How one Maryland library system is embracing virtual reality - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Aug. 9, 2016 8:03 am

How one Maryland library system is embracing virtual reality

A VR Roadshow through Prince George's County showed kids how to create immersive experiences. It was a group effort involving FutureMakers, Code in the Schools, Seven Hills Games and more.

At the VR Game Jam in South Bowie, Md.

(Photo courtesy of Nestor Diaz/Prince George's County Public Library System)

Libraries are increasingly embracing technology as they look toward the future, but it’s not just about replacing stacks of books with tablets.

Being natural gathering points and focused on learning, FutureMakers has found libraries to be one home for its growing maker education programs (the group is also seeking new coaches).

“Libraries are really great at being a place where you’re going to try new things,” said FutureMakers founder Matt Barinholtz.

In Prince George’s County this summer, that involved the latest technology. Walking into the Hyattsville Public Library on June 26, hundreds of afternoon patrons had noses pressed firmly in VR goggles, rather than books.

It was a stop on the VR Roadshow through PG County. Organized by FutureMakers and Seven Hills Games, the roadshow got folks together to check out the latest virtual reality technology with the OSVR Hacker Development Kit goggles, said Seven Hills’ Greg Aring, a developer who handled the tech specs of the program. While lots of kids participated, library system program specialist Nestor Diaz added that the participants were of all ages.

“Just like smartphones changed everything, they’re wondering how VR is going to change how they live their life,” Diaz said.

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At three other events, kids got the chance to try building an Enchanted Forest experience with Unity. By the culminating Game Jam at the end of July, about 30 kids returned. They were designing trips to different galaxies and racetracks for driving dinosaurs, said FutureMakers’ Barinholtz.

Pulling it off took lots of collaboration. Along with FutureMakers coaches, Code in the Schools instructors also helped out. The headsets were purchased through the state education department’s Division of Library Development and Services. Funding came from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

“We really believe strongly that public libraries are components of the education and workforce development ecosystem in Maryland,” said Liz Sundermann-Zinger, the Division’s Data, Communication, and Services Coordinator. “In order to be that, it’s very important that we give access to youth, regardless of income or cultural background, access to state-of-the-art, cutting-edge technology.”

With VR’s arrival in the mainstream consumer market still predicted but not yet realized (this holiday season, perhaps?), Sundermann-Zinger added that the roadshow was a rare opportunity for people to get exposure to technology without expectations. Without any preconceived notions, they’re “forced to be creators before they can be consumers,” she said.

They hope it can be repeated. The organizers are considering the tour a pilot, and are looking to expand it to other areas of the state. Barinholtz said they are still seeking partnerships.

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is the lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following a stint in New Orleans, where he served as managing editor of online news and culture publication NOLA Defender. While there, he also wrote for NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune. He was previously a reporter for the Rio Grande Sun of Northern New Mexico.

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