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Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality, or VR for short, is considered one of the top tech trends for Libraries by the American Library Association. Virtual Reality is a type of computer-simulated reality, which replicates an environment, real or imagined, and simulates a user’s physical presence in that environment to allow for user interaction. Virtual realities create sensory experiences that can include sight, touch, and hearing. It replaces the real world with a simulated one. An example of virtual reality in use is flight simulation.

Whilst many people think the financial costs are prohibitive, VR use in libraries doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. This quick guide will show you, in four easy steps, how you can implement VR on a shoestring. The goal is to deliver new technology and new VR educational experiences in your community in the cheapest way possible.


VR on a Budget |  Video Resources | Local Historiality

VR on a budget

Step 1- Purchase a VR Headset

Before you cringe at the thought of spending a few hundred dollars on the latest VR Goggles, the easiest and cheapest way to try virtual reality is through a set of Google Cardboard goggles. For about $5 you can buy your own VR headset! It’s hard to believe that a piece of folded cardboard with some embedded lenses could be so much fun! Keep in mind though, like most VR headsets, these will need to be used with a smart phone.  One option is to offer BYO smartphone sessions.

Step 2 – Get a VR app on your phone

Most VR Headsets will require a smartphone and access to VR content, regardless of which smartphone you're using. This content can include games, art and culture, leisure (such as rollercoaster rides), science (such as space content), sport (such as hang gliding), music and concerts, documentaries, movies and educational content.

Tip: search ‘VR’ in the app store of your choice

Start by downloading the Google Cardboard app. This is a great starting point, as it will take you through a set up process, and also guide you through a “How to”.

Also don’t forget that YouTube has an extensive library of VR videos. Download the YouTube app, search for #360Video, and visit the channel.

Step 3 – Connect some headphones to your phone

Connecting headphones will ensure 360o audio. Part of the beauty of VR is not only the 3D graphics, but also the use of all of your other senses, especially sound, which combine to create a fully immersive experience.  It's a good idea to encourage VR participants to bring their own headphones unless you have a method for cleaning them between uses.

Step 4 – Enjoy the experience!

Remember to create a safe environment for your library visitors to enjoy Virtual Reality.  This may mean providing an open area free or obstruction, or arranging special VR viewing events which encourage people to visit the library for a virtual experience. Providing a space for people to talk about and share their favourite virtual experiences will help connect both the physical and virtual worlds.  To get more community members involved, consider outreach activities like visitation to the aged care facility.

The next level

VR can be experienced at the next level of sophistication through advanced platforms like as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Like the basic platforms mentioned above, the Rift and Vive utilise a VR headset but with higher resolution and field of view. At this level the technology utilises hand held controllers and base station sensors for a truly immersive 360 degree experience. Users can get up from their seat, touch and interact with objects in a virtual way and move around the virtual environment as defined by the base station sensors.  Experiences range from the gameplay of becoming your own cartoon character, exploring a sci-fi inspired mystery apartment, or painting your own VR environment with Google Tilt Brush, to VR explorations of space, Earth via Google Earth VR, or the Amazon Jungle.

VR through these platforms requires a PC of suitable specification.

Video resources

HTC Vive at Natrona County Library

Ferguson Library Virtual Reality Lab

Virtual Reality - SteamVR featuring the HTC Vive

VR in Education

Oculus Rift ‘Body VR experience

Bringing local history resources to life

Libraries can also think outside the square in utilising VR to bring local history resources to life, through creation of new 360 media resources to tell stories of local sites of interest through immersive virtual experience, or to breathe new virtual life into vintage media. A great example is this fantastic project by Geelong libraries in Victoria, of breathing new life into nineteenth century stereoscopic photographs, using the Oculus Rift platform.

Last updated
12th January 2018