Stanford University's 8,818-acre real-estate empire has gotten bigger.
The university has added an island to its repertoire of oak-studded hills, grasslands, college campus and commercial properties.
Operated by Stanford University Libraries, the island boasts a tea house, 18 collections libraries, research tower, archive of recorded sound, lecture dome, exhibit garden and — as befits Leland Stanford's legacy — a steam-powered train.
The island's location? Second Life.
Stanford is just one of many educational and research, philanthropic and business institutions with a presence in Second Life, the 3-D virtual world with more than 14 million "residents."
Vassar College and San Jose State have presences there, as does Sun Microsystems, Inc. Sun's seven islands are used for training and experimentation, client meetings and project collaboration, according to Russ Castronovo, director of new and social media. There is even a public virtual sandbox, where people can go to learn about building 3-D objects that can be textured, animated and lit.
Vassar has a virtual, 3-D recreation of the Sistine Chapel, which is used to teach art students. The Cleveland Public Library, which houses one of the world's largest chess-set collections, has gigantic in-world chess boards, said Lynn McRae, Stanford libraries' integration architect.
Through Stanford's island, the general public around the world can access works formerly hidden from public view, according to Deni Wicklund, the libraries' manager of technical support. Avatars — users' onscreen characters — teleport to the island and can access the 18 libraries through a series of kiosks.
The Green Library, the university's main undergraduate library, has government documents and special collections. Researchers can go into Second Life can link to the library's Web site and can request a book or call from anywhere in the world to talk to a librarian.
In the archive of recorded sound, visitors will be able to listen to jazz collections.
With the click of a mouse, a series of antiquated books open to reveal the scanned texts of 16th- and 17th-century books. It is a way for the libraries to teach visitors about the university's rare collections, such as a first edition of the King James Bible.
"These images could arguably be found on the Web, but we can bring people in to look at them together," McRae said.
Wicklund said the island gives librarians from around the world opportunities to meet in-world and discuss how they can better serve people.
"Stanford is part of a huge information archipelago," Wicklund said.
Jessie Keck, the libraries' Web developer, created a collection of books in the collections building separated into four groups: general works, science and technology, history and language. Visitors can view the books through the Google Books Project or can download public-domain books.
Since March 3, the library island has had 2,800 visitors, or an average of 23 per day. 1,075 are unique visitors, Wicklund said.
"Many materials, nobody has access to," Wicklund said, as Keck clicked on a box that stores digitized rare documents. A letter by Mark Twain, written in his own hand, appeared.
Keck said he likes to snowboard and sometimes does so in Second Life, but Wicklund said she doesn't use Second Life outside of work. She has attended a wedding and some dances with library groups, and she has bought her avatar all kinds of clothes. She did indulge in one passion, though — she bought a black Fresian horse, which she rode all around the island before the buildings were up.
The island "was so big. It was a blank huge space, and flying wasn't helpful," she said.