Virtual reality, other features now available at Centennial Library

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Derek Luna, library technical assistant and junior civil engineering major at UNM, plays a game on the new VR system inside Centennial Library. Luna says that, aside for gaming purposes, he plans to use VR to view his architectural designs.

At an open house earlier this month, UNM’s Centennial Library unveiled several permanent new features in two new working and collaboration spaces that include VR platforms, among other things.

The features are: geographic information systems; Mac, PC and Apple TV presentation platforms; and the HTC VIVE virtual reality platform, according to Karl Benedict, director of Research Data Services in the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences.

Data Curation Librarian Jon Wheeler said analysis workstations provide applications with many common platforms for quantitative analysis, geospatial analysis and coding.

The new features take up a space previously occupied by an office and computer lab with limited access. Wheeler said that through “opening up both rooms and refreshing the technology,” they have provided students with “novel ways to interact with library and information resources.”

Through using Google Earth, an immersive lab application and exploring a Vincent van Gogh painting, Benedict said the presentations were primarily focused on the VR system, as there was high interest in its capabilities.

However, there were also individual demonstrations and instruction on the use of the analysis workstations in the analysis lab, with a particular focus on NVIVO, a qualitative data analysis application, and Jupyter Notebooks, an interactive environment for writing and sharing code.

Benedict said the $48,000 project received funding from library General Obligation Bond funds and from the library’s endowment. A remaining $7,000 will go towards finishing touches in both spaces.

“We also plan on evolving and expanding the capabilities of the spaces we have developed based on user feedback and needs,” Benedict said. “In the long run, we plan on seeking funding to build out and upon the foundation that we have built. In many respects, the spaces and technologies that we demonstrated last week represent an experimental space where the library can work with the University’s students, staff and faculty to define what technology-enabled collaborative research looks like in the future.”

Wheeler said since the open house the UNM community has already been reacting enthusiastically by trying the VR system or practicing group presentations.

Benedict said he saw enthusiasm during the open house as well.

In particular, he recalled a student earning his Master’s in Computer Science being interested in using the VR capability in the library for his research in “user experience in virtual environments.”

Some other researchers were interested in applying the NVIVO application in their Twitter data research projects and a team of GIS specialists from the Earth Data Analysis Center said they would like to reserve the space for technology demonstrations for the applications and products that they develop.

With more collaborative, data-intensive research comes a greater need for “productive collaboration spaces and tools/technologies,” Benedict said.

“The development of these spaces is important as part of the library’s role as a core research and learning resource for the University and New Mexico,” he said.

Some of the spaces’ capabilities are available in other UNM departments and facilities, he said, but access to them is limited. Keeping these resources in the library allows access to the entire University community.

“Students need access to technologies and capabilities that are often too expensive or specialized for them to acquire for themselves,” Benedict said. “The new spaces and the tools and technologies within them allow students to access and experiment with cutting-edge software and hardware that they might not otherwise have access to.”

This may also draw more students and researchers to the campus, he said.

“We hope that having a technologically enabled space for presentation practice, content development and data management is in itself a benefit,” Wheeler said. “By being located near to a library reference and service point, students will have access not only to powerful tools but also to librarian expertise in reference, literature searching and data management.”

Elizabeth Sanchez is a reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.