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#LibrariesAreEssential Case Study – Virtually Together with East Renfrewshire Libraries

Category: #LibrariesAreEssential, Blog, Case Studies

In this #LibrariesAreEssential series, we’ll be sharing case studies and contributions from key figures that demonstrate the vital value of Scotland’s libraries, now more than ever, as we look to a brighter future post-pandemic. For details of how to submit your own case study, please click here.

Virtually Together – East Renfrewshire Libraries Tackling Social Isolation and Loneliness

Case study kindly submitted by Scott Simpson, Head of Library & Information Services at East Renfrewshire Libraries

‘East Renfrewshire libraries, in partnership with colleagues from Renfrewshire libraries and the University of the West of Scotland, are delivery a project looking at how virtual reality can be used to tackle social isolation and loneliness – Virtually Together.

Following a successful SLIC Public Library Improvement Fund bid to fund the project, a number of Oculus Quest VR headsets were purchased for each project partner. The idea is to use the technology to bring people together to enjoy shared experiences in a group setting while at the same time exposing people to new and interesting technology that most people will be unaware of, let alone have access to.

Each partner delivered their projects in a slightly different way. East Renfrewshire focused on a mix of drop-in events and activities designed to encourage people into libraries, and also took the VR kit out to groups in the community to run organised sessions.

For people experiencing true virtual reality for the first time, it can be a jaw dropping experience. Our sessions played with the idea of ‘doing your bucket list at your local library’ by encouraging people to go to places they would never normally get the chance to go to, doing things they’d never dreamed of doing such as skydiving, swimming with sharks, walking through the streets of New York, etc. We use VR apps like Wander to take people to places that either they’ve always wanted to visit, or to take them back to places that have meaning for them such as where they grew up. This app has huge reminiscence potential. We use VR apps like Within which consists of short, focused films made specifically for the VR market to get people as close to their activity as possible without actually doing it for real. YouTube is also an excellent source of free content, which is increasing constantly.

While the project to date has focused on older people, we are about to participate in an enrichment programme with young people who have been identified as at risk of being isolated due to the pandemic. We will still offer the same range of VR experiences but the focus will be more on games and participation. Working with small groups of 4 or 5 young people will give library staff the chance to improve the experience compared to working with larger groups simply by being able to spend more time with them.

It has always been the intention to move from accessing content to content creation at some point. The PLIF funding allowed us to purchase 360 cameras and the idea is to work with groups and/or individuals who are interested in creating their own virtual reality content once the pandemic is over and restrictions are lifted. So far, we have worked with a number of organisations such as Macmillan Cancer Support, HSCP, Mearnskirk Helping Hands and Barrhead Housing Association who are all positive about the sessions we put on for their clients.

To me, this project is important for a number of reasons:

  • it reinforces the library as a service that continues to innovate and be at the forefront of technology
  • it brings people together in the library. The gasps of awe and wonder are like music, and having such a positive experience brings people back again
  • it can be very personal. I have seen people sit in rapt silence as you take them back e.g. to places of childhood holidays – they become lost in remembering and recalling what it was like.

In East Renfrewshire we are very proud of this project as we can see how positive an impact it can have with people who have never used anything like this before. It dovetails neatly with with our strategic aims of supporting digital inclusion and participation, and supporting health and wellbeing.’

Highlights from the sessions in the words of participants:

‘Experiencing the city of New York by walking in the street and hearing the story as narrated by the presenter – describing the number of immigrants to the city and the feeling of being an outsider. The experience of being Inside the White House sitting next to the former president and his wife, listening to their story of life at home for both a family and the president with the tour of the rooms. Just incredible!”

‘It was totally immersive. This is an incredible development in human experience, like the start of moving pictures a century ago.’

‘Seeing somewhere I would never have a chance to otherwise’

‘I really enjoyed the subject matter and being able to watch everything personally in a comfortable environment The leaders were excellent and were very efficient in showing you how to organise the handset etc.’

‘Sense of peace, made me smile’

Virtually Together thanks to East Renfrewshire Libraries

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