SCA: Virtual Worlds in Archival Settings

Time for the session notes from the afternoon session on Virtual Worlds in Archival Settings, moderated by Mattie Taormina (Stanford University). Allons-y!

Speaker list:
Henry Lowood (Stanford University)
Bob Ketner (Manager of The Tech Virtual, Tech Museum of Innovation)
Pamela Jackson (Information Literacy Librarian, San Diego State University)

Most of panelists will be talking about projects done in Second Life. Examples: using Second Life for exhibits after the exhibit is closed in physical realm. Using Second Life for reference and integrating all Web 2.0/social media feeds in Second Life.

Pamela Jackson: San Diego State University in Second Life
Public services perspective: outreach to students and teaching instructors to teach in Second Life. Started in 2007 through 2009, focusing on faculty. Faculty thought it was a lot of work and didn’t embrace the technology. Received Information Literacy Grant Project for 2008-2009 to create a library, created online tutorials and had links to help via link to reference librarians in the physical library, but not enough students to justify having a librarian in Second Life.

In 2009, bought island: Azlan Island and shifted focus to students so students could explore 3D environments. Created a few landmarks that map to buildings and landscape features of campus. Worked with 3D modeling class and imported models into Second Life. Senior students in Art and Design create virtual exhibits for the University Art Gallery. One student created a studio for machinima film. Also used by educational technology students for a summer class.


  • If you build it, will they come? Mostly middle aged women in Second Life instead of college students. May be able to get students come in with cool stuff.
  • Staff time and expertise: someone needs to be supported to manage the Second Life stuff
  • Technology Requirements: need higher-end computers, admin rights, etc.
  • Digital “ownership”: need to own your stuff in order to have it not disappear-ephemeral nature
  • Transferability: need to be able to transfer your content to other virtual worlds; can also transfer skills between platforms

Bob Ketner: Tech Museum of Innovation: Virtual Worlds: Archive of the Imagination
Tech Virtual: virtual prototyping space for museum exhibits, use it for a collaborative space, test interactive exhibits
Used because: great tools, rapid speed of visualization, diversity of input from experts

Roots of virtual words in “Augmenting the Human Intellect” by Doug Engelbart. So longer history than most people think.

Teens transformed an entire gallery space (not part of a formal class). Created exhibits about microchips and technology, also created interactive exhibit. Have weekly design meetings/sessions.

Questions: Can you archive a virtual “place”? What to do with models if move away from Second Life? Can you archive a zeitgeist (spirit of a time)? (thinking points for the audience)

Bruce Damer ( working on archiving virtual worlds.

Henry Lowood (Stanford University) Life Squared: Archiving the Virtual Archive
Dante Hotel (now the Hotel Europa): first example of site-based art installation-recreated in Second Life now. Lynn Hershman created the art installation. Archives has documents and photographs from Hershman. Integrated documents in Second Life model.

Used actual floorplan of hotel for Second Life hotel and created hotel, incorporated documents and photographs to create an immersive experience. Created “meta-archive.” Lowood showed a video of the hotel tour in Second Life. Also use space to show films and other art exhibits.

Worked on project, Preserving Virtual Worlds, on issues of preservation metadata, encoding standards, selection, etc.. Second Life was probably the most negative aspect of project for preservation. Linden Lab does not assert copyright over what users create in Second Life which is very progressive, but makes preservation difficult because you need to obtain permission from each user to archive stuff and many users are anonymous (only know the individual’s avatar).

Lowood teaches archival courses at SJSU SLIS. Over half of his students in a class said we shouldn’t archive virtual worlds/Twitter. (Interesting) Some are resistant to having their creations move into an archives.

My question: Can you get usage statistics off of Second Life?
Can get some usage statistics of exhibits and galleries in Second Life, but it’s not automatic (except for number of avatars landing on the island). But can create counters, see number of unique visitors, figure out what they touch, can also figure out how much time avatars are spending in the archives, etc. (pretty cool metrics)

Take Home Message
It is a ton of work to create stuff in Second Life and it is very time-consuming and difficult to preserve the created virtual world. I’m still not sold on investing in creating archives in Second Life. I am glad to hear you can get metrics out of Second Life, though. Let’s hear it for using evidence-based practice for evaluation and assessment of all projects through using metrics.