The World is Not Flat: Information Literacy in Three Dimensions

Libraries have traditionally dealt mostly with two-dimensional objects: books, maps and pictures and other objects that are inherently flat. But the world is not composed of two-dimensional objects, and computer technology now makes it easy to present information in 3D so the user can explore different angles and viewpoints. 3D systems are important now in all kinds of geographical work, including meteorology and ecology; in community planning, architecture and design; in forensics, medicine and science and many other fields of study.

Young people typically get their first experiences working with 3D systems in the world of gaming, but there are now powerful, simple, free programs that allow users to explore 3D information in the real world, including Google Earth, which is a 3D mapping program, and SketchUp, with can be used to create models of buildings and much more.

Google Maps

Although Google Maps is not a three-dimensional program, but it is an interactive, highly mixable application that allows many different types of data to be presented geographically. It also has one very important 3D function — it gives you an easy way to create files that can be read in the 3D Google Earth program.

Google Earth

Google Earth is a free software program that you download to your PC. It’s normally used online, and is the best-known example of a virtual globe program. It’s an interactive, three-dimensional geographic program. Anyone can create and share files in the Google Earth format (KMZ) — one way to do this is through Google Maps. Google Earth files are collections of placepoints or markers. These markers can include text, images, links, etc. Additional content is added to Google Earth through layers, which can include travel information, news, images, YouTube videos, historic maps, environmental data, and anything else that has been or can be geocoded.

Google Earth Links

Google Earth Community


SketchUp is a separate free program that can be downloaded from Google. It’s used to make 3D models of all kinds, including photorealistic models of real buildings that can be placed on Google Earth. SketchUp can also be used for any other type of 3D models, including household objects, people, animals and imaginary creatures, etc. SketchUp is a simple, versatile and extremely powerful 3D program that can be extended through the use of plugins. The SketchyPhysics plugin, for example, lets users create moving models that obey the laws of physics.

Google has created a lot of interesting content, including models of the American Institute of Architects 150 favorite works. Members of the Google community also contribute individual models and whole collections to the Google 3D Warehouse. These shared models are a great learning tool and are one of the reasons SketchUp has been so successful.

How to Make a Simple House — A very helpful, basic demonstration by a young user — great for beginners!

    • Google SketchUp — Download the free software, find videos and other training material, resources for teachers, the 3D Warehouse and more
    • Official Google SketchUp Blog — Information and tips
    • SketchUp for Dummies videos — Aidan Chopra’s video examples to go with his book, “SketchUp for Dummies”
    • SketchyPhysics Examples — A showcase of some interesting models created with the SketchyPhysics plugin
    • Project Spectrum — Google teamed with parents, teachers and kids on the autistic spectrum to do some interesting projects using SketchUp. The video here shows how kids used SketchUp to design their dream houses, and the manual of lesson plans has some great ideas for using SketchUp across the curriculum. (Most of these ideas could be adapted for working with any group of kids.)

Old School: Paper Models

3D Replicators

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