Youth Hub Visitors Get Introduction to Virtual Reality

March 16, 2016 | Ab. Velasco

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Virtual Reality Demo
Teens at Sanderson Branch's After School Youth Hub tried out virtual reality apps.

During the March Break, participants at the Youth Hub at Sanderson Branch visited London, England, survived a haunted house, journeyed through the deserts of Jakku in Star Wars, and attended a Paul McCartney concert - "Who's Paul McCartney?" asked one teen - thanks to virtual reality.

Staff from the library's Digital Innovation Team piloted an Introduction to Virtual Reality program that combined a talk about VR with hands-on demos of a variety of apps using the Google-certified Knox V2 cardboard viewer.

Virtual reality (VR) allows people, using equipment like a viewer/headset, to experience fully immersive virtual environments. Advocates predict that the technology will revolutionize our world - much like computers and the Internet in the 20th century.


Cardboard VR Viewer
Cardboard VR viewers such as Google's provides an affordable way to experience VR. A smartphone is required to download and view apps.


At the Youth Hub program, library staff and youth discussed the variety of ways that VR could change our world:

  • Education – VR can make learning more immersive. For example, history students can learn about the past by experiencing simulations; science students can tour planets using an app like Titans of Space.
  • Research – The research field is benefitting from VR. The health care industry is using VR for training and therapy (e.g. Samsung's #BeFearless simulation seeks to combat fear of heights - see video below). Similarly, the military is using VR to train soldiers for deployment overseas.
  • Communication – Just as e-mail, instant messaging, texting, and video chats changed how we communicate, VR is expected to transform communication further. Imagine getting a 360° view of a friend in his living room in Australia, or a colleague in her office in Brazil.
  • Storytelling – If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the possibilities with a 360° VR, it is expected to change the way stories are told and experienced – from a passive to an interactive experience. The VR medium can also enhance viewer empathy. For example, UNICEF 360° transports viewers into the daily struggles facing the world’s most vulnerable children, and provides a first-hand testimonial to support UNICEF.
  • Gaming and Entertainment – Imagine being in Resident Evil, or Dawn of the Dead – hearing Zombies shambling behind you, their ragged breath wheezing through torn-out windpipes and sputtering blood. You look down to see a shotgun in your hands. What do you do? This is the possible future of gaming and entertainment with VR!




The Google Cardboard is one of many ways to view VR content - and at $35, cardboard viewers like Google's provides an affordable way to experience VR. You will need a smartphone and to download VR apps to your phone.

Many free apps are available for iOS and Android – as well as apps you have to pay for. Tuck your phone into the Cardboard, plug in the earphones, and enjoy!

The Knox V2 cardboard is available to borrow and use at the Digital Innovation Hub at Toronto Reference Library; you will need to provide your own smartphone. 

Later this year, the library plans to purchase other VR equipment - such as the Occulus Rift - for use at our Innovation Hubs. Other major companies such as Samsung, Sony, and Apple are also invested in/getting into VR - so it's shaping up to be a big and exciting year for VR.


VR Demo
The Star Wars app was a hit with the teens.

Staff who presented at the Youth Hub are by no means VR experts - far from it! - but it's been wonderful for us to learn about this new technology and seeing firsthand from users the potential of this technology to educate, entertain, and enlighten.

Feedback from the dozen teens, university students, and one mom in attendance was positive. They were excited about seeing the technology applied in gaming and entertainment, as well as for educational purposes.

The Digital Innovation Team hopes to do more of these informational/demo programs in other library branches in the coming year. As newer equipment becomes available and with feedback from our guests, our program will also evolve.


Try Out Some Free Virtual Reality


Sisters VR App
Sisters: A Mobile VR Ghost Story (Photo: Google Play)


Downloading a VR app to view on a cardboard viewer like Google's is an easy way to experience VR. Most apps are free and can be downloaded from Google Play and iTunes. To get you started, here are a few suggested free apps below - some of which were sampled at our Youth Hub program.

YouTube’s 360° Video channel also provides great virtual reality content for viewing.

  • London VR – VR can take you to far off places without leaving your home. Numerous travel apps have popped up with more expected in the future – like this award-winning app that lets you immerse in the sights of London. Available on iTunes and Google Play.
  • NYT VR – Just as TV and the Internet changed the news is told, VR promises to transform journalism once again. With NYT VR, the New York Times promises to put readers “at the center of the stories… stories reported by (staff) all told through an immersive video experience.” New VR stories are posted every month. Available on iTunes and Google Play.

  • Paul McCartney – VR will bring immersive entertainment experiences to viewers, such as concerts. Sample the potential by trying out this app. See music legend Sir Paul McCartney performing "Live and Let Die” in 360° via this Jaunt VR app. Available on Google Play.
  • Roller Coaster VR – Ride a deserted roller-coaster on a tropical island. This app will show you the fun and fabulous potential of the virtual world. Available on Google Play.
  • Sisters – Love a good scare? VR is expected to take movies - such as horror films - and games to a whole new level. Try out the creepy Sisters app to get a taste. Turn the lights off, put on your earphones, and have fun! Available on iTunes and Google Play.
  • Star Wars VR – Awaken your force! In this Cardboard experience, you are placed into the role of a Resistance secret agent on Jakku, the desert world of the (new) Star Wars universe. Available for iPhone and Android devices. Available on Google Play.


New York Times VR
This New York Times VR video shows the refugee crisis through the eyes of children (Photo: