Indiana University Libraries expands potential of 3D and VR technologies in grant-funded, multi-university partnership

February 2nd 2018
Logo for IMLS

To learn more about the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant in support of 3D visualization and virtual reality (VR) technologies, contact Robert H. McDonald, associate dean for Research & Technology Strategies at Indiana University Libraries, and co-principal investigator (PI) at

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – March 2018 kicks off the first of three national, grant-funded forums focused on pioneering new ways of interacting with digital content, thanks to an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership grant awarded to a multi-university partnership in support of three-dimensional visualization and virtual reality technologies (IMLS LG-73-17-0141-17).

Robert H. McDonald

“Our collaborative team is at the forefront of digital libraries, and we see 3D and VR content objects as one of the next frontiers in supporting our researchers and research centers," says Robert H. McDonald, associate dean for Research & Technology Strategies at Indiana University Libraries, and co-principal investigator (PI) on the project.

McDonald and his Indiana University colleagues are active partners in the grant-funded team, which also includes leadership from Virginia Tech University Libraries, and the University of Oklahoma Libraries. The $95,024 grant will allow for a series of three national forums on different themes:

  • Content Creation and Publishing (Virginia Tech’s Executive Briefing Center in Arlington, VA, in March 2018),
  • Visualization and Analysis (University of Oklahoma, in late summer 2018), and,
  • Repository Practice and Standards (Big Ten Center in Chicago, IL, anticipated for fall 2018).

Approximately sixty researchers, practitioners, and other leaders in imaging science and engineering, digital preservation, and digital libraries will participate in the forums, aiding in the creation of a roadmap and white paper for library adoption of 3D and VR services.

Having witnessed the potential impact of these technologies, McDonald is anticipating significant contributions from the work of the grant team.  IU Libraries is already in partnership with Indiana University’s Herbarium and Center for Biological Research Collections to provide limited access to 3D models of biological specimens in a project known as Imago. Scanning allows the group to share 3D objects with researchers from around the world.

New infrastructures are required to effectively introduce 3D and VR into research and pedagogy, says Nathan Hall, associate director of Digital Imaging and Preservation Services at Virginia Tech University Libraries, and co-principal investigator (PI) on the project. 

“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,” he explained.

McDonald agrees. He said, “Enabling research, publication, teaching, and re-use of the 3D models can and will lead to the creation of new knowledge for our research teams actively creating this content.”

The project partners share the premise that 3D visualization and VR technologies show great promise for a range of scholarly fields. Hall points out that 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.

Through the forums, the grant leaders hope to address the emerging transdisciplinary challenges crossing arts, sciences, humanities, and engineering; and further the global potential of universities as they assist researchers and developers in creation of sustainable 3D objects and virtual environments.

Founded in 1820, Indiana University is one of the United States’ top public universities. With more than 114,000 students and 9,200 faculty on eight campuses, IU is also one of the largest institutions of higher education in the United States.

Its Bloomington campus is home to Indiana University Libraries, one of the nation’s largest public academic research libraries. IU Libraries partners with every academic department on campus. Materials are digital, visual, audio and print. Over 60,000 journals are offered electronically, and the libraries hold 9.9 million print volumes in 450 languages, and 100,000 films in its Moving Image Archive. A long-time leader in digital library projects, IU Libraries developed wide-ranging initiatives as early as the 1990’s, and recently embarked on the ambitious university-wide Media Digitization and Preservation Initiative. Our visual flagship, the Herman B Wells Library, is one of the busiest academic spaces on campus, recording 2 million visits each year. Its recently opened Scholars’ Commons, Learning Commons and Moving Image Collections and Archives were extensive and visionary renovations that redefine the role and potential of libraries. Other library destinations of particular note are the Lilly Library of rare books and manuscripts and the 6.4-million volume high-density Auxiliary Library Facility (ALF).





Contact Info

Herman B Wells Library
1320 E. 10th St.
Bloomington, IN 47405
812-855-2576 (Fax)
Michelle Ann Crowe
Michelle Ann Crowe - Director and Media Contact
(812) 856-4817