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Writers get 2nd Life

BY PARKER SMITH | NOVEMBER 04, 2009 7:20 AM

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The UI has created a second life for participants in the International Writing Program.

The School of Library and Information Science has worked with the IWP to provide online readings at the UI’s private island on the Second Life website, which provides access to a virtual world in which individuals and institutions can buy space to create virtual classrooms and meeting places.

“It isn’t so different from a video game,” said James Elmborg, associate professor of library and information science. “Except there is no real narrative.”

Elmborg said libraries have been experimenting with Second Life for a couple years as one way to provide more online resources and programming and to remain viable in an increasingly web-dominated field.

To begin using Second Life, faculty and graduate students needed to construct a virtual amphitheater, along with purchasing and landscaping a virtual “island,” or a server. The UI’s island, which cost $2,500, can house up to 100 avatars and was paid for with a grant from the U.S. State Department, Elmborg said.

“The goal for the future is to be able to have writers who are not in Iowa City participate in readings,” he said.

Four international writers participated in Second Life readings this year.

Alice Pung said the online readings are an excellent idea because they provide a platform on which young people feel comfortable attending. In her home country of Australia, most people who go to readings are older, because younger people don’t like attending readings at libraries, she said.

Venezuelan writer Fedosy Santaella said it was nice to answer questions through chat after he finished his reading of “Too Hot,” a story of a murder that falls in the genre of crime drama.

And Maxine Case of South Africa read on Oct. 30 from her first novel, All We Have Left Unsaid. She said she enjoyed the relative anonymity of Second Life and the geographic range of the audience that was able to attend her reading.

IWP writer Yasser Abdel-Latif, from Egypt, also held a reading on Second Life this semester.

Many Second Life users are from outside the United States, said Angela Murillo, a graduate fellow in library and information science.

Murillo, who helped coordinate the project and did some landscaping on the island, said she thinks the platform is an excellent opportunity to help build an international audience. On Tuesday, approximately 70,000 users explored Second Life simultaneously.

“It could easily be opened up to other departments,” Murillo said.

In addition to the educational benefits of the program, writers were entertained by the rest of their second world.

“I traveled to a virtual bar in Venezuela called Tropicana,” Santaella said. “I danced with a Venezuelan girl for a while. Unfortunately, I forgot to ask for her number.”


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