Games, gaming and gamification

Image of Go board

“Genius is play, and man’s capacity for achieving genius is infinite, and many may achieve genius only through play.”
― William Saroyan

(Please assume that the word “man” in the above quote refers to all humanity. Ladies are not excluded.)

We’re about two months away from International Games Day, so bringing attention to this ALA-sponsored event can’t happen too soon! But let’s assume that you are a librarian who doesn’t subscribe to the notion of games in libraries. Let’s start with the basics:

Why should libraries promote games or gaming? As addressed in the link, there are a few reasons. First: games attract people. We think of games as being purely for children, and bringing children into the library (and the attending parents / guardians) is never a bad thing. But it’s more than that: there are plenty of games (this last was said to be a favorite of Kennedy and Kissinger) that engage adults as well. Pew Internet studies have found that over half of adults play video games! The Wii has demonstrated a following with older adults, especially with games like bowling, tennis and exercise (Wii Fit). There really is no age at which people stop playing games. So games can be a way to appeal to anyone in your community.

Secondly, there is the aspect of learning and literacy. These are the days when it’s possible to teach yourself to play guitar or drums, even piano by playing games. Traditional literacy is also made more accessible with the right games. Digital literacy and the use of new technologies can occur even without any prior instruction. (Best part of that article: “… within five months, they had hacked Android.”) Games inspire learning and creativity, and are an essential piece to lifelong learning.

Something else to consider: toys and games can change behaviors for the better. For example, the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital has a library with toys and games to assist in treatments for children with disabilities. Other games can help stroke victims with rehabilitation. Pew Internet has found that teens who play games with civic qualities (defined as “simulations of civic or political activities, helping others, and debating ethical issues”) are more likely to be engaged in real civic events and decisions. Games can be social, cooperative, educational, even cathartic.

Gamification is something that is being explored as a new way of improving not just education or knowledge, but even organizations. To gamify a process means to change the process so that it resembles a game, including elements like rules, competition, rewards, etc. Games can alter behaviors, stimulate and motivate learning and learners, and connect people, both locally and globally.  Ann Arbor Libraries have devised an extremely popular approach to teach how to use the library, as well as to encourage attendance at its summer programs. MIT is heavily invested in game theory and structure, especially as it pertains to new technologies. Businesses are benefiting from this idea. Maybe your library is next!

If you’re asking yourself why you should start adding games to your services, I’d ask: seeing all the potential benefits, why haven’t you already? And here are some resources to help you along that path!

Tablets and laptops and desktops, oh my!

Tablets, laptops, desktops

It’s like watching evolution in progress. First, there was the personal computer, and for the sake of this short history lesson, we’ll only go as far back as the IBM or MacIntosh of the early 1980’s. Then the laptop appeared on the scene not too long after, followed by mobile phones and PDAs. Things calmed down for a bit until touch screen technology became viable for the consumer market, and then came the blending of PDAs and mobile phones into smartphones. Then came tablets, which caused a cascade of children with qualities blended with other devices. Tablets and smartphones are the parents of mini tablets (slightly smaller tablets) and phablets (slightly larger smartphones), while tablets and laptops sired convertible tablets (tablets with attached keyboards) and hybrids (laptops or tablets with detachable keyboards).

So if you’re a library buying new devices for the public, how do you choose where to put your money? Glad you asked.

Most often, the question is about tablet versus laptop; this is the question asked when portability or space are of concern. Most sources suggest that it comes down to the intended use. If the intended use is consumption — viewing websites or movies, checking email, and maybe playing some basic games — then tablets win out over laptops. On the flip side, if someone wants to craft a resume, do online tax filing or tinker with photos, then the laptops come out ahead. In libraries, this can mean the difference between “short-term” and “long-term” computer use, or “children’s computers” as compared to “adult-use computers.”

Things to think about in either case: both laptops and tablets can be tricky to manage in terms of physical security (making sure they don’t leave the building), and tablets are also tough to lock down so that others aren’t able to tinker with their settings (though you can go a long ways with the parental controls of most tablets). Also, tablets are the hardest to troubleshoot of the three, and even replacing a tablet’s battery may mean sending it back to the manufacturer. Laptops are easier to deal with, but are more difficult to maintain than desktops.

Desktops have the greatest space needs by far, but often make for a better long-term investment. Desktops can be comparable in expense to laptops, particularly since monitors can and often will outlive the desktops with which they were purchased, and don’t need to be replaced for many years. If a part fails within a desktop, often it can be swapped out with little trouble. Desktops are ideal for high-end software needs, as it’s far less expensive to buy the necessary desktop components for computer gaming or video rendering than the comparable laptop would cost.

So the long and short of it: tablets are great for basic web browsing (though no tablet currently supports Flash out of the box) and productivity, but are rarely the best choice for workhorse machines. Consider tablets when you want to educate your patrons on the use of tablets, or to give them a fun and easy way to connect to the Internet. Laptops and desktops are better for a more well-rounded service, with laptops winning out when space or mobility is a factor. Desktops are best for longevity or high-end software needs.

What’s your experience with tablets versus laptops? What way is your library headed?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in devices

The art and science of creation

Hands of God and Adam

So, yeah, makerspaces. It’s one of those neologisms that has become common library parlance over the past few years, though the notion itself is nothing all that revolutionary. Dedicating library resources (and for many libraries, actual physical space is extremely valuable) to the creation of new things? A bit scary. But also, perhaps, the start of something big.

Libraries comport themselves as institutions of education, but the traditional methods of a library (books) function only for a certain type of student: those able to self-educate by reading. Not everyone learns optimally by reading print on a page or screen, or even listening to audiobooks. Many learn best by doing. For someone whose interest and creativity are engaged by hands-on activities and do-it-yourself projects, aka “participatory learning,” a makerspace is the ideal approach to developing skills and knowledge.

A lot of attention is given to the idea of 3-D printers (and let’s face it, the technology has come down in price pretty significantly, and will continue to drop) but that isn’t the only approach to makerspaces out there. Find a tech-savvy volunteer or make a community partnership (kudos to Auburn Public Library!) to teach kids or adults real computer skills with old computers or parts from your local swap-shop. With Raspberry Pi devices at $35 a pop, creating an entire network of computers isn’t much more expensive than buying one of each title off of the New York Times’ bestseller list.

If not computers or technology, why not gardening? Sewing? Writing a sestina? (Dover Town Library incubated eggs, with each participating child given a specific egg to nurture.) The idea that makerspaces attempt to capture is that there is the opportunity to learn through experience, either with mentoring or without. Some libraries capture this knowledge in video form and share it like any part of their collection.

In any event, many believe that makerspaces and libraries make a very cute couple, and that it is not all HYPE. (Some even have excellent taste in WordPress templates.) Makerspace.com has gone through the trouble of making a playbook for schools or libraries interested in starting their own makerspace.

Does a makerspace fit into your library’s plans?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in vision

The e-ssentials of e-books

e-book

With the new look for the Maine InfoNet Download Library and the imminent update to the Overdrive Media Console app (bonus points if you are registered for the live webinar), it may be time to say a few words about e-books. (I am, of course, making the assumption that readers of this blog know what is an e-book, and why they are important to libraries.)

I’d be very hard-pressed to say anything particularly new or insightful on the subject, and even harder to say anything that won’t be rendered obsolete within a few months, except to make some very broad observations: there is a growing demand for e-books, the larger book publishers have reservations about selling e-books to libraries, and even librarians are finding ethical conundrums when dealing with e-books.

In many ways, e-books have become symbolic of the challenges facing libraries and librarians: an increasingly digital world where libraries are striving to meet demands despite tightening budgets and active competition from the private sector. In Maine, we’ve been very fortunate to have the Download Library (as supported by Overdrive to manage almost all of the technical hurdles), but then supporting patrons with their e-reader devices can be tough on smaller libraries with limited staff and technology training.

Many libraries are choosing a path forward. Some are trailblazing, such as the New York Public Library and the Douglas County Public Library, by negotiating directly with publishers. Most others are working with middleperson “aggregators” of e-books, like Overdrive, MyiLibrary, 3M Cloud Collection, and EBSCO eBooks (available through MARVEL!). Point is, it’s going to be hard for libraries not to do something about the trend toward e-books.

It’s not just libraries that are moving forward to the digital realm: education is facing a push to digitize textbooks due to the number of tablets among high-school and college students. It’s not hard to imagine how this trend will lift e-book demand even higher, as the generation of young digital natives grows into digital consumers. Not only that, but e-book readers will certainly result (and has, already) in more self-publication in e-book format.

Some have already imagined the “bookless” library, where each patron has his or her own tablet, and can browse, borrow, request and read everything in their library’s collection from anywhere. Others will forever maintain that the tangible collection can never be truly replaced. Where does your library fall on this spectrum, and how are you addressing the e-book question?

Putting your library on the map

Totius Mundi 1775

It seems like there’s a new exploration race occurring, except now instead of topography and geography, it’s about the businesses and places of interest throughout the nation and the world.

Some efforts are tackling this for all businesses. If you haven’t tried Google Maps, you’re in for a very neat experience. They’ve been building its functionality for some time, and owners or representatives of establishments are encouraged to refine the information already provided by Google. Street View lets you see panoramic “photo spheres” of locations on the street.

Not many people know that there is an Indoor version of both Google Maps and Google Street View, however. In this article, the Chelmsford Public Library is one such place that has taken advantage of this service (the Indoor Google Maps service is free: a team from Google will come to your facility and map / label the interior, making a basic floor plan visible from Google Maps). The Indoor Street View allows a facility to present its interior like a virtual tour, showing full-360-degree views of rooms. This is a spectacular way for libraries who wish to offer meeting rooms for public use, or have unusual and interesting spaces they want to highlight.

For reviews and other information, Yelp is another service that’s been extended to libraries. Yelp is most commonly used to find restaurants (and see how they are rated by previous customers), but is being applied to all businesses, including libraries. You can describe your services and respond to feedback placed on Yelp. Treat it like another avenue of social media for your library!

Anyone attending the digital literacy sessions held throughout the state from late November 2012 into January 2013 will remember an initiative called Connect2Compete, as well as the fact that this initiative would be pushing people interested in technology training toward libraries. Sadly, the database of libraries used there may not have survived the transition to its sister initiative, EveryoneOn. Instructions for making changes to your library’s information on that site can be found here.

Another national effort to put libraries on a map is the IMLS iMapLibraries page. This is meant to help libraries serve increasingly diverse populations, according to their June 2013 ALA presentation. Yet another is being implemented by OCLC, called Spotlight. This is a service meant to broaden the library reach to mobile users, and is free to libraries. (OCLC has another free service for libraries, called WorldCat Registry, mainly used by developers and other libraries.)

How are you putting your library on the map?

Living on the LibraryEdge

LibraryEdge logo

March 2011 is when it began: an effort on the part of a number of organizations to create a set of technology-related benchmarks for libraries. This coalition and its efforts are known as the LibraryEdge. Several states have already participated in a “soft launch” of the LibraryEdge benchmarks, and in January 2014, the full suite of resources will be made available to all public libraries.

The obvious question is, why should I care? What impact does this have upon my library? Fortunately, the answer is a simple one: as much of an impact as you want. Let me be clear. This initiative is NOT intended to be applicable to any and every library, and it carries no weight with regard to the Maine Public Library Minimum Standards. It can be thought of as a structured set of goals, even ideals, that may be helpful when it comes to developing a long-term vision for your library’s technology, services and staff training.

Fortunately, this is not purely an intellectual exercise. When January hits, a number of tools will be made available, including instructional webinars, self-assessment tools, resource guides and more. TechSoup, one of the partners, maintains a LibraryEdge blog describing the Edge at work in public libraries. Libraries will be able to track their progress and compare other libraries within the state and nationally, not competitively but to see how other libraries are being successful in making technology and digital literacy a reality for their communities. There are already a couple case studies showing how libraries large and small (though not as small as many Maine libraries) have fared taking on the Edge Initiative.

As I said earlier, these benchmarks are definitely not meant to be held as the standard for all libraries. Instead, libraries may want to review them with an eye for thinking about the next small step to take in staff training, long-term goals around technology maintenance, or how to engage their community in new ways. When January 2014 is upon us, it will be interesting for libraries to self-assess and really begin to take advantage of the resources of this national effort.

How do you think your library measures up? What is your next technology-related goal?

Making the jump to lightspeed: E-rate 2.0

lightspeed

In the halcyon days of 1996, a few visionaries in our Congress (including our very own Olympia Snowe) shaped the law that would found the Universal Service Fund, enabling schools and libraries to receive broadband Internet access at reasonable rates for their areas. Soon after that, MSLN was created to network schools and libraries throughout Maine, and now makes high-speed Internet connectivity a reality for nearly 1000 schools and libraries.

These days, we’re presented with a challenge very similar to that of 1996. What “high-speed” meant back then is very different from what it means in 2013. Moreover, both the demand for data and the raw amount of data available have increased by orders of magnitude, making it increasingly difficult for schools and libraries to be able to operate off on a connection that would have been considered overkill nearly 20 years ago. Streaming HD video to a single classroom or having a few users downloading large files might consume almost all the available bandwidth for an entire school or library, reducing it to the equivalent of a dial-up connection by 1996 standards.

This is why the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation recently convened a hearing on E-rate 2.0 (begins at 33:44). During the hearing, several witnesses (again, with Maine leading the charge by way of Linda Lord, State Librarian on the witness panel) bore very compelling testimony to the committee for the desperate (and growing) need to revitalize E-rate. This implies a great deal more funding (seeing as the original funding cap has already been reached for basic telephone and internet service), and will likely include many other changes to the application process.

What does this mean for libraries? First, fiber. Fiberoptic connectivity is much faster, as it relies on pulses of light for communication rather than electrical conductivity along long copper wires. This means truly achieving “light-speed Internet”, on the order of gigabits instead of megabits. Even one gigabit per second may be enough for the next ten years. This means libraries will need to take a serious look at their own infrastructure, such as their network backbones, so that they could benefit from this capacity.

It will also mean a serious look at the wireless networks offered by libraries. To move high-quality video from the Internet to a smartphone user in a library, every step of the way must be able to handle that sort of volume. For many libraries, having a gigabit connection may be like having a fire hydrant with a hose the thickness of a straw. E-rate 2.0 will hopefully change to allow schools and libraries needing to upgrade their wireless access points and controllers to receive reimbursement with few hurdles, but it requires some thinking ahead to be ready if and when the E-rate program should be ready to deliver.

Also, high-speed Internet can mean an end to telephones as carried by copper; VoIP may well become the standard method for carrying and managing telephone calls. Now that the technology is widely-used and regarded as solid (certainly solid enough for most consumers), it may simply be a matter of time before libraries will need to seriously consider the question of converting to VoIP.

Is your library ready for E-rate 2.0?

Branch and Vine: New tools for cultivating your library’s story

Twisted_Branch_2

We’re all familiar with names like Facebook and Twitter in varying degrees, and I’ve talked about the importance of self-promotion before. These were among the first tools to see popularity and widespread use. However, they’re far from the last, and I’d like to talk a bit about some others that are building momentum, both in the business world as well as ours.

First, let’s look at Vine, an extremely new addition to the social media world, but already with millions of users. It’s the audiovisual analog to Twitter (and is in fact owned by Twitter), and instead of 140 typed characters, the limit is six seconds of video. What could you possibly do with six seconds of video? Glad you asked! Most cellphones and smart devices can take at least ten seconds of video, which is more than enough for this service, and the short time-limit encourages the creativity to say more with less. A little clever advertising with video can go a long way to promote your services and events, or just convey a humorous or interesting message (5secondfilms.com does this very well. No direct link because of its occasional NSFW-ness).

Next, Branch. This form of social media revolves around the idea of conversation, to solicit feedback, answer a question or simply talk about some topic of common interest. For example, Justin Hoenke (formerly of Portland Public Library, now at the Chattanooga Public Library) hosts a collection of Branches pertinent to libraries. Branch encourages an ongoing discussion to which anyone may contribute. Companies like Hyatt are asking how to improve their own services, while others such as Frontline are using Branch to discuss politics. Still others are creating campfire-like discussions, not seeking anything more than to build community.

Finally, in addition to the first two, let’s talk a bit about Storify. Storify centralizes social media (such as video, articles, tweets and so on) for consumption. Rather than needing to point your library’s followers to several resources, Storify aggregates them to create a single page. For example, the blog Musings About Librarianship reveals several successful implementations. The Library Marketing Toolkit blog likewise offers other ideas for libraries using Storify for self-marketing.

What sorts of ideas spring to your mind about how you could use these resources to promote your library’s awesomeness?

Ahhhh! It’s a MOOC!

MOOCs & Librarians Poster. (Image Credit: Valerie Hill)

MOOCs & Librarians Poster. (Image Credit: Valerie Hill)

They’re out there, with millions of people already in their thrall and more each day. Soon, it could be you (if the MOOC hasn’t got you already). But don’t start packing your loved ones into suitcases just yet. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course, and by “course” I’m talking about the sort that you normally find kept behind the walls of colleges and universities. These are the ones that have broken free, and are seeping onto the Internet.

Last November, the New York Times described 2012 as “The Year of the MOOC“, with organizations like edX, Udacity and Coursera putting classes from MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Brown, CalTech, Johns Hopkins, and dozens of other universities all around the world up for grabs to anyone who might like to sit in. Education that had previously been sequestered behind rigorous entrance requirements, high tuitions and ivy-robed edifices is now available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection. And you thought Khan Academy was pretty cool.

(True story: a long-time friend fresh out of the Army began furthering his education through an online degree program. One of the classes in the program was a basic calculus course, for which he sought my assistance. I pointed him to Khan Academy, which he claims made up for the fact that his teacher wasn’t doing the teaching part of the job.)

It’s not just calculus that’s on the roster. Check Class Central or CourseBuffet for subjects and you’ll find things like jazz improvization, technology enterpreneurship, historical methodology, even philanthropy among the standards. Also, here’s a relatively recent list of MOOC providers to browse, some from other countries and in other languages.

Of course, this is something that intersects with the role of librarians and deserves some consideration. One problem is the question of certification and cost. Not all classes are free, and many that are will only provide certification of course completion if a fee is paid. Another issue is the digital literacy required to engage in such classes. It’s great for those already familiar with many of the technologies needed to participate, but learning such technologies is a course unto itself. Plus, there’s the concern of isolation and the student-teacher ratio. When you open a course up to an unlimited number of viewers online, how can any one teacher be expected to answer follow-up questions from a class of thousands? These are questions as yet unanswered for MOOCs as a whole, but are being addressed as the platform itself matures.

Do you think MOOCs have a place in our public libraries? If so, how can libraries as a whole integrate MOOCs into their services?

The White House invited to a meeting at nation’s libraries

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

President Barack Obama visits a classroom at Yeadon Regional Head Start Center in Yeadon, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The Obama administration is moving forward on initiatives that naturally dovetail with the mission of libraries, and two are especially prominent over the past few weeks:

First, the ConnectED initiative. Here is a challenge and promise to the nation to make high-speed Internet access available almost ubiquitously within five years. Doing so will bring America into the 21st century (we currently rank 15th in broadband subscriptions per capita worldwide – Excel spreadsheet behind this link), opening doors for students and engaging them in a modern way of learning. President Obama’s speech singled out Mooresville Middle School in North Carolina as one of the schools embracing technology in the classroom. Due to their innovations, they rank number two in their state in performance, but are in the bottom 10 for the amount spent per student.

This approach does not pertain only to schools, but also to libraries. If libraries are going to adequately support their local students, they need to be adopting some of the same ideas and innovations. For Maine libraries, offering broadband access is pretty easy — Networkmaine has that part covered for most — but keeping pace will be harder. How many libraries are offering training on search skills, use of databases or Internet safety? (Hint: there are resources out there to help you.)

Secondly, at ALA this past weekend, President Obama thanked libraries and librarians in helping Americans enroll in the Affordable Care Act. He intends for libraries to act as gateways where citizens can walk in off the street, learn more about the Act and actually submit the necessary forms online right from the library, starting October 1st of this year. This is another opportunity for us to demonstrate our value to our communities, particularly the underserved, in making this process as effortless as we can.

Hopefully, we can recognize these as boons to promoting our value. Along with DigitalLearn, Connect2Compete and EveryoneOn, this is a time for libraries to truly shine. Do you think these national initiatives will make an impact in your library and community?