On Thursday, 9 December, I helped lead an Infoforum in Emory’s Woodruff Library. Infoforums are events that we have on almost a weekly basis, where the entire library staff is invited to hear one or more people present on current projects, recent conferences, or their work. The range of subjects is impressive, and the format is admirably loose enough to let people ask questions as the presentation is ongoing. In other words, it encourages participation.
This Infoforum was organized by our Digital Librarians Initiative (DLI) on the subject of gaming in higher education and libraries. I can’t recount exactly how we decided on this particular topic except that it was something that we’ve felt has been percolating in the library world (as well as higher education) in recent years. After several weeks of planning, we had a program that featured Donna Hudson (Chemistry and Physics Librarian), Scott Turnbull (Information Technology Manager), Alain St. Pierre (European History Librarian) and myself. While Donna and Alain set the context of the recent ALA’s National Gaming Day and Scott discussed the principles of gaming more broadly, I had the opportunity to talk specifically about “Library Games”–how games can actually feature in the work of the library. In this presentation, I suggested that there are 5 different ways that games may be used in libraries:
- Games for Library Instruction
- Games as Research
- Libraries as Interactive Spaces
- Interaction Among Staff
My remarks were not scripted, but I wanted to publish the slides that I used and comment on them in an approximation of what I discussed. To make things simpler to follow along, I’m associating my comments with the number of the slide. Just click and read.
Gamification is the process of adding game elements to get people engaged in an activity. Some people will do almost anything for a badge or recognition. I’m one of those people.
We can see gamification at play in applications such as Foursquare (Slide 2) or Gowalla (Slide 3), both of which keep track of where you have checked in and provide badges or pins, respectively, that are based on where you’ve been and how often you’ve been there.
My gym also uses gamification with the Fitlinxx (Slide 4) system, which tracks my workouts and tallies the points that I earn from lifting weights and doing cardio. There are occasional prizes you can get as you advance through the levels. After working out for six years, I’ve earned a bag tag, a towel, and a t-shirt. But it’s the points and the metrics that are important to me and were what got me working out on a regular basis.
Finally, there are apps such as EpicWin (Slide 5) that seek to apply gamification to your to-do list. As you complete items that you need to do, you get experience points and level up.
Gamification can be applied to academia as well. The SOCL Project (Slide 6) is one example. Old Dominion University professor Richard N. Landers ran a trial this summer where he created a separate social network for more than 600 psychology students. The key feature of the site, as far as I’m concerned, was the certification system in which students could earn badges (Slide 7) for completing voluntary quizzes. Landers reports that 28% of students took these quizzes, which is an extraordinary number when you consider that they get no credit for the quizzes—just a little electronic badge. Students who achieved a particular level of certification were then able to serve in the site’s mentoring program, helping other students learn while reinforcing their own learning. (See an article about the SOCL Project at ProfHacker for their usual, insightful coverage.
The Goizueta Business Library (Slide 8) at Emory has actually been doing some gamification in giving out certificates to students who complete four courses on library skills. They Business Librarians report that the students love getting their piece of paper, which is the carrot they need to take the courses and to pick up library skills along the way. What’s more, they get to add a line to their resumes about being certified by the library. This should sound familiar to all of us since adding lines to our CVs is sometimes what everything we do in academia seems to boil down to. That’s not to make light of the work that we do when adding these CV lines, but…yeah. You know what I mean.
The Format and Q&A
We didn’t merely discuss games, we tried to play a sort of game with the audience. The room we normally use for these presentations can be arranged as one would like. Based on one of the DLI members suggestions, we arranged the seats in concentric circles with an aisle running through the middle. When the librarians entered the room, we asked them to take sides around the circle based on whether they identified themselves as skeptics about what games could do or if they saw themselves as pro-gaming. Our intention was to allow people to move around the room as they felt themselves convinced by our argument. And if it lead to enhanced discussions, then all the better. After all, it seems to work for members of Parliament in Britain, British Columbia (pictured), and elsewhere.
The presenter stood in the middle and had the opportunity to constantly move as he or she tried to address everyone in the round. We were also being video recorded from two angles simultaneously. (I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the bullet time that will assuredly result from Miriam Posner‘s mad skillz in the editing room.) The discussion was indeed lively, ranging from questions about gender bias and historical oversimplification within games to comparisons of academic work to gaming.
The most interesting question–from my perspective–came from someone who admitted to being a collections person at heart: she wanted to know how libraries can tell what resources libraries needed to be acquiring if we want to enable research 50 years down the road. To this question, I suggested that we do not need to be especially focused on particular games so much as on the hardware and software to run the games. Since Emory is already receiving attention for its work on the born-digital materials in the Salman Rushdie archive, I suggested that we might think about strengthening our ability to work with such materials by acquiring pieces of hardware for our special collections. In this way, we would be following the lead of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), which has a fabulous collection of vintage computers. We could work to build a collection similar to MITH’s while also looking to the present, archiving not just game consoles but also computers as they are retired from library service. We already have the beginning of a collection here that we have already paid for, in other words.