SAN JOSE — As technology advances in the ever-changing Silicon Valley, citizens can now enjoy the thrill of virtual reality — at the library.
At a launch event on Friday at Martin Luther King Jr. public library downtown, adults and teens were able to test out Oculus Rift Systems — a headset combined with a virtual reality screen so passersby could see in 2-D what users in the headset were experiencing in 3-D.
“I played a Haunted Mansion game that had surround sound,” said San Jose 18 year-old Brandon Lau. “It felt so real, it was scary but extremely worth it.”
The San Jose public library is offering the virtual reality headsets through a state library grant. Virtual reality headsets are available at TeenHQ in the downtown library and at the Evergreen branch library. It’s part of a partnership with the California Library Association and Oculus VR.
“We want to be relevant and innovative, which means keeping up to date with technology, and we wanted to make it available not only to kids but to adults,” said library spokesperson Nancy Macias. “Digital inclusion is huge, regardless of age or background, VR should be available to you.”
The headsets come with hand controllers so that users can actually grab and interact with objects in the virtual world. TeenHQ offers other forms as technology as well, such as a recording studio and 3-D printers.
“We have a game where you can build sculptures in the virtual reality,” said Cindy Ball, the program manager of Oculus Education, the company that provided the headsets. “And with that design, here at the library they have 3-D printers, so maybe what you design in the virtual space you can actually bring to life with the 3-D printers.”
The downtown library and Evergreen branch are two of ninety state libraries to launch virtual reality through Oculus VR and the California Library Association this year. The SPJL VR headsets are open to the public at no cost. Ball said Oculus hopes this initiative helps people who may not otherwise be able to experience virtual reality due to their economic and social circumstances.
“We really want people who haven’t been able to experience VR before to use it for the first time,” Ball said, “so someday, people who are interested can move from being consumers to creators of VR.”
Oculus provided 20 educational applications through the headsets, including an exploration of the International Space Station and a rock climbing experience.
On top of those games, the library has some applications that they downloaded themselves. Librarian Erik Berman said games are used to get teens at TeenHQ in motion through Fruit Ninja and sports games as well as learning about the world through explorations of foreign lands. He said he was excited to mix the virtual reality with the physical world through programs that expand on some of the experiences.
“The VR is the gateway to learning about different things,” Berman said. “We have a French immersion experience that we actually will run programming around. We will show a documentary and then teach teens here about French culture in a program later on.”
Berman said one goal of offering the virtual reality experience at TeenHQ will be to design their own such game at the library.
The first virtual reality open house will be held 3 p.m. Monday at TeenHQ at the downtown library. TeenHQ has programs and specific times when the virtual reality headsets are available.
Although the TeenHQ is only available to teens, adults are encouraged to use virtual reality headset at the library’s Evergreen branch. Seventy two year-old Judith Fields came to the launch with her friend 67 year-old Jackie Snell and were excited as they sliced fruit in Fruit Ninja, designed butterflies with virtual robots and visited national parks.
“I loved experiencing Yosemite, it was my favorite,” Fields said. “I loved feeling like I was visiting and exploring the park — it was beautiful.”
“You’re never too old to use VR,” Snell said. “It’s actually easier, you can experience the world and you don’t have to go anywhere — you can check it out at the library.”
More information on the SJPL’s virtual reality collection can be found at www.sjpl.org/blog/virtual-reality-library.
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