Alice Pung was nearly 10,000 miles away from home as an International Writing Program participant at the University of Iowa.
But through Second Life – a 3-D virtual world where users can socialize, customize an avatar, connect and create using free voice and text chats – friends and family in her native Melbourne, Australia, had the opportunity to hear her read from her memoir, "Unpolished Gem" on Oct. 21, 2009.
Students in the UI's School of Library of Information Science (SLIS) graduate program developed avatars – characters that you can personalize and use when interacting with friends online – for themselves and the writers, and coordinated the readings with the avatars at the main library.
SLIS students hosted another Second Life presentation on Oct. 30, 2009, with IWP participants Yasser Abdel Latif of Egypt and Maxine Case of South Africa reading from their work. Representatives of the UI's Virtual Writing University helped produce the events.
"It's amazing. I've never been in Second Life before. It's amazing that people can be hearing it internationally," Pung said.
Fedosy Santaella, an IWP participant from Caracas, Venezuela, also read from his work Oct. 21. Angela Murillo, a UI graduate fellow in SLIS and project coordinator, said there were between 20 to 25 avatars in the amphitheater during the presentation, and around 500 visitors to the island that day.
The presentations were streamed live by the University of Iowa's Information Technology Services (ITS).
Jim Elmborg, director of the School of Library and Information Science, and his staff encourage their students to look at new technologies and platforms as part of their educational development.
"In my opinion, it is collaborative and innovative projects like this that give us the opportunity to really get some interesting work accomplished," Murillo said. "It is interesting to me to see how many different people were involved in this."
The IWP and the U.S. State Department, which both were interested in virtual programming, formalized a proposal last year for the events for the current academic year. The readings are being offered thanks to grants from the U.S. State Department through the IWP and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Digital Libraries.
An IMLS grant funded the Digital Library Fellowship Program at SLIS, as well as the work completed by Murillo and SLIS graduate Mark Anthoney for the SLIS readings on Second Life. Anthoney, now working for the UI's IT department, gained his first experience with SecondLife while he was a SLIS student through the SLIS Digital Libraries grant from IMLS.