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 (9)

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©(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)

Next Page »