Explore the world with Park City Library’s Armchair Travel sessions

(Tanzi Propst/Park Record)
(Tanzi Propst/Park Record)

People can travel to virtually anywhere in the world just by visiting the Park City Library.

The trips are made possible from 4-5 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month thanks to a new program called Armchair Travel, said Kate Mapp, Park City Library adult services librarian.

“This is our new virtual reality (VR) program,” Mapp said. “The controls let you zoom in on any given, depending on how much information Google Earth was able to obtain.”

The system, which will be set up in the library’s green screen room, includes VR goggles and two hand controls.

The system also requires a heavy-duty gaming laptop, because it has more horsepower than the rest of the library’s laptops, Mapp said.

Of course, the library needed to get a virtual reality system, and it purchased an HTC Vive headset.

“There is a program that provides libraries with a system and we met them during a conference in California,” Mapp said.

The equipment allows people to not only travel to countries, but cities, and even down along sidewalks or beaches, according to Mapp.

“The controls also allow the traveler to move the sun so you can see what a place is during the morning, afternoon and evening,” Mapp said.

The system isn’t for checkout, yet, because of the many working parts.

“We want people to come experiment with VR in the library,” Mapp said. “While there is a learning curve, people will be able to pick things up very quickly.”

Armchair Travel is a drop-in program right now, so no sign ups are required.

“If there are a lot of people, we will limit their turns to 10 minutes, but if there are only two people, we’ll just play for the whole hour,” Mapp said.

The green-screen room is the perfect place for the sessions.

“The system requires an open space that doesn’t have a lot of traffic, and we have a large monitor set up so people can see what their friends and family members are seeing,” Mapp said.

The idea of Armchair Travel took flight after Mapp and Park City Library’s Youth Services Librarian Katrina Kmak visited the University of Utah’s Marriott Library a year ago.

“Like the Park City Library, the Marriott has a ton of 3D printers, a sound booth and a video recording room,” Mapp said. “We went down there because we wanted to see what else they had and get ideas.”

Mapp, who used to work at the Marriott Library, reached out and secured a tour.

“We were shown a bunch of new stuff and one of those things was virtual reality,” she said. “While I’m not a gaming person, I’m a big traveler and love to explore. So this program sold me on VR. I knew I totally wanted this in our library.”

Armchair Travel can be used for different reasons, Mapp said.

“People can use the system to explore where they want to go on their next vacation, or if they can’t afford to travel, they can still visit these places,” said Mapp, who used the program to climb the Grand Tetons and explore the Dolomites in Italy. “People can also explore the areas where they may want to buy a second home.”

Many people will probably use the system for nostalgic purposes, she said.

“They may want to visit the homes they grew up in,” she said. “Of course you can log on to the internet and see these places, but visiting them through VR makes it more real.

“Sometimes the places you visit aren’t what you remembered,” Mapp said. “I went back to California to the house I grew up in and saw all of this development. There were buildings that didn’t exist when I lived there.”

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