Student Becca Belz Networks with Global LIS Community as Second Life Guide

Community Profile

Student Becca Belz works with librarians and information professionals from around the world – all without leaving her Southern California home. As the new guide for the iSchool Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration, Belz interacts with the LIS community in the online world of Second Life.

“Second Life is such a great tool for education, networking, and all the things we focus on in the MLIS program,” said Belz, who came to the iSchool from the publishing industry in 2010. “People are doing amazing things in virtual worlds with archives, libraries, and history.”

Belz, like many MLIS students, was introduced to Second Life in INFO 203 Online Social Networking: Technology and Tools. The online 3D immersive environment allows users to create personal avatars to explore the virtual world, participate in group activities, and even design buildings and communities.

iSchool built a virtual campus for its students in 2007. “The first SLIS students I met were in Second Life, and suddenly I found a fun, informal way of connecting with real people in the online learning environment,” Belz said.

The Virtual Center for Archives and Records Administration (VCARA) opened in 2009, created by Associate Professor Patricia Franks and student Elena Shulman. Located on the SLIS Second Life campus, VCARA provides a space for students to communicate, network, and exchange knowledge.

Belz became involved with VCARA at its first annual conference, “Public Records/Public Trust,” which attracted more than 45 attendees from across the country in May 2010. The poster sessions on reclaiming lost and stolen documents appealed to Belz’s historical interests. She created the virtual poster presentation “Treasures in the Attic: Why Family History Matters” using PowerPoint slides she uploaded to Second Life.

“Your avatar stands in front of a presentation screen while you’re talking on your headset and clicking through your slides,” explained Belz. “It’s just like doing any other presentation, but it’s not as stressful because you aren’t really standing in front of a big group of people.”

As the new VCARA guide, Belz operates the Second Life avatar Mnemosyne Seminario. “She’s like an ambassador for VCARA. She promotes events at the Center to SJSU students as well as to other library school students and professionals in Second Life. She builds and changes the VCARA space as necessary to accommodate events and presentations,” said Belz, who also helps introduce new users to Second Life and VCARA. The avatar was created by Belz’s predecessor Elena Shulman and is named for the Titan goddess of memory.

As Mnemosyne, Belz helped organize speakers and plan virtual field trips in Second Life. The group recently visited a re-created WWII battlefield.

“One of the things I really wanted to do was bring more people into Second Life from our School’s MLIS and MARA programs to experience this terrific platform for communicating with faculty, alumni, and fellow students, as well as library professionals from outside the SJSU community. I’ve learned a great deal about everything from internships and volunteer opportunities to working on my e-portfolio, and my goal is that others will find VCARA to be a great source of information as well,” said Belz.

Belz is currently working with Dr. Franks on the upcoming VCARA conference, “Glimpses Into Lives and Times – Past and Present.”

Belz is in her third semester at SLIS, juggling coursework and her job as reference librarian at William Carey International University while raising her family.