Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Amsterdam Public Library (OBA)

Early 2007 we have had a lot of commotion on the Dutch town of Zoetermeer entering Second Life, being criticised of wasting public money on niche market expression. However, they received a lot of attention which must have had some positive effect since many other Dutch towns are coming to Second Life as well.

One of the new arrivals, funded by public money, is the Openbare Bibliotheek Amsterdam (Amsterdam Public Library). The question is: will it be a waste of public money or not?

A little background on the sim might be in place here to look for specific triggers for the OBA to enter Second Life. Their old central library building was getting too small and a few years ago they've started building a new one in the Oosterdok, one of the main development areas in Amsterdam. This build will be finished this summer, so they've probably thought a virtual representation would add a little pizaz to dusty bookreading Holland.

As well as it's RL counterpart, the build itself is incomplete. Many elements are not texturised yet. From a distance it seems like a good, solid build, but as you get closer there is a lot of "jitter" (shifting textures) and not everything is properly aligned.

Aside from the main building there are a few things to do. There's a skydive point at the roof (okay, this is the popular conception of "things that work in SL nowadays", but hasn't got anything to do with the library) and the place is littered with bicycles. That is as real-life as you can get it, since the canals in Amsterdam are literally (not virtually) filled with rusty bikes.

The most complete element in the sim is the "Herman Brood" room, a famous Dutch rock 'n roll junky, musician and painter. On the lower levels there's a series of good looking computers with images of the library's website, but no interactiveness here yet. Then there are several stands with advanced microfilm readers. This connects with the OBA's cooperation with Karmac to digitize several important documents, under the projecttitle "the Memory of the Netherlands".

Unfortunately, these aren't working either...or worse, they're not even proper textures but badly cut images (see pic below)

So what can we expect from a virtual library? There's plenty of reference material to be found in Second Life in the Cybrary city sims, but sofar the OBA has not been able to go beyond a mere virtual representation of their new Central Library building.

In this new metaversality it would be a challenge for libraries (and publishers for that matter) to explore new formats that would draw back readers to good books.

Neil Stephenson, one of the metarati, is most famous for his novel "Snowcrash" in which the concept of the Metaverse is explored, but another excellent work is called "The Diamond Age" in which the future of reading and publishing is explored. This book can probably be found at the library, so I guess that's a must read for the peeps there exploring the future of libraring.

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