Text and Photo by SIFRIYA DEVIN
On June 10th, the Genealogy Research Center on Info Island was treated to a special talk by real life author Drew Smith, also known as Drew Rodinia in SL. As the author of “Social Networking for Genealogists.” Smith expounded on the many ways current Web 2.0 technologies and social networking tools can be utilized for various levels of genealogical research and collaboration. As a real life librarian at the University of South Florida and the Director of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, Smith brings a unique perspective as both a researcher and librarian concerned about helping patrons in their genealogical pursuits.
As librarians, we are constantly aware of how Web 2.0 technologies enhance social connections and project collaboration. However, Smith’s book insists that these technologies are ideal for genealogists because of their range of influence, flexibility and ease of use. Over the past decade or more, genealogists have flocked to the web for records searching and pedigree sharing. Several sites have included ways for these researchers to connect based on shared family branches or record transcription. Prior to Web 2.0 developments message boards, DNA or surname specific websites have been the extent of genealogical collaboration.
Smith’s book explores the many new ways genealogists are connecting. In fact, according to Smith, almost any social networking tool out there is beginning to appear on the usage radar of genealogists. Some social networking companies are beginning to realize the potential popularity with genealogists and are creating applications that make connecting research even easier.
The most popular and accommodating social networking site being used right now is Facebook which has added applications to help family members find other relatives and share family history information. This site has also attracted genealogists due to the interest of specific groups that allow genealogists to discuss overall techniques or industry developments. Part of the appeal of Facebook is the instant and private sharing capabilities among friends and family that includes photo and video sharing.
Smith insists that photo and video sharing is a hot area of interest in the genealogical field which has meant increased traffic for Flickr, YouTube and other free content sharing sites. Part of the popularity with Flickr is the tagging capability that allows genealogists to tag surnames or historical locations that can aid in or enhance family history research.
As a more genealogical friendly method of social networking, Smith points to three main social networking sites out there that have been gaining in popularity and have been designed purely for the genealogical purpose of connecting cousins researching the same lines: Geni.com, MyFamily.com and MyHeritage.com. MyFamily is an offshoot of Ancestry.com while the other two genealogy social networking sites are stand alone sites. These sites not only allow linking among relatives, but also sharing family trees, photos and other documents to help make connections between researchers that may not have been made without the tree matching capabilities. According to Smith, Geni.com is the site he recommends in this area because the ease of use and simple design indicate they “got it right” when designing a site suited to genealogists. However, users should note that these new social networking sites are free only to a point and then require subscriptions to fully take advantage of the many features. Another fact of interest with these sites, as well as with Facebook, is the concern over privacy. While research usually involves deceased ancestors, the connections being made are between live researchers/cousins which, therefore, require these sites to limit content viewing to within a short number of generations. This has not been met with universal acceptance, but the issue is still complicated and these sites are constantly attempting to balance sharing/collaboration with privacy.
These social networking specific sites are only a small portion of the tools being utilized. Smith notes that Wikis are becoming popular for family history collaboration as different members of a family can add their portion of the research to a document which can be published later as a more thorough product. Local Historical Societies are also utilizing Wikis to showcase local history collections. These collections have the opportunity to grow as locals can add their own contributions to biographies or recollection pages. He notes that Google Docs are also being used by multiple family members when coordinating family information for reunions and small publications. As with the main impetus behind Web 2.0 technologies, Smith emphasizes the importance of “benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd.”
Besides contributing to surname or research specific applications, genealogists are now also taking advantage of RSS feeds, podcasts, link tagging, and even book cataloguing with tools such as LibraryThing to coordinate look-up efforts and instructional tid-bits. As expected, Second Life has also become popular as a way to meet and discuss methodology and issues as they arise. Podcasting is one area of specific interest to Smith since he co-hosts “The Genealogy Guys Podcasts” along with George G. Morgan: http://www.genealogyguys.com/ This podcast is a great way to keep up with the ever-changing face of social networking and how it relates to genealogical developments. Smith noted during the in-world talk that while his book is an overview of how to utilize these social networking tools for genealogical purposes, things have already changed since the release date earlier this year. This only confirms that the social networking craze is a vital and evolving technology worthy of monitoring as we strive to assist patrons in all of their information seeking needs.
The month of May saw the close of two special places in the Infoarchipelago – Bradburyville and Only Yesterday. The following stories are written in their memory with accompanying machinima and photographs.
In Memory of Bradburyville
by PIA KLAAR
Machinima by PIA KLAAR
Photo by VERDE OTAARED
On October 5, 2008, a new sim opened in the InfoArchipelago. The announcement for the sim featured the Alliance Library System as a pioneer in the use of virtual worlds to promote librarianship and reading and stated that there would be “a unique walk-in” book during the grand opening of their newest Second Life project, Bradburyville.
That had been enough information to attract myself as well as many others to attend the opening and come back again and again to experience the walk-in book experience, the various other builds in the sim, as well as to attend the numerous educational events, talks, and lectures that took place at Bradburyville over the next few months.
Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, was chosen for “The Big Read,” a reading campaign which involved libraries and schools in Illinois and was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Alliance Library System created the Bradburyville sim in Second Life. One of the new features of the Bradburyville sim was the concept of a “walk-in” book – a concept that was used as a way to immerse visitors into the novel. The experience gave visitors not only a way to see replicas of the many settings, characters and scenes in the novel, but also a way to be “immersed” in a virtual, interactive experience that provided the visitor the ability to “read” the novel in a unique manner.
These scenes were created by a group of talented people. Daisyblue Hefferman, an Alliance Virtual Library volunteer, built the scenes using “holorezzer” technology created by Krull Aeon so that each scene in the novel would appear at the appropriate time. The creators used the Second Life technology with a combination of web, video, text and audio features.
According to Hefferman, “ALS received money from a Big Read grant from their State Library, originating from the National Endowment for the Arts. They used some of it to purchase the open sim to create Bradburyville. . . . It was understood at the time that it was a temporary project, perhaps only six months. As it was, we had eight or nine months. When LL made it a homestead sim, that cut the av limit to 20, so of course, that hampered events.” Hefferman added, “We enjoyed working on the project, enjoyed it while it was there, and got many compliments on it. As in all things, it's time to move on. There are millions of other books I could do, too, if only I could settle on which one!”
When the project was first introduced, I had created a machinima on the walk-in book experience, but this alone cannot capture the memory of what Bradburyville encompassed. At that time, Daisyblue was kind enough to give me an interview, and Corwin Howlett gave me a tour. Although I feel that my machinima is not enough to pay tribute to such an incredible place or give thanks to all of the wonderful creators: Daisyblue Hefferman, Krull Aeon, Abbey Zenith and Bucky Barkley, I share it with readers of this article as a way to memorialize Bradburyville in Second Life.
[embed Pia’s machinima on Bradburyville here]
It Seems Like Only Yesterday
by ROLIG LOON
Photos by VERDE OTAARED
Only Yesterday was designed as the successor to the Rich Idiot sim. Rich Idiot, a grant-funded concept, was supposed to look somewhat like the playground of a Great Gatsby wastrel of the Depression Era. It served the purpose reasonably well. I came into the sim as the grant was coming to an end, and decided that Rich Idiot had painted an unbalanced view of the 1930s. I wanted to create a sim that celebrated all of the American experience of the decade, starting at about the stock market crash of 1929 and extending to the start of WWII. Lori was kind enough to let me try.
The idea was to use some of the structures from Rich Idiot, mostly the ones on the plaza at the heart of the sim, and to supplement with new ones to create a fictitious Midwestern community. The plaza itself would include some commercial rentals and would also have public buildings to house exhibits of an educational nature. Those included the bank, which housed documents and artifacts relating to the fiscal and economic environment of the day -- everything from copies of the major Congressional Acts of the New Deal to biographies of John Maynard Keynes and Henry Morgenthal -- as well as links to a terrific website on notorious bank robbers of the day. The bookstore, two doors down, was like the independent store that my mother used to take me to, complete with a "reading room" where visitors could have book group discussions -- which we also did. I built another building to house an ice cream parlor -- I always wanted to do that! -- and more commercial space, and I converted the bandstand on the plaza for use as an exhibit of music from the Jazz Era. Elsewhere on the plaza, Georgette Whitfield created a wonderful exhibit of 1930s fashion trends, and the mansion at the end of the plaza illustrated what life was like for an upper middle class family not suffering badly in the Depression.
Beyond the Plaza, everything on Only Yesterday was not merely redesigned... it was new. We added a movie theatre (originally intended in part as a place to show actual movies until I discovered how hard that would be) that had a great collection of movie posters of the era. Upstairs, it included an exhibit focusing on the Golden Age of Radio, with biographies of Edward R. Murrow and other classical newsmen and an array of essays and photos about the best-known radio programs (Jack Benny, the Lone Ranger, Major Bowes....). Thanks to the miracle of sound recording, you could actually listen to full-length recordings of many radio programs from the decade. Rocksie Slade created an entire midwestern farm to illustrate rural life in the Dustbowl days, complete with a shriveling cornfield and dust clouds. Her farmhouse was meant to simulate those that still stand in Nebraska, where she grew up. The kitchen, in particular, was wonderfully realistic. She also created an outdoor theatre under a canopy, the sort of travelling show that was common in rural areas up until the 1950s. Hers showed photos of rural America from the LOC collections and elsewhere.
I was quite proud of the rail depot, both as an architectural feat and as a moderately faithful reproduction from photos of one that stood in a small Wisconsin town in the mid-1930s. The steam locomotive and rail cars are reproductions of one that was built in 1928(?). The station house itself, moderately shabby, had a continuously-rotating display of photos (and essays) chronicling the change from steam to diesel. Searching for a good name for the depot, I decided to call it Haldin, in honor of our good friend and rail enthusiast, now departed.
The cap on the sim, the counterbalance to the Good Times illustrated elsewhere, was the SE corner. There, I built a crumbling and vacant warehouse and a gathering of makeshift shanties, all meant to illustrate the life of the migrant poor. I tried to show artifacts that would illustrate the family identity of the poor (a child's doll, a woman's daily washing on the line), the meager diet (sausage and a block of cheese, and a kettle of Goodness-Knows-What over a wood fire), and the spirit of the people. There were two large exhibits of photos from the Library of Congress collection of WPA/FSA photographs by Dorothea Langa and others, as well as sound recordings of field interviews in migrant camps. Note card vendors offered extended essays on unemployment, union issues, and life in migrant camps. There and elsewhere around the sim I placed WPA posters to illustrate government efforts to help people train for new jobs, avoid public health problems, and enjoy the arts and literature.
What's left beyond those things I just described were the Rich Idiot yacht -- a little out of place, perhaps, but still a reminder that the Depression Era still had an opulent side -- and Gatsby's, a dinner Club created by Puglet Dancer, that we didn't use as much as we intended for social events. Until earlier this year, the sim also included four lovely rental homes that I had hoped would be attractive and good sources of income for the sim, but never were.
All in all, I think we can be very proud of what we had in Only Yesterday for a year. I am a fiddly detail sort of person, so I tended to add small touches that were not educational in themselves but served to make the place more "real." I think of the hopscotch game chalked on the sidewalk outside the ice cream parlor and the little girl's ice cream cone splatted on the ground next to it. There are bits of chalked graffiti in odd places, a half-eaten sandwich on the stationmaster's desk, a cigarette still smoking in an ashtray, a clock on the outside of the bookshop that tells time accurately and chimes on the hour, and a young woman's hat, pocketbook, and suitcase on a seat in the railway car. For me, Only Yesterday has been a balanced educational venue, as complete and true to the era as I could make it without trying to reproduce a specific place. I wanted it to feel as if you were visiting a place that really existed, or maybe you might have lived in. For a year, I did. Our small team of builders and merchants did a terrific job, and can feel very proud.
Text and Photos by VERDE OTAARED
On May 18th, 2009 MacArthur Island officially opened in Second Life. MacArthur Island was created to support the public good and offer residents an opportunity to learn more about projects funded by the MacArthur Foundation. On the island are interactive exhibits related to some of the broad issues that the foundation supports such as biodiversity, conservation, human rights and education.
The opening event was an open discussion between MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton and the former co-creator of Second Life, Cory Ondrejka (now at EMI Music). Initially Ondrejka and Fanton asked each other questions about the future of Second Life and virtual worlds in general and how they can be used for philanthropy. During the discussion Ondrejka said that we are still in the early stage of integrating 3D virtual environments with the vast amount of information on the web. He went on to state that virtual worlds offers a chance, better than any other technology we have to foster international collaboration and reach an engaged community at a significantly lower cost than in the real world. Virtual worlds allow you to use multiple forms of communication, chat, voice, image/text display, allows interaction and generates a feeling of place. Ondrejka went on to comment that since he has been going back to using video and teleconferencing for meetings he really misses having meetings in SL.
In the second part of the forum Ondrejka and Fanton answered questions from the audience; close to 140 avatars were present on the two sims during the event. One of the attendees asked "What needs to happen to engage people in virtual worlds?" Fanton said that the MacArthur Foundation supports about 1000 organizations all over the world and "we are encouraging all of the grantees to use technology of all kinds." He said that MacArthur grant administrators can provide additional funds to grantees help them use technologies like virtual worlds where appropriate.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation http://www.macfound.org/ "supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world." One of the largest foundations in the United States, the MacArthur Foundation's interests include the defense of human rights, conservation of global resources and security, and the investigation of the effect of technology on society. The four granting programs within the Foundation are: the Program on Global Security and Sustainability with a focus on human rights, peace, conservation and sustainable development internationally; the Program on Human and Community Development is focused within the US on topics such as affordable housing, justice, education and digital media and learning; the General Program supports public interest media, digital technologies and the arts; and the MacArthur Fellows Program awards fellowships to individuals to support their creative work.
After the discussion there was a reception with piano music and an informal discussion. Avatars from UK, France, Netherlands and US chatted with Fanton and Ondrejka about nonprofit organizations in Second Life and had the opportunity to tour around the sim to learn about the work and funded projects of the Foundation.
To keep updated about events on MacArthur Island, join the "MacArthur SL Events" group in world
MacArthur Foundation website
Machinima video about MacArthur Island
MacArthur Foundation article about opening
Twitter hashtag used during the event: #macislandlaunch
The Alexandrian Free Library
The Alexandrian Free Library is a consortium of community-based libraries in SecondLife. Our members are libraries for virtual communities, libraries that exist only in cyberspace and do not have real life counterparts. Their collections and activities arise from, and are rooted in, the communities they serve.
The current members of Alexandrian Free Library are: The Caledon Library, The Steelhead Public Library, The Winterfell Palace Library, The Toussant L'Overture Library of New Toulouse, the R.F. Burton Library of New Babbage, and The Librarium of Abitibi. The Librarium is located on the mainland, and is a research institute about best practices for virtual world libraries. The others are all located in role-playing communities, and act as public libraries for their communities.
The Caledon Library is our largest member, and it provides an excellent example of how the collections and activities relate to the communities they serve.
The architecture of each if The Caledon Library's branches reflects the appearance and character of the area in which it is located -- for example, the Jack & Elaine Whitehorn Library, which is the main branch, is an imposing urban structure located in Victoria City, Caldedon's capitol. Other branches reflect the playful atmosphere of their communities. The H.G. Wells Library in Caledon Wellsian is mostly glass, collects material about real and imaginary travel, and features a working time machine. In the Tinyville Library of Caledon Tanglewood, everything is sized appropriatly for tiny avatars. The Regency branch collects material about science and has a formal Empire architecture that resembles a Victorian scientific association.
The collections of the Caledon Library emphasise the literature and culture of Victorian England, Steampunk and Alternative History. Their purpose is to provide information sources that residents can use to enrich their role-playing activities and their virtual lives. Their director, Sir JJ Drinkwater, is fond of saying that they Commune, Consult, Aid, Abet, and Advise the residents, both within and beyond SecondLife. The "beyond" part is quite true -- it's common for community residents to know each other outside of SecondLife, occasionally in real life but more often through other virtual media such as email, Twitter, Nings, or blogs.
What sort of activities do our libraries offer?
* Exhibits -- These make use of museum display techniques to convey information in an interesting graphical manner. Some of the recent ones at The Caledon Library have been about medieval bestiaries, Charles Dickens, the work of Ada Countess Lovelace (who was the illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron and is often credited with inventing computer programming), and the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning. They offer a wonderful opportunity to experiment with ways in which library and museum techniques can supplement and compliment each other.
* Collections -- Each member has collections that reflect the character and interests of its community. As noted above, The Caledon Library collects material about Victorian England and Steampunk. The Steelhead Public Library collects about the history and literature of the Pacific Northwest in what is now the USA. The L'Overture Library collects material about old New Orleans and the American south.
* Events -- Probably the most popular library activity. We hold book group discussions, poetry readings, writing workshops, listening sessions for Shakespearean plays, storytelling performances -- just about any intellectual activity that brings a group together to share an experience and discuss their thoughts about it. The topics are usually related to the theme of the hosting library's community, but we also co-sponsor events that are of general interest to all our members and to the greater community of SecondLife, such as our current series of discussions about SecondLife culture with anthropologist Tom Bukowski. And of course we also dance!
There a number of challenges involved in this type of library service. The hardest one is how to give our users something they can't give themselves.
Unlike the reference desk at InfoInternational, we get very few questions involving technical support. The residents of our communities are generally sophisticated computer users, often extremely so. They are also competent SecondLife users. If they have questions about SecondLife or computers, the library isn't where they go. They either know more than we do or know other people in the community who do.
We get reference questions. How did the old whalers boil down their catch? Where can I find a picture of a McClellan saddle, a ray gun, a New Orleans courtyard garden? Did they have fraternities and sororities at Oxford University during the 19th century? What would be served for Thanksgiving dinner at a home in Oregon around 1890? Why was garlic supposed to be effective against vampires?
Another challenge is trying present the image of an iconic 19th century library and still function as a modern library. All within the constraints imposed by offering library service on SecondLife, of course. We do this through a combination of creativity and compromise. The Steelhead Public Library has a lovely building that was based on a classic Carnegie Library located in Petaluma, California. The Caledon Library uses "aetheric search gizmos" that have Bucky Barkely's webmon scripts encased in steam-powered Victorian objects. Our books are mostly book objects with a scripted link to Project Gutenberg ebooks.
In addition, we need to be constantly on the lookout for evolving use patterns and new community needs. This isn't a matter of holding focus groups or passing out surveys -- we learn of these by being a part of our communities, participating in the group chat, going to community events. It's a lot like being a librarian probably used to be in real life, when our real life communities were a lot smaller and the librarian was a resident of the community where he or she worked. Our patrons are our neighbors, our friends and our partners.
The pleasures of creating and operating this type of library are many. We have a useful role within our communities. We often have the pleasure of bringing people together for exciting intellectual discussions. (I wish I could find a group in real life who enjoy spending Sunday afternoons discussing the symbolism of Little Red Riding Hood or the poetry of Lord Byron. I'm delighted to have found one here on SecondLife.)
We provide a "third place," a place away from home or work where people gather and have fun, a place where adults can play. We help people to live imaginative lives, to live creative lives, to live intellectual lives.
All of our libraries came about because the community where they are located wanted to have a library, felt their community was not complete without one. I think this says a great deal about the way people view libraries in real life--they are the intellectual center of a community, the intellectual focal point, the intellectual heart. Today when public libraries in real life often find themselves fighting for funds and forced to curtail services, I find it heartening to know that people still value libraries in this fashion.