Virtual reality is the newest way to explore the world around you, and it’s arrived at Fraser Valley Regional Library sites, including Sardis Library. (Fraser Valley Regional Library)

Library brings virtual reality to life

Virtual reality the newest toy for Fraser Valley Regional Libraries

Imagine diving into a deep blue ocean without ever getting your feet wet, or flying an airplane high above the clouds.

It’s now possible at your local library.

The Fraser Valley Regional Library (FVRL) has added virtual reality systems to its toybox, and the public is invited to get out and give it a go. For the past few months, FVRL staff have been getting up to speed on the latest in virtual reality. They have moved their systems around from library to library, working on training each other and letting their customers come in and experience this new technology.

And on Saturday, Oct. 14, it’s our turn.

They are bringing their HTC VIVE virtual reality (VR) systems to the Sardis branch, as part of this exciting launch.

“Libraries are all about technology nowadays,” says Heather Scoular, director of customer experience for FVRL. “And virtual reality is the newest technology. It’s such an important part of our customers’ lives, now and into the future.”

VR is an immersive computer-generated, three-dimensional interactive environment. Wearing the HTC VIVE goggles, headphones, and holding motion controllers, participants can move freely around a 10’ by 10’ space while trying out a mix of virtual games and educational experiences.

“We own two sets of these,” she explains. “These are ours and they are top-of-the-line. What we’re doing is we want every single one of our communities to be able to experience this, so we are rotating through all of our libraries.”

The first launch was in Maple Ridge last month, and Scoutar says it was “flawless.” They expect the same will be true in Sardis next Saturday. Anybody interested in taking part can either register for a time slot (registration opens on Oct. 7), or drop by and hope for a drop-in time on the second set.

Scoutar underlines that while there is a lot of fun to be had with virtual reality, it also offers unique learning experiences to users. And those learning experiences are going to be improving over the coming years as technology continues to advance.

“We are just so proud to be able to provide this,” she says. “We are unique in doing this. Digital literacy is key for the future and we need to be able to share that.”

It will take a few months to cycle through all the sites, she adds. Once that’s done, sometime in the spring, libraries will be able to book the VR systems for programming as they see fit.

“Right now you can imagine it’s a major initiative, all of our staff has to learn how to use it,” she says. “But it was flawless at our last launch, with getting people through their experience and the staff feeling all comfortable.”

And while it would seem like young people would be the ones clamouring to use VR, it’s proving to be popular with an older demographic, too. Scoutar says it’s been fun to watch families come out and experience VR together.

“We’ve had whole families show up for previous launches,” she says. “It’s intergenerational and that’s the beauty of it. Technology is so embedded in our lifestyle, and this is helping people feel more comfortable and explore that next step. This is really reaching all ages. It’s wonderful.”

One of her favourite “worlds” to explore is Big Blue. The program takes the user deep under water to experience diving like never before.

“I got into it, and it blew my mind,” she said. When her first VR experience was over, she said to herself: ‘I have to go back.’

“Big Blue is a beautiful one,” she says. “I was in the bottom of the ocean, I was looking up at all the fish and stingrays, and it was very peaceful. You can be in your own life right now in this moment, and you can travel to other worlds, and go to places you have never been before. It’s truly a powerful tool.”

At the Sardis Library launch, there will be chairs for people to sit, who don’t feel they can stand through the experience. And it will be kept quiet to allow the users completely immerse themselves in the experience.

The launch will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Customers can visit www.fvrl.ca to register for a timeslot to play. Limited drop-in timeslots for play will be available on a first-come first-served basis. In the meantime, try out some of the FVRL’s other ‘toys’ in their Playground, including the Sphero SPRK+s (app-enabled robotic balls) and ukuleles, and in-library experiences include green screens, Makey Makeys, and KEVA Planks.

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