Oculus has announced a pilot program to place 100 Rifts and Oculus Ready PCs in 90 libraries throughout the state of California, from the Oregon border down to Mexico. Detailed on the Oculus Blog, the new partnership with the California State Library hopes to highlight the educational potential of VR, as well as provide easy access to VR hardware within the heart of local communities.

“Public libraries provide safe, supportive environments that are available and welcoming to everyone,” says Oculus Education Program Manager Cindy Ball. “They help level the playing field by providing educational opportunities and access to technology that may not be readily available in the community households. Libraries share the love—at scale.”

Using VR for education can be transformative, with the potential to revolutionise the way we teach and learn, but it is still in its early stages, with the prohibitive cost of hardware being a major hurdle for many schools. While Cardboard-based education projects are popular, its capabilities are limited; getting Rift and Touch into libraries is a positive step towards increasing public access and awareness of high-end VR hardware and software. The beauty of this particular pilot program, Oculus says, is that anyone—regardless of class, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or physical ability—can get their hands on a library card.

“It’s pretty cool to imagine how many people will try VR for the very first time—and have that ‘wow’ moment—in their local libraries,” says Ball. “We hope early access will cause many people to feel excited and empowered to move beyond VR consumption and to ask how they can become creators and innovators.”

While there is a strong distribution of participating libraries from north to south—with the 90 participating locations spanning nearly half of the state’s 184 library jurisdictions—the hope is that the California State Library can fund further expansion beyond the pilot program, which covers less than 10% of California’s more than 1,100 library branches. Discussions are underway with Washington state to potentially launch a similar program in its libraries, and the hope is that momentum continues to build, Oculus says.

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Though their consumer-facing VR operations have been largely focused in the gaming and entertainment sectors, Oculus’ vision for VR has always stretched further, and their recent focus on social VR and bringing the web into VR has clear implications for education.

“Games have been, and will continue to be, a primary market driver for VR,” notes Ball. “By highlighting the educational potential of VR in libraries, Oculus and Facebook are sending a message that games are not our sole focus.”

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