On June 7th, Oculus Education announced a pilot program in California, placing units in 90 libraries around the state.
Oculus has been one of the pioneers of virtual reality. 360° video, best viewed with a VR headset, was one of the top marketing trends last year, with brands like GoPro, Buzzfeed, and even the San Francisco Giants using Facebook to broadcast these immersive videos.
The library program was born out of a smaller pilot program started by John MacLeod of VAR Libraries before he even approached Oculus. Patrons were so enthusiastic that Oculus quickly saw the value of the program.
However, just because the program was successful in one area did not mean it would be in another. Through a partnership with Califa (the California Libraries Association), locations were vetted and then selected.
The vetting process for any project or business location follows many of the same guidelines. In this case, the California Library Association was responsible for selecting which libraries received the Oculus Rift equipment. Califa created an application process and asked interested library jurisdictions, either a city or county, to apply.
The application explained the requirements for successfully hosting a VR station, and libraries needed to agree they could support those requirements. These include having a sufficiently large and safe area and having demo assistants available to help patrons at all times the equipment is available to ensure equipment hygiene and age restrictions. They also were encouraged to share why hosting VR in their library was important to them.
Oculus and Califa are both committed to support underrepresented communities, so that was also a big part of the selection process.
“When libraries set that kind of standard, to have this technology available in the libraries, and offer access no matter what class, ethnicity, or religion, that sets a new standard for how we learn,” says Ebony Peay Ramirez, Diversity and Inclusion Manager for Oculus. “That accessibility is going to permeate through generations to come.”
How did GIS help Oculus and its partners in this process?
Geographic analysis of socioeconomic, transportation, and library resources were essential for selecting library locations.
Supporting Underrepresented Communities
There are many areas in California where minorities, especially the Hispanic populations, are underrepresented in STEM education. Understanding that diversity in this area offers a competitive advantage, both Califa and Oculus want to reach into these communities. When we zoom in on the map to the Los Angeles area, we can see how strategically the libraries were selected.
These points are in areas with high minority populations. This support was only the beginning of the selection process though. The libraries themselves had to be able to support a VR station.
Staffing and Access
The libraries needed to agree to the staffing and manpower requirements to run a VR station. This meant assistants to help patrons when the station was in use, the ability to conform to hygiene standards, and the ability to keep patrons safe while using the devices.
However, the ability of patrons to access the library was of equal concern. While Califa has a great deal of data about who does visit the libraries, they encouraged those that applied to gauge patron interest on their own. Access was also evaluated by looking at things like parking and the ability of patrons to get to the library by using public transportation.
The Los Angeles Transit System Map
Fortunately, the public transit system in Los Angeles is fairly extensive, and most libraries are within reasonable distance of public transit.
Taking these factors into consideration, along with the library and patron interest in virtual reality, Califa made well-informed decisions that led to the successful launch of this initial pilot program. But the program covers less than 10 percent of California’s 1,100 library system.
So what is next for the expansion of the program? Oculus hopes that the interest and success of this program will encourage other libraries to raise the funding necessary to adopt VR stations throughout the state.
Other states are also showing interest, and Oculus has already been in conversation with Washington State, discussing a small pilot program. The selection process in Washington will be the same, only 4-5 libraries will be chosen at first, and then the program would be expanded from there.
As businesses like Oculus become vested in community and education, they will need GIS to help guide them in their decisions on where to best use their resources to both offer the most value to underrepresented populations and best leverage the assets they have available.