - Oh no. Librarians, Techs, MLS students, it's free for anyone to visit here, of course, but only the people who decide to build here become citizens. Each citizen/librarian has an area which they completely control and within which they design and develop a collection.

TW - Let's say a person has never been to Activeworlds before. What do they need to do to get there?

the Activeworlds logo

JC - Go to the website to download and install the browser. Open the browser from your desktop, log in as a "tourist", click the "Worlds" tab, top left, and scroll down to Librarea.

TW - So Activeworlds has its own browser. Are there any unique hardware or system requirements to handle this browser?

JC - Surprisingly, no. The basic 2.X version of the browser runs easily on almost any PC, though the new 3.X version requires a 3-d video card.

TW - After the browser is installed a new user, or guest, enters Activeworlds. It is a different environment from the usual 2 dimensional webpage. The sights and the sounds, and the rolling chat, the whisper bar. I'll admit to being a bit unsure of how to navigate the browser homepage at first. After log-in, the guest would scroll down the list of worlds on the left-hand side of the browser and click on Librarea to enter, correct?

JC - That's it. The first time you visit, the object file download will take a couple of minutes, the object files are zipped and very small, and there are a lot of them, but the next time you come in, the world will load quickly. When you first enter Librarea, you will "land" on a sidewalk in the dead center of the world, and you'll be represented by an avatar. ( A little person, you can choose male or female) If you turn toward the left (use the arrow key on the keyboard), you'll see the Librarea Teleport Center, a map with little brightly colored boxes. Each box represents a collection that a Librarea citizen owns. Hold the cursor over each little box and a popup message will give a description for each site, click it and you will fly there.

Placement for these libraries is determined by DDC (Dewey Decimal). The points are distributed as points on a compass. Items with a 000.00 Dewey designation are at north, 250.00 are "east", 500.00 are "south", 750.00 are "west", and 975.00 are almost back to "north".

Across the street from the map is Libby, a LibrarianBot. Libby is an automated avatar that searches the excellent Internet Resources section of GALILEO. Whisper to Libby, (Use the chat box at the bottom labeled "Whisper"), follow her instructions, and she'll lead you to a shelf of books that link to your subject.

TW - You said that each point on the "billboard" is a separate collection managed by a different citizen?

JC - Yes. Right now there are about 15 collections in Librarea (in various stages of construction) and each librarian/builder completely controls their assigned space. What's interesting about these collections, besides frequently-great content, is that they are also fascinating examples of cyber architecture, works of art, really, each one as unique as its builder. There are a lot of different approaches to using a virtual interface for information-rich environments, and you'll see a wide variety of ideas presented here.

TW - Librarea is a village of collections with the look and feel of a more than two dimensional environment. What plans do you have for the future of Librarea?

JC - Well, personally, I'm working on a bigger, better librarybot, one that will do subject headings from a database. I'd also like to use one of those too-realistic, creepy-voiced web-based virtual persons for it ( ). But I know that several other people have different projects going in here, as well. I know that one citizen is planning an electronic classroom, and another is doing something with "panoramas" of information.

TW - Where do you see Activeworlds going with their approach in the next two to three years

JC - Well, I can sure tell you (just like I tell Activeworlds) what I'd like to see. I write them about every 6 months and tell them I want a language translator built into the browser. The thing is, there are other AW universes which are in different languages, and there is little or no interaction between these foreign-language universes and the big one here in the US. I want to see a universe where folks from every culture can meet and communicate, and in that universe I want a world where librarians from every country can meet and communicate. What else? If haptics, head-mounted displays, and virtual environments ever converge, well, then we'll really see something.

TW - How does Librarea relate to the bigger picture of libraries in general?

JC - I think that library webpages need to be much, much richer. Our webpages should have: interactive maps, chat, discussion groups, streaming videoed-virtual reference, live events, music downloads, anything else we can think of...all of it. Every time a library patron logs onto the web from home and doesn't go to the local library's webpage first, then that is a failure on our part. The WWW is the future of our profession, it is self-evident, and if we're going to survive as an institution, our web pages must be irresistible to our patrons.

TW - You're passionate about the role of librarians and our future. Any final thoughts?

JC - I'd like to see more librarians as fearless and open as Jessamyn West (See Jessamyn's website.) I'd like to see heavily-used, information-rich library webpages where all the information tools are cooler than the toys in The Atlas of Cyberspaces. I want to see online reference librarians become the first web celebrities, flesh and blood personifications of the Internet, sought after, overpaid, and spoiled, who are raided and traded just like professional athletes. I want to see library webpages become essential local information resources with busy online communities that spontaneously create entirely new social structures. Most important, I want to see the library profession finally move to center stage in the Internet revolution, where we should have been all along.

Jack Colbert arrived in the librarian's profession after earning an education degree and teaching. He received his MLS degree from the University of Florida at Tallahassee. His first librarian's position after receiving his MLS was with a small public library in southeast Georgia, adding bookmobile experience to his skills bag. He then moved to the headquarters library of the Flint River Regional Library System in Griffin, GA. He has recently been named Coordinator of Education and Training at Flint River Regional.

Jack Colbert will be joining this website's Chat on Tuesday, April 10th, for an online discussion of Librarea and the future of libraries.

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