September 25, 2008

A Plug for Marriotts Because They Plugged Me In

Earlier this week, I stayed at the Marriott Metairie hotel in New Orleans, because I was in town to give a presentation for SOLINET. I’ve been staying in Hampton Inn hotels whenever possible lately, because they have very comfortable beds, offer free wifi, and provide free breakfast (all at a great price), so I haven’t been in an upgraded Marriott lately. Let me tell you, though, that if more Marriotts are upgrading to be like the Metairie, I may just be switching, because this was the most awesome, techno room I’ve ever stayed in.

At first, I was just thrilled to see the reading lights on the headboard and the easily-accessible outlets near the bed. And of course there was a nicely-largish LCD TV. These touches are much appreciated, but what actually made me gasp out loud was the A/V panel. Yes, you read that right, the A/V panel.

picture of the A/V panel

Apparently this is part of a service called Plug into Marriott, and it’s a traveling geek’s dream come true. In fact, I’d love to have one of these in every room in my house! The panel has four surge-protected outlets, an ethernet port, an audio-in port, RCA jacks, an S-Video port, a computer video port, and even a memory card reader. This means you can plug in your laptop (to do work or watch a DVD), an MP3 player to listen to music, a digital camera to view pictures, or a camcorder to watch videos. You can even plug in a game console, and in fact they actually encourage this by including this information in the documentation. Equally important, the hotel provides all of the cables, since most of us don’t carry these things around.

picture of the cables

The documentation could use a little help (it tells you to use the TV/video button to get to the different options, but the old remote in my room only had a “function” button that I correctly guessed would do the trick), and the split-screen for working/watching never kicked in, but I was able to watch TV shows on Hulu and listen to music from my iPod through the television set.

picture of the TV screen

This whole concept is a great example of saying “yes” and making things easier for customers, as opposed to saying “no,” which is what most hotels do by disabling the ports on the back of the TV in the room. It’s a good lesson for libraries how easy it is to make the user experience better.

Plug into Marriott screenshot

There’s a directory of “plugged-in” Marriotts on the site, and it looks like there are quite a few of them. I’ll definitely be looking at these as I travel, although realistically, if the rooms cost substantially more and I then still have to pay for internet access on top of that price, I’m likely to stay with my Hampton Inns. Still, this appeals to the geek in me, and I think it shows how digital our media is becoming, as well as how expectations around using that media continue to march forward.

September 24, 2008

Gaming Is Not Bowling Alone

Back in May, I was invited to give a presentation to a group at the MacArthur Foundation about four opportunities for libraries. The fourth opportunity I discussed was gaming, highlighting the social interactions that we’re seeing happen in libraries and explaining how they provide a unique context for this type of activity. I noticed they had bemused smiles on their faces as I finished but didn’t realize why until they told me they’d just finished conducting a study with the Pew Internet folks and that the preliminary data supported my claims that videogames have become a very social activity for kids today. They were still processing the data so they couldn’t share specifics with me, but they promised everything would be available in a few months.

Luckily, that report, Teens, Video Games, and Civics, finally came out last week as a PDF you can download for free. The subheading on the main page gives you a general idea of what they found: “teens’ gaming experiences are diverse and include significant social interaction and civic engagement.” Gamasutra has a great summary of the report , so I’m just going to highlight a couple of the statistics I found most interesting.

  • “97% of teens ages 12-17 play computer, web, portable, or console games. 99% of boys and 94% of girls play video games…. Understanding the nature of game play is vital to understanding how nearly every American teen spends at least part of many of their days.”
    This is a great summary of why librarians need to understand gaming and offer programming around it.
  • “The 5 most popular games played by American teens are Guitar Hero, Halo 3, Madden NFL, Solitaire, and Dance Dance Revolution…. The range of genres spanned by the most popular games played by teens indicates they are not simply playing violent first person shooters or action games…. The two most widely played game genres were racing and puzzle games, played by nearly three-quarters of teens in the sample.”

I could go on and on, and I was going to in this post, until I read the accompanying report, The Civic Potential of Video Games (PDF), from the Civic Engagement Research Group at Mills College. In fact, this second report literally *screamed* “LIBRARIES” as I was reading it, and I’ve written that word in many places in the margins. While the first report has the great statistics, the second one delves deeper into those numbers and takes some guesses at what it all means. It actually makes a very strong case for gaming in libraries, even though it doesn’t mention us at all anywhere in the text. Some highlights from the Mills College report, along with some commentary.

  • “Although public debates often frame video games as either good or bad, research is making it clear that when it comes to the effects of video games it often depends. Context and content matter.”
    This is where libraries come in – we provide context and content, because traditionally these are two of our greatest strengths. We do this in so many of our existing services – reference, literacy, recreational reading, etc. – and we can do this for gaming, too.
  • “Furthermore, interactions in video games can model [John] Dewey’s conception of democratic community – places where diverse groups of individuals with shared interests join together, where groups must negotiate norms, where novices are mentored by more experienced community members, where teamwork enables all to benefit from the different skills of group members, and where collective problem solving leads to collective intelligence.”
  • “Civic participation requires that young people develop confidence in their own abilities (sometimes referred to as a sense of agency) to act as leaders and to work productively for change. To the extent that youth have the opportunity to practice articulating their own point of view, debate issues, and help others in their own communities, they are likely to develop confidence in their ability to do so in the larger civic and political arenas. Finally, civic and political activity is largely a group activity. Youth organizational membership is believed to socialize young people to value and pursue social ties while exposing youth to organizational norms and relevant political and social skills that make maintaining those ties more likely.”
    Combined with the Thinkering Spaces model, offering more of these opportunities is one of the most powerful visions of the future of the public library for me, and it certainly creates the “transformational experience” referred to in the OCLC report that they believe causes taxpayers to vote yes in support of libraries.
  • “These results suggest that the frequent concerns in the media and elsewhere about the ennui and disconnection among those who play video games for long periods of time may be misplaced…. Teens who play games socially (a majority of teens) are more likely to be civically and politically engaged than teens who play games primarily alone. Interestingly, this relationship only holds when teens play alongside others in the same room.”
  • “Among teens who write or contribute to websites or discussion boards related to the games they play, 74% are committed to civic participation compared with 61% of those who play games but do not contribute to these online gaming communities. They are also more likely to raise money for charity, stay informed about political events, express interest in politics, try to persuade others to vote in a certain way, and attend protests or demonstrations.”
    What this says to me is that the combination of teens in a social gaming space, mentored by information guides (librarians) who provide scaffolding for a positive civic experience, combined with the availability of free internet access, is a constructive gaming experience for promoting civic engagement in today’s youth. Public libraries are uniquely qualified to provide that experience, and it’s almost “low-hanging fruit” for us, as we have fewer barriers to that experience than schools do.
  • “Approximately one-half of teens, for example, have played games that led them to think about moral or ethical issues. However, relatively few teens (typically under ten percent) report ‘often’ having particular civic gaming experiences.”
    Realistically, it will be years before civic gaming experiences are fully integrated into the classroom, a process stunted by No Child Left Behind because it de-emphasizes civics and social studies. This is yet another digital divide libraries can help bridge by providing the types of civic experiences gaming in a social context promotes.
  • “Most of the group-gamers (49%) play with friends in person, with 77 percent of group-gamers reporting playing games with others in the same room…. Overall, 76 percent of youth play games with others at least some of the time.“
    So if there are benefits to playing games together, is it better for kids to play with a small circle of friends at home or to bring them together with a diverse group of peers from their community, surrounded by the knowledge of the world, with information guides standing at the ready to help them?
  • “Civic education research leads us to suspect that parents, peers, teachers, and mentors can significantly increase the impact of civic gaming experiences by helping adolescents reflect on those experiences.”
    Note that the Pew gaming report doesn’t even mention the word “libraries” anywhere in it. Seriously. How can that be? In addition, MacArthur reports constantly refer to afterschool programs but don’t specify libraries. If we want to sit at the table of this discussion, we need to assert our unique position to address the issues these reports raise.
  • “Civic and political participation among youth is quite unequal. The voting rate of 18-29-year-olds who had attended college was fully three times greater than the voting rates of 18-29-year-olds who had not…. By equalizing civic learning opportunities, we may be able to help to equalize civic and political participation – a fundamentally important goal in a democracy…. Civic gaming experiences may be a means of more equitably developing teens’ civic skills and commitments…. Increasing the frequency of such experiences is likely necessary to effectively tap the civic potential of video games.”
    Again, I don’t see schools being able to increase the frequency of such experiences across the board in the current environment. Libraries, on the other hand, are well-suited for this.
  • “Both within games and in their offline lives, it is clearly important that youth have space to develop their own ways of engaging civically and, along with such opportunities, that they receive guidance and support from those with more civic and political experience.”
    See what I mean about how this report has “libraries” stamped all over it? One of the things we need to consider is how we can create optimal spaces and experiences to encourage these types of interactions, because we provide a unique set of conditions that the structured, time-limits of the school day just can’t provide.

So in addition to the diverse range of social interactions that take place around gaming in libraries, the relationships it helps build between librarians and users, the literacies kids inherently learn playing many videogames, and the draw to the library so kids learn more about the services we have to offer them, we can now add civic engagement to the list of benefits. The ROI on offering gaming just keeps getting better and better.

If all of this feels foreign to you, it may be that you’re not a gamer or you don’t interact with kids who are gamers, because anecdotally, I hear what these numbers say all the time from librarians offering gaming. I hear it most loudly from Eli Neiburger at the Ann Arbor District Library, someone who has fostered an online and physical community of kids who are passionate about the Library because of its gaming programming. In his book Gamers…in the Library??, he talks about how you can level up the discourse by engaging kids around content they care about. In fact, back in May, he presciently submitted a proposal to talk about civic engagement at GLLS2008 (which he’ll be giving on November 3). In addition, I’m happy to say that Amanda Lenhart, Senior Research Specialist at Pew/Internet and the lead on the gaming and civics report, will be presenting a ssion on this data at the gaming symposium, so this is going to be a hot topic.

If you haven’t witnessed this type of behavior in person, I encourage you to attend a library gaming event and/or talk to librarians offering this service yourself. I hear the comments week in and week out, usually unprompted, but don’t take my word for it. Obviously I feel pretty strongly that there’s a big role here for libraries to play if we just recognize and grab it, but you should learn more so that you can decide if gaming is right for your library. There’s also a lot more in both of these reports, including information about parental education/ involvement and implications for school libraries, so I highly recommend them as food for thought.

8:14 am Comments (7)

September 22, 2008

Celebrate Bleeped Books Week

Banned Books Week: I’d Like To Find *BLEEP*

Find more info about Banned Books Week here.

2:53 pm Comments (4)

September 17, 2008

The New Book Shelf (Not on the Library’s Website)

Granted, only a handful of the world’s library users have Superpatron to advise them, but I still think it’s pretty cool that Kate is displaying a list of knitting books recently added to the Ann Arbor District Library’s catalog. It’s not just a text list, though – it’s a series of book covers with the title as a link into the catalog record.

It’s a great example of how RSS lets libraries, and more importantly library users, interact with library content in places other than on the library’s website.

A Return to Fiber

“And I figure I really should get going on it since there are a bevy of new knitting books at the library that I’ve requested and will be receiving in the near future. Thanks to Ed, who taught me how to create an RSS feed for any new knitting book that my library enters into its catalog, I get first notice on acquisitions and can get my request in at the front of the line. I usually get the books within a month or two of them being added to the collection.” [Four Obsessions: Reading, Writing, Cooking and Crafting]

AADL knitting books on patron blog

10:08 pm Comments (1)

September 15, 2008

The Back Nine Stacks

At the beginning of the year, I highlighted a library fundraiser that raised $10,000 by putting a mini golf course in the stacks. Recently, I had the pleasure of talking with Rick Bolton, the guy behind the fundraiser, which is when I learned that he’s taken his original idea and expanded on it to create a 501(c)(3) organization that can work with libraries across the country.

“Yes, we really will turn your library into an amazing miniature golf course for a day. We work with public, school, and academic libraries seeking a fundraising event that will also draw new patrons to the library and provide for a fun community event. We have hosted several events in Connecticut and Massachusetts over the last few years and have inspired and coached other events across the country.”

I think it’s a fascinating idea, especially when you hear Rick talk about it. In fact, the one thing that’s missing from the website is Rick’s passion and enthusiasm for this project, which is really just a labor of love for him (it’s not his primary business).

The basic idea is that the Library Mini Golf nonprofit group will create a miniature golf course for a library, 80% of which is a standard course. The individual holes are created in such a way that they can be set up and taken down quickly, and they can be folded down for easy storage. LMG plans to work with college design school students to create the other, unique 20% of the course, which might include replicas of local buildings or other items of interest to the community. For example, t’s easy to imagine a Chicago version with a mini Sears Tower and Hancock Building. (Myself, I’d love to see a hole with kitchen utensils as obstacles in the 641.5 stacks.)

The library can then schedule an event and solicit local sponsors for each hole. On the big day, LMG will help the library set up the course around the stacks or wherever else you want it, and then people come in and play. Ultimately, Rick would like to see additional sponsors put money towards a college scholarship for the kid that wins a high school tournament held in the library. He estimates a library can raise a minimum of $10,000 in just one day for this type of event.

I can see towns competing against each other for best golf score, and maybe we could even have a national tournament the way we’re doing a videogame one for National Gaming Day on November 15. Rick told me he can make some specialty course holes, too. For example, he can have the hole start on one level and finish on another or start in one row of stacks and finish in another. I can’t wait to see one of these setups for myself, but the possibilities are intriguing, and I’m sure librarians will come up with other great ideas.

The LMG is currently working with other libraries on the east coast, but they’ve already done this with midwestern libraries and even an academic one. I think we’ll start seeing some testimonials appear on the LMG site as it evolves (it just launched and they’re still adding content), but there are also several articles about the fundraisers, such as this one that took place at Washburn University in Kansas and the positive response from the community.

My hope is to arrange for one of Rick’s courses to be set up at the Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium in November so that attendees can play for themselves and learn more about the service. In the meantime, interested libraries can contact Rick to learn more or discuss holding an event. Personally, I’d love to see my home library do one of these (hint, hint).

12:24 pm Comments (15)

September 12, 2008


This is partially archival for me so that I can easily get back to this quote for future presentations and partially promotional because I think it highlights just a couple of the benefits of implementing gaming in the library. The quote below is from Monica Harris, Young Adult Librarian at the Oak Park Public Library in Illinois.

OPPL is just getting started offering gaming, and they’re diving in with a tournament. They didn’t committee the idea to death, and I like that they recognize they’ll be learning a lot along the way. Already, though, they’re seeing benefits both internally and externally. Emphasis is mine.

“The players we have attracted are, by and large, a completely new group of kids for us. Their parents come in baffled that their children are SO EXCITED for a library program, and this has facilitated a historic collaboration between myself and the IT department. Before this program, our IT department had never been a part of any library program, and now there are at least two of them attending every time we do a tournament – and they like it! This has been a wonderful learning process for all of us – and we still have a long way to go before it will reach the high programming standard we hope it will eventually achieve.”

12:44 pm Comments (5)

September 8, 2008

Ignorance, the Ultimate Boss

How Videogames Blind Us with Science

“A few years ago, Constance Steinkuehler — a game academic at the University of Wisconsin — was spending 12 hours a day playing Lineage, the online world game. She was, as she puts it, a ‘siege princess,’ running 150-person raids on hellishly difficult bosses. Most of her guild members were teenage boys.

But they were pretty good at figuring out how to defeat the bosses. One day she found out why. A group of them were building Excel spreadsheets into which they’d dump all the information they’d gathered about how each boss behaved: What potions affected it, what attacks it would use, with what damage, and when. Then they’d develop a mathematical model to explain how the boss worked — and to predict how to beat it.

Often, the first model wouldn’t work very well, so the group would argue about how to strengthen it. Some would offer up new data they’d collected, and suggest tweaks to the model. ‘They’d be sitting around arguing about what model was the best, which was most predictive,’ Steinkuehler recalls.

That’s when it hit her: The kids were practicing science.

They were using the scientific method. They’d think of a hypothesis — This boss is really susceptible to fire spells — and then collect evidence to see if the hypothesis was correct. If it wasn’t, they’d improve it until it accounted for the observed data.

This led Steinkuehler to a fascinating and provocative conclusion: Videogames are becoming the new hotbed of scientific thinking for kids today….

This is what Steinkuehler reports in a research paper — ‘Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds‘ (.pdf) — that she will publish in this spring’s Journal of Science Education and Technology. She and her co-author, Sean Duncan, downloaded the content of 1,984 posts in 85 threads in a discussion board for players of World of Warcraft.” [Games without Frontiers]

Fascinating stuff. We had Constance speak at the first (non-ALA) Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium back in 2005 (sadly, MLS has taken down all of the materials that were online about that event, so I can’t point you to anything about it). You can read my notes from her session here, though..

10:18 pm Comments (8)

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