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University Libraries-led Team wins $95k IMLS Grant

A team led by Nathan Hall, Associate Director of Digital Imaging and Preservation Services at Virginia Tech University Libraries, was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant in support of 3D visualization and virtual reality (VR) technologies.

The $95,024 grant will allow for a series of three national forums on different themes: Content Creation and Publishing (at Virginia Tech’s Executive Briefing Center in Arlington, VA), Visualization and Analysis (at the University of Oklahoma), and Repository Practice and Standards (at the Big Ten Center in Chicago, IL).

A team of approximately sixty researchers, practitioners, and other leaders in imaging science and engineering, digital preservation, and digital libraries will participate in the forums. The forums and team will aid with the creation of a roadmap and white paper for library adoption of 3D and VR services to pioneer new ways of interacting with digital content.

3D visualization and VR technologies show great promise for a range of scholarly fields as they offer new potential for interactive engagement with and analysis of spatially complex artifacts, spaces, and data. Scientists can make more inferences from 3D digital models than from photos, while humanists can visually represent texts, images, and material artifacts in virtual reality spaces for detailed analysis. For example, Virginia Tech’s paleobiology group scans skulls and other bones to create 3D models of extinct species’ internal and external anatomy in order to study their morphology. Scanning also allows the group to share 3D objects with researchers from around the world, almost instantaneously.

While this new accessibility of emerging 3D/VR technologies presents exciting academic possibilities, new infrastructures are required to effectively introduce 3D/VR into research and pedagogy. While many libraries have developed archives and policies for preserving and managing other forms of research data, there is a notable absence of standards and best practices for producing, managing, and preserving 3D content and virtual reality environments.

The Virginia Tech University Libraries are at the forefront of emerging 3D/VR technologies in a number of ways. The Libraries’ Virtual Environments Studio provides university affiliates with the hardware and software to experiment and build their skills in virtual reality content and programming. The 3D Design Studio offers free 3D printing, workshops, and consultation services for all library patrons.

The grant will lead to knowledge that supports initiatives such as those listed above, and addresses a transdisciplinary challenge that crosses, arts, sciences, humanities, and engineering. It will also further VT’s global potential to help researchers and developers create 3D objects and virtual environments in a way that ensures long term usability and re-use.

For more information about the grant, please email