How Maryland Libraries Are Using Virtual and Augmented Reality (and How Your Library Can Too)

Steph Waite, Communications Coordinator, OCLC /

When Jennifer Bishop and Liz Sundermann-Zinger brought virtual reality (VR) to their library users, they were wading into new territory. Sundermann-Zinger was the Data, Communication, and Services Coordinator for the Maryland State Library when she decided to invest in OSVR headsets in 2014. The public interest far exceeded her expectations the first time she hosted a program at Prince George’s County Memorial Library System.

“We had to improvise and pass out tickets because 450 people showed up,” she says. “It was the most diverse crowd we’ve seen for an event. All ages and cultural backgrounds. And even the people who had to wait two hours had positive feedback about the experience.”

Bishop, Online Services and Emerging Technologies Supervisor at the Carroll County Public Library in New Windsor, Maryland, got her library on board with this emerging technology in 2016 with the HTC VIVE™, later adding the Oculus Rift+Touch in 2017.  

“We demoed virtual reality in high schools and art classes and even did a demonstration outdoors,” says Bishop. “Most of our users had never tried VR before, and the public library was their first introduction.”

Because they were among the early adopters of this technology in libraries, Sundermann-Zinger and Bishop paved their own paths when it came to setting best practices, developing public programming, and even learning how to use the headsets. Here are some of their best tips for bringing virtual and augmented reality (AR) to your library.

The YouTube video above shows students at Baltimore County Public Library reacting to their first virtual reality experience with the program MageWorks.

6 Tips for Launching VR Programming at Your Library

  1. Reach out to online communities
    Library staff are famous for their willingness to help others. Reach out to library Facebook groups, but don’t forget about the tech community, either. It can be intimidating to jump into a conversation with tech-savvy professionals if it’s not your area of expertise, but many developers and experts are excited to discuss the technology and its potential uses.
Facebook Twitter - General Twitter - VR Hardware and Software

MakerSpaces and the Participatory Library

Technology Training and Libraries



Road to VR

Oculus Rift (hardware)

HTC VIVE™ (hardware)

Unity (software)

Unreal Engine (software)

  1. Invest in high-quality equipment
    The cost of VR technology varies widely, and so does the quality of the experience. If you have the budget, invest in a few high-quality headsets. The higher-end products will last longer if cared for properly, and will offer the best experience for your users. Some of the products Bishop and Sundermann-Zinger have used include the Oculus Rift, the HTC VIVE™, Microsoft HoloLens, and Google Expedition Kits.

  2. Get staff buy-in
    Get to know the equipment and its potential uses by training your library staff to use it. They can help promote it among your library’s users and will be invaluable support as you take your programming on the road.

    Watch the Baltimore County Public Library staff training video, where Sundermann-Zinger has been Virtual and Media Services Manager since June 2017.

  3. Consider your community’s unique needs
    In Baltimore County, manufacturing is a vital industry. Offering workplace training programs delivered via VR or AR is one way libraries can play a significant role in bettering its community. If you aren’t sure where to start, see tip #5.

  4. Leverage local partnerships and talent
    Sundermann-Zinger is leveraging the talent of her area’s many game design training programs. She has created a Developer in Residence program that brings a VR game developer into the library to work while library visitors watch in real time on a monitor. Visitors are encouraged to talk with the developer and learn more about game design, which she says often turns into mini-mentoring sessions for students who didn’t know this career path existed.

    Build partnerships by getting out into the community. Visit makerspaces, attend community events and meetings, and take your equipment to local arts and culture organizations to let them experience its possibilities.

  5. Start Small
    Pick a targeted group of patrons for a small-scale rollout. Do you have a teen group that would be interested in being testers for a new program? A small launch can highlight the questions you can expect and increase confidence going into a public launch.

Other resources

Explore these resources for more ideas and inspiration to launch a virtual or augmented reality program at your library.

Ennis, Matt “VR Meets the Real World.” Library Journal.

Library of the Future Trends: Virtual Reality


Homepage photo credit: "HiTech Spring Break at HCLS Central Branch" by Howard County Public Library is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Need to Know

Virtual reality (VR) is an immersive experience—a computer-generated simulation of an object or an environment the user can interact with using equipment such as a head-mounted display (HMD) with a screen inside and/or gloves with sensors. VR can be accompanied by an audio track with environmental sounds, music, or a voice-over.

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes a computer-generated image on the user's view of the real world via a device like a smartphone or tablet. Special helmets or goggles are not required.

Mixed reality (MR) or hybrid reality combines aspects of VR and AR. Computer-generated content is overlaid onto the user’s view of the real world, but the content is anchored to and interacts with the real world to create a more immersive and realistic experience.