“Virtual reality in libraries is common sense”

Felicia Ann Smith (Library Department, Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA)

Library Hi Tech News

ISSN: 0741-9058

Article publication date: 6 September 2019

Issue publication date: 6 September 2019



This paper aims to propose an Immersive Virtual Reality program to teach Information Literacy skills to college students. The proposal aims to expand the horizon of instruction into cyberspace.


The paper explains the planning, cost and logistics required to implement such a program. The virtual reality (VR) program puts students in everyday situations that require “common sense” decision-making actions, then transfers them into a library setting requiring them to use the exact same reasoning. A crucial component of Information Literacy is Digital Literacy, so this program includes scenarios that require students to identify “Fake News.”


The paper provides insights about the Game Design Document, Concept and Design Phases as well as Performance Specifications, Deliverables and for Return on Investments used for formative assessments.

Research limitations/implications

Without securing sponsorships or collaborations due to the inordinate expense of creating virtual worlds this program remains unfunded.

Practical implications

The program is a revolutionary approach to Information Literacy instruction. It shows students that they inherently possess the cognitive tools necessary for critical evaluation skills needed to be Information Literate.

Social implications

VR can transmit knowledge without students feeling they are being preached at.


This program fulfills an identified need to keep libraries relevant in this technologically advanced Digital Age. This radical VR program represents a truly transformational approach to instruction that can catapult us into the virtual and eventual future of Libraries.



Smith, F.A. (2019), "“Virtual reality in libraries is common sense”", Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 36 No. 6, pp. 10-13. https://doi.org/10.1108/LHTN-06-2019-0040



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

I am proposing an Immersive Virtual Reality program to teach Information Literacy skills; with the added bonus of combating Fake News. The main objective of this program is to illustrate that “common sense” used in real-life (RL) is the same “critical evaluation skillset” needed in the academic world. Virtual Reality (VR) is a computer-generated technology that creates a simulated world in which users interact with visual and auditory elements rendered or projected through headgear, such as Oculus or HTC Vive.

VR is active learning and is more engaging than lectures filled with jargon terminology. Students struggle when introduced to unfamiliar words, describing abstract ideas that are not tied to any personal experience to which students can relate the concepts of the lesson. In contrast, using VR, provides the opportunity for students to immediately translate RL experiences into a comparable academic experience so that the academic lesson/concept can be associated to a realistic personalized memorable experience. VR utilizes an experiential learning approach whereby students can use personal experiences (as opposed to books and lectures) to conceptualize and apply the knowledge being conveyed.

VR can transmit knowledge without students feeling they are being preached at. My program replaces the mundane, jargon-filled, lecture-based approach to instruction with dynamic, recognizable, familiar situations that makes learning more comprehendible as well as improves student learning/retention. The following proverb sums up these issues, perfectly:

I hear, I forget. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.

Now more than ever, it is essential for students to be taught to critically evaluate information in order to combat “Fake News.” A crucial component of Information Literacy is Digital Literacy. In this age of Fake News, it can be hard to differentiate between credible sources versus click bait websites. My program places students into scenarios that highlight the confusing nature of discerning truth from falsehood. My program shows students that they inherently possess the cognitive tools to make necessary distinctions; but they just need to understand how to transfer their deductive reasoning skills to academic pursuits.

My program proves to students that Information Literacy is not restricted to homework but is equally useful in their everyday life. To achieve meaningful learning students, need to truly understand the real-world application of their lessons. Instead of antiquated lectures replete with foreign jargon, my program uses RL situations to make lessons easily identifiable and therefore more meaningful.

Galileo stated it brilliantly:

You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him to find it within himself.

Since I have explained the reasons, I am proposing this Information Literacy VR program, I will now describe the details and logistics:

Program objective

To create an Immersive Virtual Reality experience that makes it obvious to users that they critically evaluate information, in everyday situations, by simply using their common sense. The goal is for users to recognize that the exact same discernment is required when conducting academic research.

The aforementioned is what game developers call a “Reveal”, where through playing we reveal information that allows the player to come to a moment of understanding and realization, “Aha! Of course!” The reveal is a pleasant experience for players and an excellent way of making a new concept stick.

Concept phase

The first phase requires finalizing goals for the user experience and exploring comparable educational VR products such as Discovery VR and Google Expeditions.

“The infinity library”

The setting is a futuristic 3-D version of the real Stanford Library but combined with “Magical Surrealism.” For branding purposes, users ascend a virtual replica of Stanford’s iconic grand staircase. At the top the grand staircase, the simulation of the real library ends and is replaced by an amazing new fantastical library world. Everything now looks different and the laws of physics don’t apply. Corridors appear at impossible angles.

The librarian materializes in the form of a floating, pulsating, glowing orb that is not in humanoid form but rather in the shape of a Librarian-Bot. The Librarian-Bot’s function is to explain the goals and instructions for each scenario. This Librarian-bot welcomes users to the Infinity Library, where all possibilities can happen. Users must be the judge of what they see. Users have to question everything they see, to get them into the correct frame of mind for the coming challenges/scenario. It will also elucidate the fact that inside of the Infinity Library, the impossible is possible, and that this library does not operate at all like its real-world counterpart.

The Librarian-Bot guides users through the choices available and the reflection components, after each selection is made. Reflection components ensure that the desired lesson was learned. If the reflection result was not satisfactory there can be additional prompts to make the point more clearly. Based on user feedback, we can make the situations more difficult by changing pre-set variables. Alternatively, if users are struggling, we can reduce the complexity level.

The Librarian-Bot projects holographic images to transport users through a wormhole, into new modules. Users navigate through a simple choice User Interface (UI), of different yet comparable scenarios. They are instructed in the strongest terms to “Choose Wisely.” The modules guide users through action-oriented and process-driven prompts. Users need to successfully complete each module in order to advance to the next level. If students choose incorrectly, there could be a negative response to simulate the negative consequences in real life. However, my program uses positive reinforcements or award points, instead.

After completing the RL scenarios modules, the Librarian-Bot will transfer them into academic scenarios that allows them to use the same common sense skill they just demonstrated.

Special consideration will be given to reducing the actions that contribute to users feeling discomfort, while using headgear. Motion sickness could result from jerking motions so any such actions would be removed during testing. A well-planned design process should easily eliminate elements that could potentially cause users to feel unwell. A few vendors encouraged incorporating Hybrid Reality or Mixed Reality components as a way to add variety, prevent motion sickness and save money. Hybrid Reality is a combination of animation and live action features that merge to produce an environment in which users can interact with (real) physical as well as (virtual) digital objects.

In addition to choosing wisely between RL scenarios and their academic counterparts; users will encounter both credible and fake news scenarios. Users slide news item across a surrealistic glass board and will choose to classify each item as either true or false. The glass board resembles the interactive board in the Minority Report movie. Users move the truthful items onto a 3-D, free-floating, 5-point star marked “True.” Otherwise they slide “Fake News” into a sunken, burning garbage bin, marked “Fake.” The complexity results from the fact that there will be ambiguous virtual choices proffered, because in RL there are times when something is neither all true, nor all false.

Above is my justification for and overall concept for a VR program. Below is an overview of the planning discussed with vendors. All vendors agree that the first step in actual production is create a Game Design Document (GDD). This is equivalent to creating a storyboard before producing a video.

User scenarios

Rank information in order of veracity/accuracy.

Identify true or false news presented.

Correct choices are tallied and analyzed by the system that awards points. These points are the admission tickets to the Wow Factor portion of the experience, behind a velvet rope area similar to V.I.P. lounge.

Scenarios are split into two mirrored sections – one ‘good’, and one ‘bad’ – user moves back and forth through the looking glass to see how subtle differences can lead them to arrive at a completely different assessment of a situation, even when they are virtually identical.

Situations contain spurious, questionable or false information that is widely regarded as fact. Show that it is sometimes important to challenge common wisdom using academic research.

Design phase

This experience is comprised of detective-like gameplay that encourages users to not take everything at face value. Each scenario is an amusing/attention grabbing test and/or a 360-degree experience. Animations remind them to use their common sense decision-making in their academic work. There’s a quick summation at the end of each situation, for reflection.

Define all features, functionality, gameplay and interactivity of the application to build all levels.

Create scope and sequences.

Write all content, including dialogue and descriptions of animations and/or live action scenes.

Special consideration will be given to reducing the actions that may contribute to users feeling discomfort or unwell, while using headgear.

Consists of fully interactive environments with strong game play-ability to reinforce the learning experience.

Art style

Futuristic and high fidelity using bold colors for buttons to attract attention.

Staff Resources

1 artist – 60 h

1 designer – 60 h

1 producer – 60 h

Performance Specification

Executable Windows (exe) application, compatible with the HTC Vive headset (SteamVR). Vive controllers for interaction.

Alternatively, an executable iOS application, compatible with Google Cardboard and users’ cellphone.

Control & Setup

4 × 4 meters room-scale VR setup with the HTC Vive.

Using HTC Vive controllers, users move virtual hands to grab objects or press buttons.

Utilizing the room-scale VR capabilities of the HTC Vive, users can explore the provided space by actually walking around.


Create a GDD, which is the game/functional specification document that is required to move to art/audio production and development. Includes user-flows and core wireframes/storyboards of the main user experience. Includes concept art of the experience.

Sample Scenarios:

The Information Pathways: Choose Wisely!

1st Scenario: Currency

Robot waiter offers two sandwiches, but one has moldy bread.


Librarian-Bot explains that the wise choice is the sandwich without mold, because of common sense the mold is an obvious sign that it is too old.

Further explanation is that publication dates are important when having the most current information matters.

2nd Scenario: Currency

Robot waiter offers new wine and old vintage bottles of wine.


If vintage bottle is chosen, the Librarian-Bot explains “New isn’t always better than old” as in the case of Primary Source material. Publication dates are important when having eyewitness accounts from the time of events is important.

Librarian-Bot also explains that wine, from a specific year, from the past, tends to denote higher quality. This is an example of newer not being better.

Users are transported through the wormhole into the Infinity Library, where they encounter similar scholarly scenarios. Librarian-Bot explains this same RL (bread and wine) decision-making is needed to determine when users need Primary Sources material that was created, in the past, during a specific timeframe.

3rd Scenario: Credibility

Choose wisely between these 2 RL scenarios.

Option (#1) Holographic stranger (suspicious character), in a nightclub, offers users a drink, or

Option (#2) Robot Nurse, also a stranger, in an Emergency Room (ER), offers users a pill and glass of water.


Librarian-Bot explains that the wise choice is the nurse; because common sense dictates that taking a drink from a stranger is obviously riskier.

Librarian-Bot explains that users should choose the nurse because the nurse is an expert and therefore more trusted. On the contrary, the stranger could have spiked the drink with Roofies (drugs) such as “Rohypnol.” It is dangerous to accept drinks from someone you do not know/trust, who may have harmful intentions/motives.

Users are transported through the wormhole into the Infinity Library, as the Librarian-Bot explains that this same real life (nightclub, nurse) decision-making is needed for critically evaluating academic sources. The stranger in the nightclub represents the same type of problems as unknown information providers, especially online. The E.R. nurse’s credibility represents the same type of trusted expertise, as do scholarly, peer-reviewed material in academia.

The nurse and stranger decision-making processes illustrate to users that they evaluate situations, every day and determine who is a trusted source and ascribe motives almost without even thinking about it. This same discernment is what is required when conducting research. This is the same skillset needed to be Information Literate.

To be sensitive to stereotypes surrounding hetero-normative, sexual preference and racial implications of the “suspicious stranger,” and since this program is not reality based, the nightclub character is a hologram, in a non-human life form. Crisis averted!

Fake News scenarios transport users to a table floating in midair containing “Fact” objects.

Users sort 3-D objects with pictures of news items into “True” or “False” categories after checking with resources provided, alongside the news items. To assess which resource is trustworthy, users activate a Fact Dispenser, which releases components/resources needed to make an educated decision.

Users slide irrelevant and fake sources, across a glass board into a sunken flaming garbage compactor that consists of sharp chomping teeth, marked “Fake News.” True news items are put into a glowing 5-point star container marked “True.” For items that fall between completely true/false users will be instructed to tear those news items into two halves, in order to deposit the split into both the True and False receptacles.

4th Scenario: Fake News

True or False or Both?

3-D newspaper headline stating, “Black Lives Matter Protester was Kicked by a Police Horse!”


After activating the Fact Dispenser, the users would have seen a Snopes.com fact-checking screen that explains, “A police horse kicked a student in Ontario, Canada, after she sneaked up and slapped it, but the incident had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter.

Librarian-Bot explains that the wise choice is to tear this news items in half and place the kicking horse portion into the “True” star, then place the Black Lives Matter part into the “Fake” bin.

Librarian-Bot explains the need to fact check because just like in real life, these virtual scenarios will not all be completely true or false. This helps users realize the problem of truth being mixed with falsehood.

Creating virtual worlds is inordinately expensive. Professional VR Developers have given me quotes ranging from $50,000 to half a million dollars. Some were willing to reduce their prices simply to work with Stanford University. They anticipate the Return on Investment (ROI) in marketing value from media buzz. I have been warned about Teaser Estimates that start cheap, but balloon during production.

Vendors offered some cost saving measures such as reducing the quality/fidelity of the graphics. The point of me wanting to use VR is for its rich immersive experience, so reducing the quality of the graphics is not an option. Producing low-quality imagery defeats the purpose of using Immersive Virtual Reality technology. One obvious cost-cutting measure is to simply have fewer backgrounds/scenarios/locations and characters.

Vendors also proposed cost effective alternatives during development, such as adjusting “depth” of the experience. For example, using 360-video can be a cheaper option for the nightclub. There are cheaper alternatives such as using Google Cardboards with students’ personal cellphones, instead of the more expensive Oculus Rift/HTC Vive headgear.

Timeframes vary based on conceptual design and prototyping specifications, below are estimated costs from several vendors:

Full Scope ($79,000):

1st month

$18,000 = Signature Fee

$15,000 for First Playable & GDD (Project Management & Art)

3rd Month

$15,000 installment due

5th Month

$31,000 final installment

Medium Scope ($54,000):

Simplified less realistic art.

Instead of animated robots, feature square machines with blinking lights.

Minimal Scope ($44,000):

Smallest scope focusing on the core intent.

Replace robots with conductor voice and subtitles.

Simplified scenery and effects.

Because creating virtual worlds is so expensive, assessment is vital to show a ROI. The vendors said performing user tests to improve the user experience or “learning performance” is the best way to maximize ROI. This is done with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Key performance indicators

Task Clarity:

User is clear about goals and how to accomplish tasks.

Desired Result:

Did users who took shortcuts perform worse than those who followed correct approach.

Result Clarity:

User has clear understanding of why their performance was good or bad, and how their choices affected that.

Vendors perform user test in the development phase by checking performance then deciding what to spend extra money on to improve based on KPI's.

My program has several experiences where users must perform task through “research” and choice. In the end, users apply what they have learned through those tasks. Users who took the easy route with good enough information should perform worse in the final application of what was learned and the relationship of why that is must be clear and apparent. We would need to set criteria for measuring those goals, so we can test as we're developing and make sure we hit the goal.

I’ve had prior success managing a similar VR program for library instruction, using Second Life. My book, “Cybrarian Extraordinaire,” details specific activities as well as student assessments. Archival video footage of my Second Life activities is on YouTube. The Scholarly versus Popular Journal Rack activity is title, “Sophia's Last Day – Part 7” and the Maze is titled, “Sophia's Last Day - Part 5.”

Just like with my Second Life program, my VR program aims to help students realize they already use the necessary Information Literacy skills. As students explore the Academic Universe, they need only look within themselves for the answers they seek about critical evaluation. It is our job as librarians, to guide them to the knowledge that they are more powerful than they think, not just in VR but also in “Real-Life.”:

I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn – Albert Einstein

I take Einstein’s approach to instruction. I consider myself to be a sanguine guide for novice travelers accompanying them on their information-seeking journey until they are sufficiently research enlightened and prepared to continue, alone, on their path to becoming life-long knowledge seekers!”

My program illustrates my ultimate instruction goal, which simply stated is to empower students with the tools to enable them to make the unknown, “known.”

About the author

Felicia Ann Smith (felicias@stanford.edu) is based at Library Department, Stanford University, Palo Alto, USA.