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Oculus Rift Pilot Program for California Libraries Set to Inspire

Today, Oculus Rift, the company that pioneered VR, will be launching a pilot program that includes providing 100 units to libraries in California. These units include Oculus headsets, hand controls, and the computers needed to run the software. The program includes several software titles as well, designed to aid in education.


The program is a pilot that started as a smaller pilot by John MacLeod of VAR Libraries, who started a program on his own in a few libraries in California before ever interacting with Oculus. Once Oculus saw the interest in the program, they decided to partner with VAR Libraries and Califa to expand the program into 100 California libraries.

Oculus had made approximately 500 Rift donations to-date, including the ones to the California library systems, and:

  • 260 Rifts and PCs to the TechStart Program (Facebook’s computer science initiative), installed in Arkansas
  • 100 Rifts to the Oculus VR for Good and NextGen programs
  • A small number of donations to several universities, giving them the opportunity for them to explore

As educational research projects are green-lit, Oculus support will include hardware donations, along with financial grants.

This project has three primary goals, which will help inform future Oculus Education projects. “The primary goal of the library project is to support equitable access to technology. Regardless of your gender, race, religion, or socioeconomic status, you are welcomed at the library and have free access to all the resources it provides.” The program aims to get as many people as possible to give VR a try.

Many industries are starting to transform through AR/VR technologies, and as that increases, career opportunities will evolve. If everyone is going to have a shot at participating in those new VR-based roles and economies, it’s important that as many people as possible are exposed to VR and thereby inspired to participate in the industry.

Second, the hope is that this program will help Oculus to understand the benefits and challenges of deploying a program like this at scale. For states and other organizations to scale large programs in the future, it’s important they understand what works well and what doesn’t.

And third, Oculus plans to encourage the layering of more educational content and experiences to add to the educational benefits. Collaborations with Facebook’s TechStart and inspirED programs, experiences developed through educational research investments, as well as the educational content available through the Oculus Store will be just the start.

“We’re early in our understanding of how VR works with education,” Cindy Ball, Program Manager for Oculus Education says. “The driver for VR has been so far, and will continue to be gaming. We want to focus on understanding how VR can also have a unique and positive impact on learning.”

This means that in addition to libraries, Oculus will be partnering with 30 research groups and non-profits soon to test how VR really works. Essentially the researchers will take an existing science curriculum and that perhaps uses simulations and gaming, and “transform those programs using VR,” says Ball. “We would then compare the student outcomes in the programs with and without VR. These results will show us whether VR is a good at enhancing that area of learning or it wasn’t. We are approaching this with an open mind, understanding VR may not be the solution in every area.”

Research groups are focusing on several areas from STEM education to the arts and storytelling. “Our definition of learning is broad. Using VR for drug intervention and situational training is something we are very interested in.”

Califa, the California Library Association, is very active nationally. It is hoped that as they feel the positive effects for their patrons, they will evangelize the importance of VR in libraries in other states.

Washington State has already shown interest, and Oculus has already had discussions with Cindy Aden, the state librarian, about putting pilot programs into four to five libraries throughout the state hopefully by the end of 2017. Expansion in Washington would be demand driven and involve well-educated decision making based on the success of the California program along with the pilot program in Washington.

“Oculus and Facebook both care about encouraging and attracting passionate technology talent,” Cindy Ball said. “Hopefully, this initiative inspires more people to consider taking part in our industry, helps them understand the many different skills and opportunities involved in creating VR experiences, and lets them envision being a part of that ecosystem.”

As the program is scaled nationwide, it is hoped that libraries and other organizations will prioritize funding for VR programs as they see it’s value in the library.  “I think we are doing very well,” says Ball. “But if I had magical powers, I would accelerate and expand the educational programming across libraries. The end-goal is for more people to be inspired, educated and empowered. We’ll get there—I just want to get there faster!”

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Marketing, Distribution, and the Future of the Book

What I Learned at THAT Camp BSU 2013

printvsdigitalOn Saturday, one of our sessions at THAT Camp BSU un-conference was about the future of the book. The beauty of an un-conference is that topics organically center themselves on what really concerns those in the room: the root of the topic. Here’s what we talked about.

Print vs. Digital: Obvious right? In the group were two librarians. In the print vs. digital world, the library is one of the most widely impacted institutions, right next to book stores. So what does a library full of e-books look like? What of preservation, one of the clear missions of the library? What do these modern collections look like?

The answer is that libraries morph into more of a community information and technology rather than just a paper book repository. Print books will likely never go away, but they will be more of a niche market novelty than the mainstream way to read and find information. Some books will always be better in print, and that too will never change. The role of print books is and will continue evolving. But e-books are the new paperback, and libraries and others need to recognize this and adapt accordingly.

BuyMyBookMarketing: Bookstores used to be the market, shelf placement one of the keys to sales. Change your last name or the title to earn a more advantageous spot? You bet. The shelves are now the size of the internet, and the plethora of self-publishing hides even the best of titles amidst thousands not nearly as well done. How do you stand out? How do you get your book on that shelf close to the front of the new virtual store?

The hour long think tank session raised as many questions as it answered. The point is that the old marketing strategy does not work anymore. Books are a unique product and need to be marketed accordingly. Authors need to join conversations, not interrupt them. Sales come from personal connection and recommendations. It is the best and worst of times. Word of mouth has now become world of mouth, but it takes a lot of skill and a little luck to strike the spark in the right spot to start the fire.


Distribution: Who is the largest book distributor? Amazon is the current big boy, but do they have staying power? How many versions of the Kindle will appear before folks wake to other devices, other formats, and other outlets? And what about those print books that keep hanging on? How do you get those into the hands of eager readers when the once popular book store sells more coffee, toys, and trinkets than they do books?

Amazon likes to make money, and sees every loaned book from a library as a potential lost sale, so they don’t play nice. Book stores often won’t carry Amazon produced books, perceiving them as the enemy rather than accept the changing role of books and book stores. So how do you distribute your books? A friend of mine and I called it “Back of my Bronco” marketing, involving carrying copies of your books around in your trunk and selling or giving them away that way. Unless you travel a lot, this is marginally effective locally.

So what is the future of the book? We don’t know exactly. What we do know is that it’s changing, and if we are going to survive as authors we too must change with it.

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