Serendipity, or, Oh the Things you will Find…

In times past, browsing through the stacks of a library often led to wonderful, serendipitous discoveries.  And while it still does, in our networked world today, linkages between various and disparate digital systems lead us to similar experiences that we could not have even imagined just a few years ago.

My serendipitous journey today started with a library index – no longer a stand-alone database or print index, but networked and available online via our Library subscriptions, under Article Indexes & Databases.  It’s been a while since I’ve used Bibliography of Native North Americans, the major index for finding articles, books, and reports on American Indian studies, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.  The current vendor / interface our Library has is from Ebsco, which is probably good news for many undergraduate students since they’re likely to have used or at least seen other Ebsco databases in their high school, public library, or here at ISU.  Ebsco presents the same uncluttered, easy to use interface with a calming blue palette  in each of its databases.  I did a quick no-frills search and immediately found an article I wanted to follow up on:  “Native Avatars, online hubs, and urban Indian literature,” by Gabriel Estrada, published in Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL) in Summer 2011.  I’ve been interested in computer-assisted instruction for years, so this one (avatars?) caught my interest.

Get it at ISU

Quick Side-step:  Get it@ISU:  

There are no full-text articles in BNNA itself since it is a citations and brief abstracts only type of index, but the Library’s handy Get it@ISU button does the sometimes hard work of tracking down full text or print for you, in a matter of seconds.  Search the index, find a citation of interest, then click the Get it@ISU button.  So, my next step was to click the little button and invoke the software to do my old-fashioned library research for me.

Next stop:  Project MUSE.  Turns out the Library has full-text of SAIL via our subscription to Project MUSE, one of the first big collections of full-text journal articles, with a strong emphasis on journals in the the humanities.  It wasn’t too long ago that there were no American Indian studies journals available full-text, but… happily, times change.

SAILSo, I found my full-text article in SAIL in Project MUSE within just a few clicks (index – Get it@ISU – Project MUSE), and began reading.  The author’s study focuses on computer-assisted instruction – namely, NativeWiki, the complex 3D virtual world Second Life, websites of various Indian Nations, and a number of other online resources – for teaching American Indian literatures.  (Avatars?  Must be Second Life?)

Next stop:  Second Life.  (Here’s a quick Wikipedia entry on SL in case you’re not familiar with it.)  I’m always interested in seeing how college instructors and professors are using virtual worlds like SL in their classroom-based research and their teaching.  I’ve seen numerous examples of SL used for world languages & cultures, as well as detailed 3D immersive constructions of the Great Wall of China; Mont Saint Michel; a Virtual Harlem and its sister project, Virtual Montmartre; the Sistine Chapel; the Instituto Cervantes, a virtual Hajj to Mecca; a number of women’s studies classroom initiatives, and the Smithsonian’s Latino Museum, to name just a few.

So, this led to an exploration of Memorial University’s (Newfoundland, Canada) Distance Education program’s use of Second Life to enact Muinji’j Becomes a Man, a Miawpukek First Nation story.  A few minutes of web-sleuthing led me to their SLurl (or, Second Life URL – a weblink that takes you directly to the SL site:  http://slurl.com/secondlife/Muinjij%20Island/175/70/528/)

Conne River Project, Muinji'j Island
Conne River Project, Muinji’j Island

In Second Life, I was able to walk around in an immersive fashion with various elements of the story, being instructed along the way by a narrating Grandfather, plus well-placed notecards, web links, and various interactive learning objects.  Here’s a picture of me sitting in Chief Mi’sel Joe’s hut, surrounded by interactive slideshows, maps, web links, and ebooks.  You can see they also thoughtfully provided me with a laptop computer!  Through the design of the site, students and visitors are able to learn and experience the significance of the story through this innovative partnership of the Miawpukek First Nation of Conne River, Newfoundland and Labrador with Memorial University.

It will take me quite a while to explore the immersive world of  Muinji’j Becomes a Man, learning as I go.  I can’t help but look back in wonder:  just the relatively short time I have been a librarian, how far we have come in our quest to preserve knowledge and information, and make it available as effortlessly as possible to our users.  So many things are just a few clicks away!

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