Gamification can be a tool for libraries to engage and motivate the public to use the library – but like all other tools it is not a quick fix and must be used wisely.
In this article I share some tools and practical examples of how they have been used in libraries.
Narratives are powerful. This is no secret to the library profession. The narrative element is also very important in games and is a way to engage people in the game.
Several gamification projects in libraries use this element. It is often combined with the game element Quest. A quest is the part of the story where you must solve some mysteries or puzzles to unlock more of the story.
Hidden Treasures: A quest from Guldborgsund Public Library:
Guldborgsund Public Library invites local citizens and visitors of the city on interactive walks around the town as part of the project Hidden Treasures. Through their smart phone, ‘treasure hunters’ can have a new and different experience of the town and its history.
With the project Hidden Treasures Guldborgsund Public Library wants to meet people in the urban space in a fun and engaging way. The aim is to turn the local cultural and literary history into a vivid experience. Through a series of riddles and problems, the inquisitive-minded will hopefully see the town in a new light.
The interactive walks offer three different themes: a trip back to explorer and author Peter Freuchen’s Nykøbing Falster in the 1920s; an insight into the town when author Knud Romer grew up in the 1970s; and a contemporary tour with focus on local food from Falster.
Gamification elements used:
Each walk follows a narrative of a cultural person’s history and universe giving the participants knowledge about the city’s history and literary history as the walk and the story unfold.
Each city walk is build up with a number of challenges you have to meet to move on in the walk and the story.
There is a clear structure on the route of the walks and the game gives feedback on how people progress through the story.
The choices the players make trigger feedback from the game. “Great – The answer was correct. Continue towards the water tower to get the last question of your journey”
Weekly leader boards at the library
People get a badge at the library when they finish the walk. All the walks end at the library.
Now for another example of a quest. This time from Singapore:
Quest of the Celestial Dragon:
Quest is a narrative written on the backside of beautifully illustrated collectible cards done in the same style as Japanese manga comics. The project’s vision is to make reading fun for kids through a game experience as opposed to forced reading like homework.
The cards are based on a story, titled Quest of the Celestial Dragon. It is a fantasy story where our protagonist, Ethan has the task to retrieve the eyes of a dragon statue and free the people of that world from evil doers who threaten to plunder them of their magic and culture. Already sounds exciting, right?
When you borrow books you get cards as a reward. When you collect all 60 cards you can read the whole story. The cards can also be used as trading cards since each card has points and power values. The project became a huge success since children encouraged each other to collect cards.
The NLB of Singapore also build upon Quest and arranged a writing competition and a drawing competition. Furthermore they had a dedicated website with extra downloads of drawings from the manga universe of Quest.
Thousands of children participated and millions of cards found the ways to the happy game players and readers making the project a huge success in engaging the children of Singapore to use the library.
Unfortunately the project is now off the web and it is hard to find a good link for further reading.
Gamification elements used:
Achievements reward the participants skills, luck or social interaction with other players. In Quest it rewards participation as you get cards each time you borrow a book, and the cards help you progress in the story.
The beautiful cards.
Collect them all – get the whole story.
The story unfolds as a fantastic fantasy tale about good and evil and all other elements of a classic story and within a beautifully illustrated manga universe.
International Breakfast – At Aarhus Public Library DOKK1
“International Breakfast” is a service where foreign families are invited to eat breakfast together in the library, to have an experience with other newcomers and hopefully build a better network in the city.
Gamification was tested on the service as a method to create a greater desire among the participants to share knowledge, talk and have fun – together. There was a need to do this because the experience was that few participate did build new networks at the events.
Gamification elements used:
Competition is a powerful gamification element. By participating in the game using skills or knowledge people can measure themselves against other teams or players.
In Aarhus the teams did compete on knowledge and it was made visual how well each team did with the Leader board of big soft LEGO bricks.
Some challenges can only be solved (or be solved better) when you cooperate with other players. Teams cooperate to progress in the game or to beat other teams as in this case from Aarhus.
Cooperation was a powerful gamification tool to reach the goal of more social interaction between the participants in the international breakfast.
Visual feedback was used when each team got big LEGO bricks for each point to build a tower representing their status in the game.
What is in it for libraries?
Gamification will appeal to people who like the game environments. Of course this is a very diverse group but since libraries often present themselves in a non-gamified way this approach can inspire and engage citizens that do not normally use the library.
Therefore it is important that both the game design is very good and also that the things that are gamified are relevant for the people experiencing the gamified library service and the library’s core tasks and mission.
The gamified library service is a story that wants to be told. It is often not aligned with the way media usually speaks about libraries, so it is a way to create a new narrative about our creative and inspiring libraries.
It is also a lot of fun. You will learn a lot and so will the rest of the staff at your library, and it is a way to actively support learning in the community in a fun and engaging way.
If you have a favorite example of a library gamification project please share it with me, and tell me more about your own projects for the updated version of this blog post. And remember: it is perfectly safe to try this at home. Have fun!
My slides from a presentation in Madrid, Spain: 15th December 2015 for: VIII Jornada Profesional de la Red De Bibliotecas del Instituto Cervantes: «Gamificación: el arte de aplicar el juego en la biblioteca»