by Ben Manolas

Gamification seems to be the hot thing that is embedding itself into almost every area of our lives. You can now find tools to gamify learning, working, eating, sleeping, spending, saving, and any other number of things, but what is gamification and why should we gamify anything? By implementing gamification don’t we change the very nature of the activity and risk its legitimacy; and how the heck does this apply to libraries?

Gamification can be as simple as adding rewards for hitting specific goals; I woke up when my alarm went off and didn’t hit the snooze button, so I award myself a glittery star on a chart and buy myself a (box) of brownies. It can also be as complicated as the app “Zombie Run”, which embeds a running interval training program in a narrative about a zombie attack. The two keys to gamification are to add a motivator to encourage commitment and help participants measure progress (I might have two sparkly stars vs my seven-year old’s ten), and to make it fun! Why go to all this trouble? Studies have shown that (proper) gamification of activities and tasks increases engagement, ongoing participation, and overall enjoyment.

Implementing gamification can change the very nature of the task or goal; what was once something of a millstone around one’s neck can become an achievement for which they get an explicit reward in addition to the intrinsic reward we all get when we achieve. Related tasks can link together to become small achievements that act as stepping stones to a higher goal and, assumedly, a more significant reward. Some activities change from passive to active as participants are now engaging with the content to achieve an overall goal other than just observing and consuming information and content. Through gamification, the nature of specific tasks and goals change; each isolated objective is now a part of an interconnected network driving game participants to achieve and actively engage.

Libraries can benefit from gamification if it is implemented carefully and with a clear purpose. Summer reading programs are an excellent example of this; if children read a set number of books, they get a prize, and an entry, the more books they read, the more rewards and entries they get, at the end of the program a big prize is drawn using the entries they acquired by reading.  Technology courses offer badges each time mastery of specific coding skills and languages; this would be easily transferable to library programs, with the completion of each program the library could award a badge or certificate and offer incentives to try and get a certain number.

Incentivising is just one way to implement gamification; however, I have seen organisations that believe that this is where gamification starts and ends. Just like the vast number of gaming formats and genres that exist, there is an infinite number of way to turn activities into games. There are a significant number of free tools on the internet that allow complete novices to create games from scratch with no coding experience at all. Imagine creating a choose your own adventure visual novel that could assist with reader advisory or a first-person adventure game or augmented reality game designed to familiarise new patrons with the layout of the library or location of resources. Almost anything can be gamified, all you need to do is use a little creativity and see what comes naturally!

For NLS9 we have a group of passionate, fun-loving librarians working on gamification to create an engaging, fun experience for attendees. We are looking at ways we can engage people regardless of background or ability to show ways all libraries can utilise this strategy in their communities. The real key is though, everything we are doing is with free tools that can be used by anyone so every library service can create a fun, engaging experience without having to compromise due to price or ability. We’ll have all the information and resources ready to share at NLS9 with team members on hand to discuss how you can implement this in your library, as well as making the information available online post-conference.

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