Second Life

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Physician-patient encounter in Second Life
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date and will not be updated, July 2017


See also Gaming in health | Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) | MMORPGs in Public Health‎ | Virtual worlds and libraries

"You are not a human being in search of a spiritual experience.
You are a spiritual being immersed in a human experience."
— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

This entry needs to be completely re-written. Please contact if you are interested in assisting with this revision. In the interim, see

Second Life seems to characterize (better than other online spaces) the immersive potential of 21st century social websites. For almost a decade, Second Life users have created 'avatars', moved inworld and communicated with each other via a continually growing and exciting virtual space. One of the best features in SL is teleportation which allows users to engage in a form of flying (or, levitating). Since its launch in 2003, SL has been visited by millions of users around the world, and essayed as an educational space. In 2013, according to Hill and Meister in the College and Research Libraries News there is a growing sense that many of the virtual worlds such as Second Life are now in serious decline.

Characters in a new storytelling site called Versu]

Virtual worlds have evolved from their early web 2.0 predecessors and concurrent with the craze of creating social networking sites, games and web-based simulations. That said, it's obvious that we are in a period of experimentation where three-dimensionality is being considered and web experts are planning the 3-D web. In 2008, Google announced its own virtual world called Lively but it lived a short life and was eventually abandoned in 2009. The issue of using SL or any virtual world in health care remains to be seen. While still popular among the gaming fringe, health librarians have left Second Life for other social media.

In March 2013, it was announced that the creators of Second Life had created an interactive storytelling platform called Versu.

Some health providers and physicians in SL

A number of librarians have followed SL (see Facebook groups), and three health librarians are prominent, Guus van den Brekel, Carol Perryman and Patricia F. Anderson. (Boulos et al have written several articles). Here is a 2008 post of SL on the EBM blog. For early technology adopters, SL was the reference librarian's online game of choice. Health librarians have created their own space in SL called HealthInfo Island. (See this April 2008 report.) There is an associated wiki for background information on HealthInfo Island. A Teen Second Life is also available; for more information,see the entry on gaming. To get some sense of the use of SL by medical students, see Bertalan Mesko's Science Roll blog, and his section on Second Life. Physician and informatics blogger, Chris Paton, has written about the impact of SL. In 2008, he reported that SL's first hospital had opened. Some doctors expressed concerns about the implications of training physicians in SL including a number of other comments.

The Future of SL

For fun and exploration, SL may be a good place to start to learn about the gaming phenomenon. Health librarians, physicians and patients are still exploring aspects of virtual living. Well-established public, government, medical and academic libraries have expressed varying levels of interest in sites in Second Life such as InfoIsland, InfoIsland II and HealthInfo Island - although all three of those virtual locations are in decline. Moreover, it seems reasonable to assume that Web 2.0 technologies, and voice-over-Internet and video, will eventually be used within other augmented and simulated digital spaces. At its peark, there were more than 20 million accounts registered at SL. However, many have become inactive and some residents opened multiple accounts, and then abandoned them. There are actually no reliable figures for long term consistent usage of SL but there are more than 500,000 people that seem to use it consistently according to these web statistics. Despite those numbers, Second Life has notable competitors, including Moove, There (internet service), Active Worlds, Kaneva, and the erotic-oriented Red Light Center.

Notable characteristics of Second Life:

  • Second Life requires a downloadable client, and an active account;
  • SL is a vast digital content with businesses, and a thriving economy;
  • SL users must have an avatar, or digital identity (pseudonymous);
  • Linden dollars are used as SL's own currency system and have actual value;
  • Many libraries are being built by groups of techno-savvy librarians;
  • Health organizations and schools are opening, and offer training courses;
  • 5000 businesses set up with "real" estate.
  • Health and medical activity in SL is increasing.

At one time, Second Life <> had reached a level of success and awareness among information professionals, and it had begun to be considered a legitimate meeting place. Sweden had opened its own "virtual embassy" in SL and Harvard started to offer courses in SL. Reuters had just opened a virtual news bureau in SL, and the field of medicine started to get in on the act: the American Cancer Society and the US Centers for Disease Control were high profile early adopters.

Health information in Second Life

A visit to Second Life would be incomplete without seeing Info Island and Health Info Island. These locations contain aspects of their first life equivalents including reference desks where information resources can be found and even PubMed. An emerging area of our field is called virtual world librarianship, and some libraries hired gaming librarians early in the rise of SL. Library-related meetings were taking place in-world and were supplemented by phone and web-based conference calls. Health librarians answered all kinds of real health questions in SL; they offered library services to their end-users, and socialized with them in situ. SL was said to transcend the physical library, and gave health librarians new ways of doing digital outreach, networking and public relations. SL was considered a type of MMORPG, and the National Library of Medicine (U.S.) awarded a $40,000 grant to the University of Illinois Library of Health Sciences Peoria, Central Medical Library and the University Medical Center Goningen for a Second Life project. Carolina Keats, a consumer health and medical librarian was hired to support SL's health information needs. HealthInfo Island was purchased with grant funds, and provided a gathering space for support groups, health fairs and library displays. Guus van den Brekel, a medical librarian at the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands, was head of the medical library, and part of the consumer health grant. Space has been given to the National Library of Medicine, contractors from the CDC and the Swedish Red Cross.

In 2012, the words Second Life have hardly been heard on library listservs or in the literature.

Orientation and training in SL

There are a number of training modules in Second Life:

Here is some information on the bioterrorism training site in SL:

Second Life and Public Health video -


There are two methods of chat in SL: local chat and global "instant messaging" (known as IM). Chatting is used for public localized conversations between two or more avatars, and can be heard (seen). Chatting takes place on an "open chat channel" (zero-0) though millions of channels are available. A scripted listening device is needed to hear traffic on other channels. Avatars can 'shout' and 'whisper' (audible within 100 and 10 metres, respectively). IM is used for private conversation between two avatars or among members of groups. IM communication does not depend on the participants being within a certain distance of each other.

Canadian context

The evidence to suggest that Canadian health librarians are using SL is lacking. However, if you know of research or presentations being done, please contact wiki administrator.

Courses at LIS schools

  • Setting up Your Library or Museum in Second Life: An Applied Approach

This course is intended for those interested in creating their library or museum presence in SL. Each participant will be lent a small plot of land on which to develop a prototype for their SL library or museum. Instructors will focus on the information, skills, and SL utilities necessary to accomplish that task. Participants will also be given the opportunity to reinforce their learning through hands-on experiences that will result in a model for their SL library or museum. Led by Daisyblue Hufferman, Krull Aeon, and Sonja Morgwain.

  • Working with a Class in Second Life

Join Dr. Bryan Carter (Bryan Mnemonic) in this course created to help librarians and educators learn how to work with a class in Second Life including hardware and software requirements, orientation, faculty and student mindset change, establishing course objectives, finding and creating content, creating meaningful projects, evaluating student work, action learning, grants, managing a sim-island, and collaborative opportunities.

  • Virtual World Librarianship

What is it like to work as a librarian in the virtual world of Second Life (SL)? What skills and knowledge are needed? What resources are available? This is a hands-on course that will introduce you to providing reference services and building collections and exhibits in Second Life, to planning programs and events, and to the skills needed for the 21st century librarian in a virtual world. Led by Hypatia Dejavu, Abbey Zenith, Rocky Vallejo, JJ Drinkwater.


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