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New Worlds, New Opportunities:
Second Life’s HealthInfo Island

Submitted by Carol Perryman
School of Information & Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC

At the 2007 Annual Meeting of the Wisconsin Health Science Library Association, T. Scott Plutchak urged health science librarians to consider new avenues for practice, and even to think about discarding old, outworn ones. In Second Life, a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE), librarians of all types, including medical and consumer health librarians, have an opportunity to do just that.

Funded by the Greater Midwest Region of NN/LM through the Alliance Library System in East Peoria, Illinois, librarians at HealthInfo Island in Second Life explore the provision of consumer health information services in a virtual environment. The island is home to a consumer health library and a medical library, as well as virtual outposts or displays run by the NLM Special Information Services, contractors for NIH, the Swedish Red Cross, the Toronto Alzheimer Society, and our newest building the Accessibility Center, which houses another GMR NN/LM funded project. This latest initiative intended to encourage awareness of vision, mobility, learning, and other disabilities will be hosting an open house September 9th.


The new Accessibility Center (left), the Consumer Health Library (right),
and part of a display about consumer health information services

Displays around the island are often created in collaboration with a wide assortment of people, including LIS students, an epidemiologist, non-profit health entities such as the Alzheimer’s Society of Toronto, Canada, and support groups for a range of health issues. Visit HealthInfo Island, now located next to islands owned by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the CDC, and the University of Gronigen Medical Library, and you’ll find much more than you expected. In mountain gardens, small and large spaces created by real life New Zealand landscaper-turned-educational software designer Isa Goodman offer places for support groups to meet. At the other end of the island, Toxie Cortes and his colleagues are working to replicate the NLM Toxtown website so visitors can learn more about environmental hazards. Interactive "information objects," like the giant cigarette located above the fireplace in the Consumer Health Library, lead the user through a menu of choices, ultimately offering resources in the form of web pages, flash tutorials, or take-away notecards A laptop provides links to CAPHIS-approved health sites.

Participation in such an environment challenges the creative imagination. How can we re-envision informational displays to make them more interactive? How can we market to a community that literally crosses boundaries of discipline, culture, language, time, and space? If we’re successful, how can individual reference services be offered to a community that now numbers in the millions? What is a library collection in a place where proprietary resources are out of the question? We feel collaboration is part of the answer.

A focus on responsive development might mean starting with few, but broad, quality resources (MedlinePlus, for example), then creating others in direct response to need. For us, it means outreach to dozens of active support groups, enlisting their help in the creation of displays, workshops, and health fairs. One recent event featured a Greek internal medicine physician who met with a Second Life diabetes support group for an informal Q & A session. Another example is the AIDS/HIV display created by an epidemiologist in conjunction with an HIV-positive young person that offers prevention information along with free virtual condoms and a link to support group contacts.

It also means active and adaptive learning, something at which librarians excel, and relationship-building between librarians and much larger entities (such as the Johns Hopkins Berman Center for Bioethics, NLM, or IBM) as well as between multi-type librarians in a vital and growing community.

Librarians Carol Perryman, an experienced consumer health and medical librarian and a 4th-year PhD student at SILS UNC-Chapel Hill, NC, and Guus van den Brekel, Coordinator of Electronic Services at the Central Medical Library, University Medical Center Gronigen, the Netherlands, welcome your visits and involvement in this intriguing exploration of what the future holds! Contact Carolina Keats (Perryman’s "in world" name) or Namro Orman (van den Brekel's "in world" name) in Second Life, or email Perryman for more information or a tour of this not-so-strange new world.


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 19, 2007 9:45 AM.

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