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Perceptions and experiences of virtual reality in public libraries

Negin Dahya (Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
W.E. King (Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA)
Kung Jin Lee (Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA)
Jin Ha Lee (Information School, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington, USA)

Journal of Documentation

ISSN: 0022-0418

Article publication date: 11 February 2021

Issue publication date: 8 April 2021




Virtual reality (VR) is becoming a more available technology including in public spaces like libraries. The value and role of VR as a tool for learning and social engagement are unclear. The purpose of this paper is to explore the ways in which library patrons and librarians perceive VR and experience VR through library drop-in programs.


This paper is based on research conducted in seven Washington State Libraries where VR was adopted for drop-in programming for the first time. Data was collected between March and June 2018 and involved interviews with librarians and patrons, a patron user experience survey, and observational field notes from researchers on site during library programs.


Findings are presented in relation to user perceptions of VR compared to their actual VR experiences, and in relation to informal learning and social engagements. The authors frame the analysis and discussion in relation to sociotechnical imaginaries – culturally situated ideas about the relationship between society and technology, and considering the larger cultural landscape that informs collective views about the present and future.

Social implications

The paper discusses pending and potential inequalities related to gender, race and class in conversation with technology industry and VR. Issues discussed include unequal access to technology in public libraries and representation of minoritized groups in VR.


This work takes a critical perspective considering the inequities in relation to mainstreaming VR through public spaces like libraries.



This work would not have been possible without the generous funding and partnership of Washington State Libraries, Office of the Secretary of State and Oculus. The data analysis team also included two indispensable undergraduate researchers, Megha Goel and Hekma Yassin, with whom we are grateful to have worked.


Dahya, N., King, W.E., Lee, K.J. and Lee, J.H. (2021), "Perceptions and experiences of virtual reality in public libraries", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 77 No. 3, pp. 617-637.



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