Wolverine Island

© 2008 P. F. Anderson and Marc R. Stephens. The text of this article is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 43, no. 5 (September/October 2008)

Wolverine Island

P. F. Anderson and Marc R. Stephens

P. F. Anderson is Emerging Technologies Librarian, Health Sciences Libraries, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (http://www.lib.umich.edu/hsl). Marc R. Stephens is Multimedia Designer, University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor. Comments on this article can be sent to the authors at pfa@umich.edu and marque@umich.edu and/or can be posted to the web via the link at the bottom of this page.

In March 2007, the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) purchased Wolverine Island in Second Life (SL). From even the early planning stages, the Health Sciences Libraries (HSL) were deeply involved in the University of Michigan (UM) SL activities. The primary role of health sciences libraries is to support the core functions of the academic and healthcare institutions they serve. Traditionally, this has taken place through activities related to collections, services, instruction, and reference in environments related to education, research, clinics, and service and outreach.1 Here we will explore in what way these roles are similar or different for an academic health sciences library working in virtual worlds, with highlights of our engagement and immersion in SL.

“I Expect You in September with the Glory of the Year”: Preparations

With the purchase of Wolverine Island, UMMS, under the oversight of Ted Hanss, made plans for the development of the land. Planning continued during the spring and summer of 2007; building began in August, with Wolverine opening to a small beta community in the fall of 2007. Meanwhile, Jane Blumenthal, HSL Director, gave presentations about SL to engage local librarians,2 recruiting an initial group of librarians to enter SL, develop basic skills, and explore.

The greatest time investment for the library was exploration. These efforts focused on librarianship, science, education, and health and healthcare. During the development phase, there were campus-wide meetings and introductory lectures,3 but most interesting developments and discoveries were shared through informal conversations. The most significant question or concern confronted was, “Why do this?” Jason Griffey, on Twitter, shared a justification of being prepared for future trends: “It’s not the tool, it’s the training re: SL. We need to get used to that sort of interaction, because it’s coming.”4

That works to explain why librarians and educational technologists should be aware of what is happening in virtual worlds. In August 2007, Peter Polverini, Dean of the UM School of Dentistry, asked for assistance in explaining SL to other dental school deans and in justifying awareness of and engagement with virtual worlds for scientists and health educators. He wanted a video for a meeting he was traveling to in three days. The librarians knew of a number of science locations in SL and provided video of these. The School of Dentistry supplied video editing and production experience. In collaboration, the two groups developed experience with machinima (machine-based videography) skills in SL and successfully created a video in time for the dean’s trip.5 The range and variety of SL science venues and applications presented in the video was persuasive to the other deans and to the faculty of the school.

“You Shall Make the Autumn Precious, and the Death of Summer Dear”: Transitions

In the first fall term for Wolverine Island, the role of the libraries was to scan for appropriate educational events of interest to our community and share this information. This was the first effort toward building community interest. HSL staff would occasionally have face-to-face meetings and training or support sessions to build SL skills.

Informational sessions originally presented during the summer were repeated for new audiences, with increasing outreach specifically targeting faculty of the health sciences schools and programs (medicine, dentistry, kinesiology, public health, pharmacy, nursing). The goal was to explore and facilitate the development of educational opportunities, as well as to develop an awareness of SL as a possible educational venue.

In October, UMMS had the first for-credit course in SL. The course, a one-credit elective for medical students, focused on developing a cohort of students with appropriate skills to serve as a nucleus for future SL educational opportunities. Marc Stephens, an experienced SL resident based in UMMS, was the course director; he had three assistants (one from the library). Eighteen students received an orientation that included navigation, tours, customization of personal appearance, building, garment design, and searching; the course ended with immersion and education experiences. The course was held in a regular classroom, and the students used laptops with both wired and wireless connections.

“You Shall Help the Days That Shorten, with a Lengthening of Delight”: Community

In December 2007, with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation, the library initiated a series of SL community events. The planned event series consisted of meetings and presentations on a weekly basis, held every Friday at noon Michigan time, which translated to 9:00 a.m. SL time (SLT). Before committing to this, we organized a support team that included four library volunteers from the Liaison and Infopoint (Reference) units, together with representatives from both UMMS and the School of Dentistry. All volunteers committed to attending events for the first two months. The first “brown bag” event, on December 7, was a community discussion for planning future events. The early events were scheduled both in SL itself and at real-world locations in campus computer labs, for new faculty to receive assistance and support.

The community immediately generated the idea of using external social media for capturing and preserving the activities and for providing information to those who could not attend or who worked with colleagues not yet able to access SL. This quickly developed into an active blog, a wiki, a Flickr group, and a Google calendar. Communication of activities occurred through all these venues, in addition to a campus e-mail group and three SL groups.

Events planned for the winter term included tours, local speakers, invited speakers, classes, discussions, and swapmeets. There were a total of eighteen events, averaging eleven participants each. The most popular events are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Popular Events

Rank Event
#1 Discussion (SL research methods and issues)
#1 ALA’s Jenny Levine, “Gaming in Libraries”
#2 Tour (Genome Island)
#2 Tour (JS Vavoom, Nursing ACLS)
#3 Joop Zuhal, “Pros and Cons of SL Teaching”
#3 Tour (InfoIsland)
#3 Tour (Play2Train)

Attendees represented all of the health programs except nursing. They also came from a variety of other programs including computer science, distance learning, foreign languages, writing, literature, libraries, and the School of Information. There were attendees from all three of the University of Michigan’s campuses (Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint). In addition, we had regular attendance from alumni distributed around the country.

“I Will Lead You, Dream-Enchanted”: Leading and Following

One of our early presenters was JJ Jacobson (“Sir JJ Drinkwater” in Second Life), an acknowledged SL library community leader and builder.6 Not coincidentally, Sir JJ Drinkwater is, in real life, an alumnus of the University of Michigan. Learning from accessible experts already present in SL was critical to our success in building our own community. Sir JJ Drinkwater was one influential early resource, and we consulted with many others, including a report by Tom Peters, Lori Bell, and Beth Galloway, which noted: “It takes more than an attractive built space to generate usage by avatars. Events, exhibits, organized sets of resources and tools, immersive information and learning experiences, and other interactive activities are needed to energize each built space.”7 These recommendations, conversations with experts, and experience with successful presentation series led us to focus our initial community-building efforts around a set of regular, frequent events, with supporting resources.

The library took on the role of advance scout and guide, discovering SL locations and resources relevant to our SL community. In our discovery process, we focused on basic skills, education, science, and health and healthcare, as well as on finding other libraries to serve as models for us to develop our own space, resources, and services. While we were able to find existing community resources for the science and library location, there was no such tool for the health and healthcare environment in SL, leading us to partner with other health libraries, librarians, and consumers on developing the SLHealthy wiki.8 Through developing this expertise and collecting useful information, the library became acknowledged as a valuable resource by the local SL community and also by other SL health organizations.

“We, Communing with Twin Counsel, Each to Other All in All”: Population

Our SL community evolved over these first few months into a community very different from what we had anticipated. Given that Wolverine Island belonged to UMMS and we represented the Health Sciences Libraries, we had perhaps naively expected to primarily provide service to our regular population of faculty and students in the health sciences schools, with smaller representation from staff, alumni, the rest of campus, and the local community. Figure 1 shows approximate percentages for these service communities.

Figure 1. Approximate Service Population Distribution for the UM Health Sciences Libraries (RL)

Figure 1

Instead we found incredible diversity among the campus community represented in our SL community, with special emphasis on a very engaged and dynamic alumni community. Figure 2 shows approximate percentages for the active SL community. It is important to note that this refers to a time during which there has been no active outreach to UM students and that Wolverine Island is restricted-access. We anticipate that the student population will rise as more academic courses begin to incorporate an SL component and as we conduct planned outreach targeting UM students.

Figure 2. Approximate Service Population Distribution for Wolverine Island Library (SL)

Figure 1

“Leave the Titles That Men Owe Thee”: Differences

In transferring any function, task, or role from the analog world to a virtual world, one should ask in what ways the function, task, or role should (or should not) change. For example, real-world libraries offer reference and reading collections. In developing the library presence for Wolverine Island, we elected to do neither of these, because of considerations of the needs of our population and staff. Likewise, the supporting resources and varieties of instruction we offered were substantially different in SL.

In SL, the infrastructure on which we routinely rely for instruction is very different from that in real life. Handouts, projectors, slideshows, and microphones require advance planning. Managing class interactions involves decisions such as whether to allow voice, require typing, or use a mix, as well as strategies for keeping student groups together during tours. Likewise, the type of skills taught differs. In real life, it is unlikely that a librarian would strip to his or her underwear to teach a class on how to get dressed and make clothes; however, in SL, this is a foundation skill that empowers users to present themselves professionally in their daily activities, making this class one of our most requested sessions.

We discovered than many of our regular library functions did not translate to our virtual environment, while new functions were needed and requested by our patrons. Functions not transferred tended to focus on the types of resources and collections maintained in the HSL and to services directly tied to them, such as circulation. Some services, such as reference, happen in both venues, but the scope and focus differ drastically. New services needed and developed largely related to social functions and supporting skills for the new virtual environment. Table 2 illustrates this dichotomy.

Table 2. Library Functions in Real Life and Second Life

Task / Function RL SL
Circulation X  
Collections X  
Community Space X X
Course Reserves X ?
Dance Floor   X
Document Delivery X  
Events & Speakers X X
Exhibits X X
Food Court   X
Free Clothes (e.g., hair, skin)   X
Game Days   X
Instruction X X
Liaison Services X X
Maize & Blue Shop   X
Outreach X X
Parties ? X
Patient Support Group   X
Reference X X
Research & Grant Support X X
Resource Guides X X
Small Group Working Spaces X X
Tools – Building, Coding   X
Tools – Information X X
Tours – Library X X
Tours – World   X
Troubleshooting X X
Vendors & Sales   X

“Name the World All Over to Me, New Created at Thy Feet”: Wolverine Island Library

As the UM SL community evolved, there were a variety of needs expressed for which there was no designated space on Wolverine Island: inexpensive and professional clothes, tools, tutorials, and other freebies; garments celebrating the University of Michigan, such as athletic T-shirts; social spaces; and more. The library had a building, but this had not been developed. This presented an opportunity for the library to take on a new and even more active role.

The Wolverine Island Library was designed specifically to meet the needs of our academic and general community, based explicitly on issues and questions raised by our community. This process benefited from having focused first on community building and then on infrastructure development, as a response to what was learned during community building. Here is the structure that evolved:

  • Ground level: freebies, food court, spirit shop
  • Main level: service desk, guides, tutorials, staff presentation archive, casual seating, fireplace, games
  • Mezzanine: exhibits
  • Roof: small-group study space with public slide viewers, social space, and dance floor

It also benefited the process to have the library development later on, allowing the staff time to develop their SL skill base more fully. Here is a partial list of skills utilized in creating our SL library space.

  • Editing objects and scripts
  • Creating posters
  • Manipulating textures
  • Manipulating, customizing, and positioning objects
  • Making freebie givers
  • Mixing sit poses for seating areas
  • Using graphic design
  • Customizing vendors
  • Creating slide presentations in SL and using presentation tools
  • Designing clothes

“I Will Hang upon Thy Breath”: Immersion

As the HSL staff became more engaged with SL communities and activities, we were invited to participate in increasingly sophisticated activities and partnerships in SL. These included taking on responsibilities in social groups for professional functions as well as giving professional presentations at SL-based conferences and professional events. The latter ranged from informational or small-group classes, presentations, and coordination to formal professional presentations such as at the SL’ang Health Event and at Virtual Worlds Libraries, Education, and Museums.9

“What Shall Be the Gods Declare Not”: Surprises and Lessons Learned

Even entering SL with an open mind and not many expectations, we still had surprises. Among them was the strong presence of alumni and of remote campus sites among our most active SL community members. This connection and tighter collaboration across geographically distinct campuses was a distinct “win.” It was another win to see engagement and excitement from an alumni community ranging from coast to coast and occasionally out of the country. The relatively low cost of facilitating this collaborative environment didn’t hurt either, with the primary cost to the library being staff time.

In addition to learning more about our alumni and sister campuses, we also learned lessons from successes and failures, including the following lessons:

  • The power of the freebie
  • The absence of limits to imagination (but not to time and ability)
  • The necessity of presence first, then space
  • The need to be flexible and responsive
  • The importance of asking what is most needed
  • The need to build skills before making plans
  • The importance of backup plans

“Into Spangles of a Moment, into Stars That Deathless Shine”: Assessment

We used a survey to assess the utility of our time investment. Our survey showed that the most successful communication channels were e-mail, word of mouth, SL group notices, and the blog, while the wiki and Google Calendar were mostly used archivally or administratively.

One-fourth of the respondents had not attended any SL events. Reasons given were difficulty discovering when events were to be held, time conflicts, or a lack of interest in the specific topics. Three-fourths of the respondents had attended events and were enthusiastic about their value, giving the following statements:

  • “I look forward to attending every week.”
  • “This is an amazing group and effort!”
  • “Many thanks for organizing the SLUM events. I find all the topics quite interesting.”
  • “An incredible job.”
  • “A big THANK YOU for . . . time and effort.”

“I Expect You in September with the Glory of the Year”: Future Plans

Having completed a full year in SL, we are now looking forward to beginning the new academic year. Plans for the coming year include expanding our academic offerings in SL, continuing our building and engagement activities, fostering collaboration with the various academic programs expressing interest, and diversifying our offerings in all these areas. Suggestions received in our survey included the following:

  • Offer orientation or beginner classes.
  • Schedule more help for new users in real-world venues.
  • Use SL to deliver more RL content.
  • Encourage resource sharing by asking, “What have you learned, and how did you learn it?”
  • Focus more on research and funding options.
  • Focus more on healthcare consumer communities.
  • Offer more hands-on activities (e.g., scripting, building).
  • Collaborate with the alumni association.
  • Organize a campus-wide, day-long conference about SL.
  • Use SL to build more patient communities in support of clinical care.

Currently, we plan to have a community-wide planning event and an official grand opening celebration early in the new academic year.

Resources: About Us

Blog: http://mblog.lib.umich.edu/slum/
Pictures: http://flickr.com/groups/slum/
Wiki: http://slum.wetpaint.com/
Google Calendar: http://www.google.com/calendar/embed?src=uho4ldkror0qhcah8q1rdg20u0%40group.calendar.google.com&ctz=America/New_York
Note: Wolverine Island is not currently open to the public.

Resources: Blogs

Health and Medicine in Second Life: http://healthinfoisland.blogspot.com/
Library Militant, from the Director’s Desk: http://www.thelibrarymilitant.net/from-the-directors-desk
OEDB, iLibrarian: http://oedb.org/blogs/ilibrarian/category/second-life/
Second Life Librarians: http://sllibrarians.ning.com/
Second Life Library: http://infoisland.org/
Second Life Library 2.0: http://secondlifelibrary.blogspot.com/
Shifted Librarian: http://theshiftedlibrarian.com/tag/second-life/
Virtual Libraries Interact: http://virtual.librariesinteract.info/
Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA): http://yalsa.ala.org/blog/tag/virtual-worlds/

Resources: Wikis and Web Pages

Law Librarians in Virtual Worlds: http://vwlawlibrarians.wetpaint.com/
SLHealthy: http://slhealthy.wetpaint.com/
Virtual Worlds, Libraries, Education, and Museums: http://www.alliancelibraries.info/virtualworlds/

Resources: Groups

Alliance Second Life: http://groups.google.com/group/alliancesecondlife
Librarian Research Second Life: http://groups.google.com/group/librarianresearchsecondlife
Virtual Teen Library Second Life: http://groups.google.com/group/virtual-Teen-Library-Second-Life


Quotations in the headings are taken from Julia Ward Howe, “The Summons,” in Thomas R. Lounsbury, ed., Yale Book of American Verse (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912).

  1. Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL), “About,” http://aahsl.org/About/visitor.cfm; “Librarians,” in Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008–09 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos068.htm; Louise Darling, David Bishop, and Lois Ann Colaianni, eds., “The Health Science Librarian,” in Handbook of Medical Library Practice: Health Science Librarianship and Administration, 4th ed. (Chicago: Medical Library Association, 1982), vol. 3, p. 71; Dean Giustini et al. “Libraries in Health,” UBC Health Library Wiki, http://hlwiki.slais.ubc.ca/index.php?title=Libraries_in_health; Nina Matheson and John A. D. Cooper, “Academic Information in the Academic Health Sciences Center: Roles for the Library in Information Management,” Journal of Medical Education, vol. 57, no. 10, pt. 2 (October 1982), pp. 1–93.
  2. Jane Blumenthal, “What’s a Nice Library Like Yours Doing in a Place Like This? Second Life, Medical Education, and Libraries,” presented at “Gaming & Social Networking: A New Direction for Libraries,” Ann Arbor District Library, July 31, 2007.
  3. Patricia F. Anderson (“Perplexity Peccable”) and Sharon Grayden (“Vitesse Vella”), “Why Work and Teach with Second Life,” School of Dentistry Bootcamp Series, June 29, 2007, http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/why-work-teach-with-second-life; Patricia Anderson (“Perplexity Peccable”) and Sharon Grayden (“Vitesse Vella”), “Getting Started in Second Life,” School of Dentistry Bootcamp Series, July 11, 2007, http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/getting-started- in-second-life.
  4. Jason Griffey, “It’s Not the Tool . . . ,” Twitter post, November 1, 2007, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosefirerising/1813836683.
  5. Patricia F. Anderson (“Perplexity Peccable”), Sharon Grayden (“Vitesse Vella”), and Daniel Bruell, “Science Learning Opportunities in Second Life,” (video), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EfsSGBraUhc.
  6. JJ Jacobson (“JJ Drinkwater”), “Virtual Neighborhoods, Real Communities: Serving Community Needs in a Virtual World,” Internet Librarian, October 2007, http://www.thelibrarymilitant.net/from-the-directors-desk/2007/10/virtual-neighborhoods-real-com.html.
  7. Tom Peters, Lori Bell, and Beth Galloway, “A Report on the First Year of Operation of the Alliance Second Life Library 2.0 Project, Also Known as the Alliance Information Archipelago, April 11, 2006, through April 18, 2007,” http://www.alliancelibrarysystem.com/pdf/07sllreport.pdf.
  8. Patricia F. Anderson, Arta Dobbs, Joshua D. Copeland, “Challenges of Discovery: Consumer Health Resources in Second Life and Use of a Wiki for Indexing and Community Building,” Medical Library Association Annual Meeting, May 2008.
  9. Patricia F. Anderson (“Perplexity Peccable”) and Arta Dobbs (“Skaidrite Norse”), “SLHealthy: A Community-Generated Wiki Index to Health in Second Life,” SL’ang Health Event, February 9, 2008, http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/sl-healthy-slang; Patricia F. Anderson (“Perplexity Peccable”), Gillian Mayman (“Gillian Oh”), Anne Perorazio (“Kaiya Qunhua”), and Jane Blumenthal (“Wrenaissance Jewell”), “Whatcha Gonna Do? An Academic Health Sciences Library in Second Life Embraces New Roles,” Virtual Worlds Libraries, Education, and Museums, March 2008, http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/whatcha-gonna-do-an-academic-health-sciences-library-in-second-life-embraces-new-roles-298438.