Using Gamification to Enhance the Library Experience

Welcome back! If you missed my blog post on BLAP gamification and rewards, please read that first!  Back for more? Here’s your reward!

I realize that star I gave you last time was meaningless, but my hope is that you will be learning a skill here so that you won’t need someone to give you a star to incorporate meaningful gamification.

The idea behind meaningful gamification is to use game design elements to help a participant discover a personal connection to a real-world setting. The theoretical core of meaningful gamification can be found here.  One of the important theories behind meaningful gamification is Self-Determination Theory by Deci and Ryan, which states that to have a positive well-being, people need to feel that they have control over their own situation, that they need to feel competent, and that they need to feel connected to others.

There are several concepts that are useful in making gamification more meaningful. The first is the focus on the play aspect of games (as compared to the scoring system of games). Play is an optional activity focused on exploration and discovery. Public libraries have focused on recreational services and play since their inception, so library staff should consider ways to enhance the library’s playful nature through adding game-like elements instead of trying to “pointsify” the use of specific aspects. A model for this are participatory museums, where play and information are integrated in a space where users explore as they wish. Since libraries are already a playground for the mind, one concept is for libraries to use game elements such as narratives, quests or challenges to help participants explore that playground through new perspectives. Libraries should not have to use a reward to get people to use their services; libraries are the reward!

Another component useful in making gamification meaningful is reflection. John Dewey said that learning happens when experience is combined with reflection. Many times, all of the focus is on the experience and not on the important post-experience reflection. Game elements can be used to help participants reflect about their interactions with the library and to feel confident in their understanding of library materials. Instead of offering rewards for the quantity of books read in a summer reading program, librarians can create activities that have participants reflect upon what they read and then share those reflections. I created a light roleplaying game called Crossed Paths, which is designed to help readers reflect about their favorite works and explore them through a gaming metaphor. Crossed Paths is freely available to download.

Connecting library participants to each other through game elements is another way of increasing meaningfulness in gamification. Instead of treating each attendee as an individual in summer reading programs, team-based activities can help participants to feel connected to others in the community and to the library and its resources. Online game-like elements attached to a library catalog can invite people into item-specific groups and encourage them to engage around the works they enjoyed (or didn’t enjoy) instead of simply tracking points and awarding badges. This key design element is focused on building opportunities for building connections between different users instead of treating them as lone readers.

To conclude, gamification can be used to reward or it can be used to help someone find meaning. If the goal of gamification is short-term or skill-building, then using rewards can work, but if the goal is to help users develop a life-long love of reading or long-term engagement with the library, then the focus should be on building the intrinsic motivation of library users. Gamification should enhance the play element of libraries and be focused on the needs of the user instead of simply raising gate count or circulation numbers. For more information, you can find several articles, videos, and games at the Because Play Matters website.

About Scott Nicholson

Dr. Scott Nicholson, MLIS, is an associate professor at the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University, where he runs the Because Play Matters game lab. Before getting his PhD in Information Studies at the University of North Texas, he was a librarian at Texas Christian University. His research focuses on transformative games, play, and meaningful gamification for informal learning. Articles, presentations, and games by Dr. Nicholson can be found at http://becauseplaymatters.com . He is the author of Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages.

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