June 20, 2024

ALA Closes Second Life Island

ALA recently announced that after nearly four years, the ALA Island on Second Life will close. My only response to this is “what took so long?”

When Second Life first came along, I tried it out like a number of people did. I created my avatar, Mr. Thomas Roy, and slapped the barest semblance of out-of-fashion clothing on an avatar younger than I and exceedingly more good looking. Now decked out as a dashing, handsome young man — everything I was not in real life — I took to the skies to investigate this new world.

Well, that’s what I want you to think. I actually spent most of my first foray extracting my avatar from the bottom of various pools and oceans of water, which I seemed preternaturally unable to avoid. But eventually I got the hang of navigating this fresh face among the roads, trails, buildings, and skies of Second Life.

Call me old-fashioned, it just never really became an experience I enjoyed or that provided something that no other interaction could (e.g., email, instant messaging, chat rooms, etc.).

So within six months of ALA establishing its island presence in Second Life, I had abandoned my poor unsuspecting avatar beside the road on Information Island. I sure hope the Second Life road crew came by soon thereafter and scooped up the corpse, or else the smell would have soon emptied the place. But I was beyond caring. Second Life could carry on without me.

I suppose that is what ALA eventually figured out — some small portion of its membership finds Second Life compelling, but likely not a large enough cohort to be worth the cost in either time or money.

But for those of you in that cohort to whom Second Life is second nature, all is not lost. There will be a discussion about where things go from here at ALA Midwinter. If you’re not going to Midwinter, as far as I can tell you’re out of luck. The meeting isn’t happening in Second Life, but in Real Life, in Dallas. If this trend is any indication, you’d best get used to interacting with the rest of us in meat space, as I think this Second Life thing has about as much life left as hapless Thomas Roy.

Roy Tennant About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant is a Senior Program Officer for OCLC Research. He is the owner of the Web4Lib and XML4Lib electronic discussions, and the creator and editor of Current Cites, a current awareness newsletter published every month since 1990. His books include "Technology in Libraries: Essays in Honor of Anne Grodzins Lipow" (2008), "Managing the Digital Library" (2004), "XML in Libraries" (2002), "Practical HTML: A Self-Paced Tutorial" (1996), and "Crossing the Internet Threshold: An Instructional Handbook" (1993). Roy wrote a monthly column on digital libraries for Library Journal for a decade and has written numerous articles in other professional journals. In 2003, he received the American Library Association's LITA/Library Hi Tech Award for Excellence in Communication for Continuing Education. Follow him on Twitter @rtennant.


  1. Kate Todd says:

    Facebook 1, Second Life 0.

  2. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    I hope you read some of the responses to your rather elitist, arrogant post about second life. Clearly you did not explore Second Life beyond the narrow confines of your immediate interests. You missed the art, the live music, the creativity, the social interaction and especially you missed finding out what brought your fellow second life citizens to share part of their life time in virtual space. You probably made no effort to find out. The fact is that for many reasons, (illness, finances, age, space, etc.) many people cannot dash off to Dallas to meet you in “meat space” (a telling description), and are overjoyed to have ways to expand their social, artistic and intellectual circles from say, their farmhouse and small town to include cities in Turkey and Greece. So please dance on someone else’s grave, I’m sorry to hear ALA is cutting back. Maybe they should have employed people who knew how to bring people in to their space.

    • Jane, You & most of these frothing at the mouth SL’ers don’t get out much do you? I mean out out, not in SL with the rest of the losers & freaks that would empty a Denny’s if they walked in. SL is for people that have no RL, it is good he got out fast, not like me. It took me years to get out. Yes I am angry for wasting that time in SL but it could be worse, I could be still there, looking at the empty sims. There is a reason that people hid the fact that they go on SL from people in RL (Worse than being a dungeons & dragons geek)

  3. I kind of agree with Jane.

    Clearly, you only gave Second Life a passing try without really seeing the potential. Seems to me like you went into it with the preconceived expectations that you wouldn’t find anything worthwhile, and so you didn’t.

    Jane is absolutely right about people not being able to make it to Dallas in “Meat Space” as you call it. Budget, illness, time, whatever. I wonder if you feel the same way about email and telephones. Second Life provides librarians and library lovers with the opportunity to meet and create that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to enjoy. And it has a synergistic effect with their real life interactions in real libraries. I’ve explored many opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had after benefitting from the friendships I’ve formed with other librarians around the world in Second Life.

    I think Roy and people with the mindset like his are the ones who are bemoaning that libraries are becoming irrelevant. No, those librarians with narrow-mindsets are becoming obsolete. The rest of us are exploring the future trends in technology and staying relevant. I find his attitude toward Second Life very confusing considering the list of credits given beneath the article. Really very surprised he can’t see the potential in Virtual Worlds. If you consider how many movies are coming out in 3D now, and how popular Social Media is becoming, I’m really surprised that he can’t see the obvious connection in 3D Social Media. Perhaps Second Life is just ahead of its time.

  4. SL is not for everyone, and the learning curve can be daunting. After 5 years I still end up in the ocean when I try to ride a vehicle. The graphics requirements continually increase and are greater than the average user might have and I know I’ve burned up 3 NVIDIA drivers all by myself.

    That said, I’ve attended other conferences in SL that I would not have been able to attend in Real Life. Because of the expense, very few of us in our library system are able to attend the big ALA and PLA conferences and a place where we could gather in real time to attend sessions and network would have been a convenience to someone like me who has to stay behind and mind the store.

    Librarians still gather in SL to offer each other moral support and exchange ideas and just have fun. SL itself will be gone some day, but many will miss the camaraderie, the creativity, and even its frustrations.

  5. I am preparing a post with my reflections on the closing as well as a pictorial history of ALA Island. As the others have said, not everyone can afford to go to conference. Virtual members in ALA pay the same dues as “meat” members and deserve the same respect. The members I’ve met in Second Life are amazing people and work very hard without a lot of support from their own financially strapped insitutions You should see the calendar of events these people are doing and have been doing for five years. It’s a shame and a failure on the part of the units staff at ALA to support their members who work so diligently in a medium that is developing much like the Web did, fifteen years ago.

  6. I can assure you that I read ALL of the comments to my blog, even if I do not respond. So it’s clear I struck a nerve here.

    Since when did Second Life become the be-all end-all of virtual participation in an organization? There are so many ways to interact virtually with other people. Internet Relay Chat rooms are basically Second Life without bodies much better than our real ones and fake food. Linden Lab doesn’t hand out islands for free. I’d be interested to know how much ALA has spent on SL since 2007, and how much it has spent to support other methods of virtual participation (my guess is “nil”).

    So why should ALA subsidize one specific virtual participation channel over others that might actually engage a wider audience? I talk to a wide range of professionals of all ages and Second Life comes up so rarely I had even forgotten it was still around.

    The conference-like aspect of Second Life I experienced could be replicated with a video stream and a chat back channel — both of which can be had for free. But I can see where giving bodies to chat handles and 3 dimensions to a 2 dimensional experience can give it some life. Just don’t expect your professional organization to spend money supporting that for a small minority while other micro-communities go begging and both ALA central and Divisions are raising our dues.

  7. It’s also important to note that the ALA representative has indicated that the ALA does not intend to reduce its activity in Second Life – just to reduce some of the expenditure. So there’s no indication that the ALA is leaving Second Life or going to use it any less than hitherto.

  8. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    Yeah, I’m glad to hear that. When Linden Labs stopped supporting non-profits and educational endeavors, I kinda expected to lose a lot of them. Very short-sighted move on their part. Some non-profits have responded by finding ways to bring in Lindens – fund-raising events and such. Don’t think ALA tried, but a whole sim means spending most of your time doing that. Another group I’m with moved in to share space with a university and now we can concentrate more on education, though we still hold events.

    However, all that does not excuse someone bad mouthing one of the many ways that people can interact virtually and thus perhaps further reducing participation. SL – or avatar interaction on a virtual world has proven to be EXCELLENT for training and learning. I’ve participated in other ways of virtually interacting and they are nowhere near as powerful or satisfying – and SL training has been shown to be effective with nurses, border guards in Canada and other groups. Librarians I have talked to have anecdotally expressed satisfaction with the way SL interactive practice has helped hone their patron service skills. So, since you made no effort to truly participate fully or even observe fully, you should perhaps excuse yourself from reporting on the nature or usefulness of the experience. If all you wanted to complain about was the expense, it would have been more useful for you to have done so when we tried to fight the Lindens about raising the rates. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but responsible reporting on an immersive experience, might have required more immersion. Scuse me, but i’m off to go dancing to a really good, live, independent musician :), the money will go to a good cause, and it won’t even be hard on my old feet. C YA

  9. Bill Sowers says:

    There was a meeting just tonight, Roy.. .in Second Life.. about this very topic, well attended by librarians from around the globe. A great exchange of ideas and plans. Too bad Mr Roy couldn’t have made it.

  10. Bill,
    “Couldn’t have made it”? Right, I didn’t even know about it. I wonder why that was. But whatever, if this venue floats your boat, go for it. But don’t expect ALA to support Second Life participation at a much higher level than many other virtual participation options that it doesn’t support at all.

    And why is it that the meeting about Second Life that is happening at Midwinter apparently (as far as I’ve been able to tell) has no Second Life participation? Why are you not questioning that?

  11. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    because second life wasn’t invited. Because people who haven’t tried it ( and it doesn’t sound like you did – if all you did was build an avatar and hang around) bash it all the time and destroy it’s credibility. It would have been a wonderful thing to have a combined meeting. I went to a long distance education meeting that combined all the different virtual ways people could attend, including Second Life and it was wonderful! I learned so much! If people who don’t know the potential wouldn’t keep “dissing it”, then that could happen all the time. I don’t want a bunch of money, but I would like my library to provide ONE portal to it…they won’t and they point to articles like yours. That’s why your public …well, arrogance, ….so frustrated me. Second Life really is created by the people who are there and if more creative people come and DO things, it’s better and if more “users” not “producers” come, it’s worse. And people who come in…stand around with their thumbs up their noses and then leave and then announce to millions of potential users that it’s crap – well – that makes you part of the problem. I agree that throwing lots of money at it is not the answer, but getting good people there IS.

    • Jane Teague-Urbach says:

      oh and the reason you didn’t know about it was that you didn’t join any groups – or you would have gotten notices (which you could have set up to be emailed to you) if you didn’t want to step inworld.

  12. Jennifer Vinopal says:

    Hi, Roy,
    Check out Minecraft. It’s an extremely popular virtual world / building game that loads of kids and probably many adults are playing. It had my 11 yo daughter begging for her own server to admin!! I’ve played along side her and it’s definitely more FUN than SL ever was. Let me know what you think

  13. Seems to me like Second Life has a very small, yet very vocal community of dedicated users. Why can’t they carry on the Second Life “tradition” without ALA? Surely not everyone who uses Second Life to that extent stays away from ALA conferences. You can always organize amongst yourselves and sort out how you can provide your own SL ALA synergy without putting that overhead on ALA. I don’t use SL for the same reasons Roy articulated–it’s a radically inefficient way to collaborate and disseminate information when you compare it to other platforms was are much more accessible. SL is a tiny little niche in a huge information sea and it is /not/ the future–it was an experiment that found its following and has carved out a neat little revenue stream for Linden Labs.

    I don’t rely on ALA to cover conferences on Twitter–I rely on the /thousands/ of librarians who use twitter, go to conferences, and tag their tweets. It works because it’s efficient, easy, and very effective. So the argument that SLers are left out in the cold is disingenuous. That argument says, “ALA is not catering to my very specialized desire to have their national conference covered in my gamespace?” Why not WoW, or Eve Online?

    • To respond to your queston…”Why can’t they carry on the Second Life tradition without ALA”. We are! The librarians absorb the costs of the volunteer, non-profit organizations in Second Life through their own pocketbooks and a lot of their time. ALA has never been staffed adequately to administer an island; as an organization, it’s mission is to support the work of its members, and the members who are in Second Life carry on, some leave, others stick with it, just like any other activity. Many librarians are doing some cool things in Second Life – while many don’t “get” it at all. I feel the same way about some other social networking – I don’t “get” some things and they don’t interest me.

  14. Lisa Cohn says:

    Instead of fighting over which Social Media platform will or won’t survive, doesn’t it make sense to go forward on each of them?

    Twitter makes sense, as it’s free and popular. I personally don’t care for it.

    Second Life isn’t for everyone. I freely admit that too, but it has great potential as do other virtual worlds. I think it has more potential than some of you are seeing.

    It’s a shame ALA can’at continue with it, but understandable. There are issues facing libraries in the real world that take precedence. But there are other ways to stay creatively involved that don’t cost anything at all. Exploring those options hurts no one and costs nothing.

    Bad-mouthing those of us who are interested in it, when you’ve barely given it a try makes no sense either. As Jane said above, it just discourages people from trying it who might have had something worthwhile and creative to contribute.

  15. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    Oh, Come ONNN – it AINT that hard for ALA to include SL participation – a little coordination – one or two blurbs on sl – and one computer or good laptop!

    Sheesh…I’m not arguing for you all to put back the island or jump in and join us in our music or architecture or art or building interests…just include us in the planning. You make it sound like they would have to spend a bunch of money and time – NOT!!!

    and there ARE things that modeled interactively work better as tests or experiments and

    I got a RL job because my new RL boss was my SL boss for awhile and liked my work ethic and the way we were able to work together on things, – that wouldn’t have happened on any of the other virtual communication technologies.

    True – you get out of it what you put in. Just let those of us who KNOW what’s really wrong with SL to dis SL- My point is – Non participants don’t have to dis the media just because they don’t want to do it. I don’t play WOW – but I don’t blog and tweet how terrible it is and how it should die. celebrate the stuff you like and less time stabbing at the stuff you don’t.


  16. According to Kay Tairov in the post Roy linked to, “ALA will still maintain a presence in SL, just on a smaller scale.”

  17. Roy,

    I enjoyed this article. I was in grad school when Second Life came out and so with my time being limited my participation with the platform echoed your experience. I remember at the time that there were some news stories about University professors making use of Second Life as a virtual classroom and that application seemed to work well in the examples cited in those pieces at the time.

    I think that you bring up a broader point that has been missed here. As with all social applications whether they are Second Life, Facebook, Twitter, etc they are not one size fits all. Depending on your business model and your objectives one application may work better then another. It’s really about identifying where your community is and catering to them. If the ALA has found that their community isn’t on Second Life or it was and has since moved on, the ALA needs to follow their community just as any other organization would.

    There are clearly a lot of advocates for Second Life and so my comment is not meant to be judgement of the platform or the ALA’s decision. Rather I think your blog brought up a more general theme and this is a useful case study for applying social media platforms to one’s business model.

    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  18. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    I agree Michael, but I think the ALA decision was based, not on numbers of participants, but expense and I definitely think they did not have enough going on to justify the expense of a whole sim. There are still alot of librarians active on second life AND great, active libraries – and ALA should and will stay engaged with them, i hope. And I hope our reaction has countered the negative influence that the original post could have on future participation by librarians that haven’t tried it yet. Many of us get ALOT out of it, so try it for yourself and please contact one of us who have posted here and get help so its not as great a learning curve as it is if you go it alone.

  19. Actually we did have a joint meeting with our colleagues who were present in Dallas with the majority of us who were not traveling to ALA this January participating via Second Life. Those of us (and there were 25) who logged into Second Life met simultaneously with the group meeting in Dallas. We had a good discussion with our ALA liaison about ALA’s island closing, discussed potential smaller venues that ALA can rent at less cost, planned a schedule of regular meetings to take place in Second Life, discussed the networking and learning opportunities that we would be sharing this year, and felt that we had a productive meeting. One of our colleagues took video of the meeting with voice, and we kept a chat log of the text chat – all very easy to do within SL Our last event sponsored by one of the ALA-affiliated groups in SL was a program about Second Life and other virtual worlds, held in Second Life, and presented by academic librarians as a poster session using their slides with audience communicating via chat. This was much cheaper than a plane ticket and hotel room, and if ALA were really serious about “virtual” meetings and conferences, they would have invested more in SL. At this point, the librarians are out exploring other virtual worlds, but when we come back to network and share with colleagues, we use SecondLife.

  20. Frankly there are so many better ways of communicating nowadays in FirstLife that the prospect of having to show up as cartoon characters just doesn’t have the attraction it may have once had. No wonder ALA bailed.

    • That is what we used to call a flame. Shame on you.

    • Hi Donavan,

      Sorry, things you don’t agree with aren’t necessarily a “flame”. I know this is going to come as a surprise but most people have way better things to do than bother with SecondLife. There are better ways of doing seminars, better ways of doing ‘webinars’, better ways of communicating online 1-to-1 or in a group. ALA bailed. They’re not the only ones.

      So to return the compliment, shame on you.

    • ALA didn’t “bail”. They’re still right there doing stuff as usual, and (it seems) as active as ever.

    • Jane Teague-Urbach says:

      The disagreement is not a problem – it’s the nose in the air “put downs” that bring down the tone of discourse. “Some of us have better things to do than” and “cartoon characters” are aimed at the PEOPLE who participate in a social media you don’t know (and don’t like) and NOT at the social media itself. Not to mention that, as I didn’t understand at first, ALA has NOT bailed. If you tried SL and didn’t like it, I would be most interested to find out what were the things that discouraged you, because some of us are trying to make things easier and better. But NOT at the expense of having to hear myself treated like and talked about as if I were a moron because I still use it. Surely you can understand that. I don’t like talking on the telephone, or watch much tv, but some of my best friends and relatives do it for hours and I don’t put them down for it and I don’t try to make them feel stupid for doing it. And if they were accomplishing something when they did it – I’d pay attention to and encourage that accomplishment. Nuff said. I’m done.

    • I called the response by Leo a flame because he didn’t say what all these better ways of communicating in first life are. While he gets points for using “FirstLife,” the tone of his comment was inflammatory. Just saying.

      Last year, I posted an article about Presence Over Presentation http://oberononline.net/wordpress/?p=162 and about the cartoon-like appearance of SL avatars http://oberononline.net/wordpress/?p=211 if anyone cares to read about what actual immersion in SL is like and what a significant difference it is from using a video conference, Skype, etc.

      I also posted about Roy’s comment about appealing to a wider audience here http://oberononline.net/wordpress/?p=357.

  21. You do realize that Second Life and virtual worlds are one more way to communicate in “firstlife”, right? A little more complicated than a webinar or online chat. With more options.

  22. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    Yeah…agree with lisa & Hyacinth – A LOT more options. Can even make literature come to life, practice answering reference questions, The interaction is a lot less “top down” controllable than alot of other ways to meet – perhaps that’s why some don’t like it. And yes, there is only one life, and lots of ways to communicate in it. I frankly dislike telephone conferences, but I don’t put down those who like them and I wouldn’t “celebrate” if it looked like they were “failing”. sheesh.

  23. To reply to the specific comment about “appearing as a cartoon character” in virtual worlds …have you ever taken a webinar? There is one large screen with the presenter’s PowerPoint presentation, perhaps a white board where the presenter can write, the presenter’s voice connection, and a chat window where people from all over are responding to the former elements. Next to your name in the chat window of a webinar is a little cartoon character of a person….perhaps a little hand that you can raise if you have a question. For those of you who seem to be so against virtual worlds and Second Life….do you realize that a virtual world is basically the same thing, but much more advanced and with more possibilities? If you attend a meeting in Second Life, the presenter’s PowerPoint presentation…the little cartoon representation of you just has a whole lot of options you can change and adapt. The presenter has the same voice connection. The white board is a whole heck of a lot more creative since you can adjust not just the chalkboard you are showing, but the entire environment. So, gentlemen and ladies who dislike virtual worlds so much….do you also hate a webinar?

  24. Jane Teague-Urbach says:

    kudos lisa, couldn’t have said it better myself. I sure don’t mind that folks don’t want to go to all the trouble of learning how to navigate in virtual worlds – I mind that they seem to think it terrible that we do. Also, in second life because it has world wide networks, you get opportunities to attend all kinds of classes and meetings you would never have if only getting notifications from the groups you already belong to. I have attended meetings on education and museums and other library groups and genealogy, etc. that I never would have known existed because they are off my beaten track. I have a very low income and couldn’t even attend the ones I know about without some virtual help and i even get to make friends like I would if I could afford to travel and NOT like I can’t on phone webinars and such..which are one time and off.