Facebook’s Oculus division said it will donate 100 Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets and the PCs to go with them to 90 libraries in California.
The pilot program with the California State Library will support equitable access to VR technology for educational purposes.
“Public libraries provide safe, supportive environments that are available and welcoming to everyone,” said Oculus education program manager Cindy Ball, in a statement. “They help level the playing field by providing educational opportunities and access to technology that may not be readily available in the community households. Libraries share the love — at scale.”
Califa Group will oversee the project, while VARLibraries will manage day-to-day operations and hardware deployment.
“Our first experience with VR happened during Wildcat Camp when we had about 30 campers here. I’ve been doing library programming for a very long time—I’ve never actually experienced every single hand going up when we asked if they’d like to do it again,” said Bonny White, branch manager at the Point Reyes Library.
Although the pilot covers less than 10 percent of California’s 1,100-plus library branches, the 90 participating locations span nearly half of the state’s 184 library jurisdictions. Should it prove successful, with demonstrable interest and realized value among library patrons and librarians, the next step would be for the California State Library to allocate and/or raise additional funds for expansion.
“Games have been, and will continue to be, a primary market driver for VR,” said Ball. “By highlighting the educational potential of VR in libraries, Oculus and Facebook are sending a message that games are not our sole focus.”
Discussions are underway with Washington state to potentially launch a similar program in its libraries, and the hope is that momentum will continue to build.
Ball sees VR having the potential to open up new possibilities for libraries as creative and collaborative hubs, hosting everything from sculpting competitions and digital galleries powered by Medium and Quill to boot camps for WebVR development, 360 filmmaking, and more, using Facebook Spaces.
Beyond the library, Oculus Education is exploring a variety of research projects, with over 30 research and nonprofit institutions having already expressed an interest.