Since its official launch in 2003, Second Life, the popular 3D interactive world created by Linden Lab, has become an unlikely destination for librarians, bibliophiles, authors, readers, publishers, booksellers, and book artists. At the center of this nexus of users is the book itself, a virtual artifact that differs from its physical counterpart by being comprised of bits, not atoms; of textures, animated scripts, and geometric primitives rather than paper, ink, cloth, and thread. In this talk I will examine the infrastructure that supports this in-world bibliographic culture: specifically, the technologies used to create and read SL books; the social networks designed to promote and popularize them; the information services to collect, access, curate, and catalogue them; and the legal and economic systems developed to commodify them. I will look at how the Second Life platform conditions our ideas of “bookness” by presenting us with interfaces for reading that borrow incongruously from print and manuscript traditions, first-person shooter games, and even military aviation. And I will suggest that the mixed economy of Real Life and Second Life makes it necessary to understand these immersive books as compound objects that exist within a system of relationships that include both in-world and out-world content, thereby complicating efforts to study, link, document, and preserve them. The talk will also include a demonstration of books I have made in SL and discuss future projects.
Kari Kraus is an associate professor in the College of Information Studies and the Department of English. Her research and teaching interests focus on new media and the digital humanities; textual scholarship, print culture, and the history of the book; digital preservation; game studies; transmedia storytelling; and speculative design.