MOUNT VERNON — Books can transport people to places they’ve only imagined. Now, a new piece of technology at the Mount Vernon City Library can, too.
“It’s so cool to see the water above you and be able to breathe without all that heavy equipment,” library employee Betsy Risser said as she used a virtual reality headset to “swim” in the ocean and look at sea creatures.
The library is one of the first in the state to take part in new “Virtual Reality in Libraries” program, which is sponsored by the Washington State Library and Oculus VR.
As part of the program, Oculus VR, which is owned by Facebook, donated 50 virtual reality headsets to libraries in Washington. The devices can transport users to almost any virtual destination they can imagine — under water, into space, or on top of mountains.
“It’s much more experiential,” Library Director Isaac Huffman said. “It has a much more immersive feeling than 3D. You can really see a potential to be a great learning experience.”
The goal of the virtual reality headset, Huffman said, is for the library to explore educational opportunities.
“I really do feel it’s an emerging technology,” Huffman said. “It’s definitely developing now, but it’s a really cool stage for people to learn.”
That could include teens exploring space with a virtual Apollo 13 tour, or adults planning their next vacation using Google Earth.
“There wasn’t instructions, we’re making it up as we go,” Huffman said.
Many of the virtual reality programs are interactive, meaning users can “swim,” “climb,” and interact with robots.
“Even though it’s a virtual environment, the memories you create are much more tangible,” Huffman said.
The library has had the headset for about a month, Huffman said, and made it publicly available this week. Patrons 13 and older can sign up for a time slot. Those under 18 need parent permission.