Student Julie Whitehead Uses 3-D Modeling to Research Library Spaces for Teens

Student Julie Whitehead is helping to analyze public library spaces for young adults by creating exact replicas in the virtual world of Second Life.

As a student research assistant on the Making Space for Young Adults in Public Libraries project, Whitehead is working with project team members to document how current YA spaces are designed and used. Their research will guide libraries in creating dedicated spaces and services to meet the needs of young adult patrons.

“It seems that young adults are a forgotten demographic,” said Whitehead. “You often see library spaces for children, adults, and seniors, but not everyone recognizes how much young adults need their own space in a library. Hopefully this project will help raise awareness of young adult needs and how we can support them with future designs and programming.”

Directed by SLIS Associate Professor Dr. Anthony Bernier and funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the three-year project is using surveys, literature reviews, and video interviews to assess current YA spaces. Whitehead’s job is to analyze video footage of public library teen areas and re-create those spaces in the virtual Second Life environment using Photoshop and 3-D modeling tools.

“I start out by creating a map based on the video, and then add in basic geometric shapes,” Whitehead explained. “Then I calculate the dimensions of the space, the furniture, windows, and so on. I’ve actually looked at building codes for certain areas to see how wide the walkways have to be. I’ve also used Amazon to find the dimensions of books, so I can estimate the width of the bookshelf I need to build.”

Creating exact replicas of YA spaces in Second Life allows the project team and other researchers to conduct a detailed analysis of each space without actually visiting the physical library. Whitehead said the 3-D models provide a different perspective from the video footage, because users have to navigate their avatar through the space. “You suddenly realize that a staircase cuts the space in half, or that there is nowhere for your avatar to sit down with a book,” she explained.

Whitehead joined the research team in September 2011, after gaining Second Life experience in her LIBR 203 (Online Social Networking: Technology and Tools) and LIBR 240 (Information Technology Tools and Applications) classes. “I was excited for the opportunity to work in Second Life, and I wanted to learn more about research in young adult librarianship,” she said.

Whitehead completed the first YA spaces model (Studio A) during the Spring 2012 semester, and she’s currently designing Studio B. The project team plans to re-create five more avatar-sized YA spaces in a multi-story building on the SJSU SLIS Second Life campus, which will also contain a gift shop and a miniatures room featuring five smaller YA space models.

In May 2012 Whitehead co-presented her work at the Third Annual Conference in the Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration (VCARA), located on the SJSU SLIS Second Life Island. Along with the project’s Second Life expert, Dr. Jeremy Kemp, Whitehead discussed the challenges of translating real environments into Second Life and shared some of her design strategies.

Whitehead, who enrolled at SJSU SLIS in Fall 2010, said her work on the project has encouraged her to explore a career path in young adult librarianship. She helped to lead a tween book club at the public library in Orange County, California, where she volunteers 8 hours each week, and she hopes to complete a public library teen services internship before her anticipated graduation in Spring 2013.