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
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
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?
JC - Go to the ActiveWorlds.com
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
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 (www.haptek.com ). 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
TW - How does Librarea relate to the bigger picture of libraries
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 librarian.net
website.) I'd like to see heavily-used, information-rich library
webpages where all the information tools are cooler than the toys
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.