Libraries: not just for books anymore

By Susan Bubak, August 22, 2007

    Shawn McCann is the new immersive learning (gaming) librarian at McMaster University Libraries. Photo by Susan Bubak.
Shawn McCann isn't your typical librarian. He recently joined McMaster University Libraries as the immersive learning (gaming) librarian, but don't think he's playing video games all day. He's responsible for using new technologies like gaming and virtual worlds to make libraries relevant to today's tech-savvy students.

In the past, libraries were reactive instead of proactive about new technologies, says McCann. Now, they're trying to stay ahead of the game by keeping up with the Joneses. McMaster already has a "building" on Second Life, where library users can access digital archives and research services in a virtual world.

McCann isn't the only one jumping on the virtual bandwagon. A number of McMaster faculty are doing research on gaming, such as the effects of gaming on the brain, the social and cultural impact of gaming as well as software and game development.

"It's important that the library supports that kind of research through our collections," says McCann.

Gaming can actually enhance the learning process. For example, gaming allows students to see the results of their actions in a virtual world without any real-life consequences, says McCann. They can also examine 3D models of objects such as museum exhibits that they wouldn't get a chance to see up close in the real world.

Not only is McCann adjusting to a new job, he's also getting used to a new country. He moved to Hamilton from Detroit, where he worked as a digital projects librarian and web librarian at Wayne State University. He graduated from Wayne State in 2003 with a master of library and information science. Before that, he completed a bachelor of business administration at Lake Superior State University in 2001.

"I always had a passion for learning," says McCann of his decision to become a librarian, adding that gaming has been one of his lifelong interests. "I grew up with an Atari. I've been an avid gamer my whole life."

In addition to his role as gaming librarian, McCann is also a liaison librarian with the departments of psychology, neuroscience and behaviour, communications and multimedia, software engineering and the Lyons Instructional Media Centre.

"We're building relationships between the library and these departments, school and programs," he says. "We manage access to academic literature, teach in classes, provide research services tailored to their needs and find new services to offer to faculty and students."