2017-06-16 / Neighbors

Escape reality

County libraries throughout the state to add virtual reality hardware
By Hector Gonzalez


STEP INSIDE—Camarillo Public Library officials say they plan to set up the virtual reality system in the library’s teen section after a renovation of the area is completed later this summer. 
Courtesy of Oculus STEP INSIDE—Camarillo Public Library officials say they plan to set up the virtual reality system in the library’s teen section after a renovation of the area is completed later this summer. Courtesy of Oculus Patrons at local public libraries will always be able to crack open a book and escape into stories of adventure and exotic locations. Soon they’ll also be able to experience far-flung destinations in virtual reality.

In the next few weeks, 90 public libraries in California, including several locally, will receive at least one Oculus Rift, virtual reality hardware produced by Oculus VR, a division of Facebook Inc. The hardware fits over the head and in front of the eyes like a helmet with a visor.

Each library will also receive an Oculus Ready personal computer and about 20 virtual reality applications that transport users to any place on Earth and into space. Oculus is also providing librarians with training on how to use the VR system, said Deborah Lynch, spokesperson for the California State Library.

“This shows that the library today is about more than just books,” said Christine Conwell, head librarian at Moorpark Public Library, one of the facilities receiving the virtual reality technology through the state library’s Virtual Reality Library Project.

Along with Moorpark, public libraries in Camarillo, Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Calabasas will receive the virtual technology, which generates a fully 3-D stereoscopic scene that gives the user the feeling of being there.

“We’re really excited about getting it and rolling it out,” Conwell said. “We think it’s going to be really popular with teens.”

Since the 7,000-square-foot Moorpark Library has no separate rooms in which to put the system, she said, librarians initially will install the new equipment in the teen area. Staffers plan to create special programming that will let students use the system once or twice a week, she said.

Later, Conwell said, officials plan to allow any patron to reserve time on the system “like a regular library offering.”

At the Camarillo Public Library, officials were still figuring out this week the best place for the equipment once it arrives. For now, the plan is to set up the system in the library’s teen section after a renovation of the area is completed later this summer, said Kelcey Soderstrom, who is in charge of teen programming.

“We’re not going to hide it in a closet somewhere,” she said. “My goal is to have as many people, teens and adults, use the equipment as possible. A lot of people don’t have access to the virtual reality technology, so we want to make it as accessible to as many people as possible.”

Traditionally, public libraries have always provided venues “for people to try out new technologies,” she said.

But the addition of virtual reality represents a “generational leap in the services our libraries provide,” California State Librarian Greg Lucas said.

“Just as computers have become a critical part of our libraries, this generous gift from Facebook and Oculus will bring new technology to libraries from Redding to San Diego,” he said in a June 7 news release.

Libraries are changing, said Heather Cousin, library services manager at Thousand Oaks Public Library. No longer are they strictly places for reading. At her library, for example, patrons can use a 3-D printer.

“We’re not a quiet library,” said Cousin. “We always have lots of programming going on.”

Adding virtual reality to the library’s offerings will be “amazing,” she said.

“Once staff gets familiar with the capabilities we’ll be able to add on to the system,” she said. “There are lots of educational applications where kids can take virtual field trips. We get to expose them to this technology in a safe and comfortable environment.”

One of the goals of the project is to get young people excited about the emerging field of virtual reality and, hopefully, inspire them to become tomorrow’s innovators in the technology, said Cindy Ball, manager of Oculus’ education program.

“It’s pretty cool to imagine how many people will try VR for the very first time—and have that ‘wow’ moment—in their local libraries,” Ball said. “We hope early access will cause many people to feel excited and empowered to move beyond just experiencing VR and open their minds to the possibility of one day joining the industry.”

State library officials will ship out the equipment to libraries from the end of this month through early July, Lynch said.

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