by Kelly Czarnecki
Charlotte Mecklenburg Library
You’ve probably heard of the 14 year– old from Utah that used the computer technology books from his public library and the quiet space there to develop Bubble Ball, a strategy and puzzle game app for the iPhone in December 2010. This free game was so well— liked in fact, it briefly surpassed the number of times Angry Birds, one of the most popular apps, had been downloaded (Nelson, 2011). While most youth might not have the patience to write 4,000 lines of code, chances are they own some kind of mobile device and have probably used it for gaming. Though this is an extreme example of use, there are many other ways to learn with mobile media. The question is, how are public libraries supporting gaming and mobile devices beyond reference books in their collection?
QR code quest
In December of 2011, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library (CML) in North Carolina paid for staff to attend a webinar presented by the Public Library Association called Cracking QR Codes— What Are They and How Can They Help Your Library? While QR codes are not new, I attended the webinar, knowing what they were and what they looked like but not necessarily knowing ways libraries were using them or could use them. The presenter shared examples of libraries integrating the 2D barcodes into scavenger hunts around the physical library space as well as attaching them to books on the shelves which would link to a promotional video about the book called a book trailer or a read– a– like (another book that is similar in plot or theme). A member of the library’s marketing department attended and shared ideas of how we could include QR codes in our marketing pieces, especially with programs that repeat year after year. By referring people to URLs of photos and videos from the previous year’s program through a QR code, it’s an easy way to bring new interest to the program as well as connect one event to another. The possibilities of using QR codes in the library seemed pretty endless.
Of all the ideas shared, using QR codes to craft a scavenger hunt seemed to make the most sense for the type of public library I work at. A scavenger hunt is a rather typical activity for many public libraries as a type of game used to introduce people to the facility and ways of finding information.
The library I work at within CML, ImaginOn, is a youth– focused facility. This means anyone over 18 is not able to use the computers, programming is done for those 18 and under, and in certain areas of the building, only young people are able to hang out.
Scavenger hunts can be a great group activity since a lot of people can participate at once. There are many groups that come to ImaginOn, whether as a school fieldtrip during the year or as a camp during the summer on a community outing. Scavenger hunts are nothing new to ImaginOn, but integrating them with mobile technologies is. We are located in an urban setting, in downtown Charlotte, North Carolina. Many teens that frequent the library have cell phones they use to listen to music, watch videos, or text their friends. Even if the teens do regularly hang out at the library, they haven’t necessarily explored everything as many tend to do the same activity every day such as use the Internet or play video games with their friends. A scavenger hunt can be a fun and quick way to introduce them to some different resources and goings– on at ImaginOn.
mobile gaming in public libraries
Gaming in public libraries has a track record for fostering interest in other library resources. Whether it’s used as a lure to get people into the building or it happens more organically (i.e. the library offers an activity I’m really interested in, which makes me want to explore and see what else might be available), gaming connects people with each other and the facility itself.
Supporting mobile gaming in a public library setting could be as complex as lending out mobile gaming devices or circulating mobile games to as simple as developing a scavenger hunt that requires the use of a mobile device with a QR code reader. Since everyone won’t necessarily own such a device, you may consider supplementing the QR code quest with the clues in hard copy form that don’t require a special device to read the code, especially if you think enough people might be left out of the experience because they lack the tools to participate. At the same time, this shouldn’t be a reason not to try out using QR codes. Having people work in teams in case some people don’t have a device with a QR code reader is also another way to get everyone involved. Depending on your community, many people do have smart phones and are very familiar interacting with information using mobile technologies. Free QR code readers are available for all major smartphones.
The first time teens at ImaginOn participated in the QR code quest, they discovered it themselves. In other words, they spotted the large codes throughout the library, knew how to read them with their phones, and then proceeded to ask staff how it all worked. The library staff gave them a handout with the challenges listed. We explained that hints to the challenges were given in the form of QR codes posted throughout the 2nd floor. Each challenge required an answer. For example, the third challenge reads, “Studio i is ImaginOn’s music and movie production space. Find the Studio i QR Code Hint to locate the name of the company that designed the space. Name: ___________ Bonus points: What is the general nonfiction number for books about animation? (Hint: there is a bookmark in Studio i with this information).”
The hint was a QR code attached to the outside of the Studio i door. It is a large code with a heading directly above the code that reads “Studio i QR Code Hint”.
Depending on your space, you may choose to make your codes more or less obvious. The important thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want participants to get frustrated. If locations within your library are well marked with up to date signage, you may consider using those places as the anchor points for your challenges. If you’re looking to focus your QR scavenger hunt on something a bit harder to find such as a specific reference book or a section in the library not as well marked, you may want to give some hints along the way such as what it’s located next to so that people don’t get too frustrated and give up. The goal is probably to have players feel more comfortable and familiar with the space, not run away in frustration! Asking for feedback and suggestions on what they thought of the scavenger hunt after they finished or how it can be improved is a way that can give you food for thought when making your next iteration of the game.
not Just for teens
In January 2012, Library Journal, a trade publication for librarians with an emphasis on public libraries, released Patron Profiles, a trending survey of public library patrons in regard to how they use mobile devices in libraries.
Nearly 15% of the 21– 40 year– old respondents (out of 2155 total) reported, “they are using mobile services to help their children with research or to find a book.” (Carlucci, 2012). According to Rebecca Miller, Patron Profiles series editor, the 21– 40 age group “are avid users of a wide range of library services and they are early adopters of technology” (Barack, 2012). This age group is also more likely to use mobile technology than other patrons though few respondents to the survey have downloaded library apps because they don’t yet exist or are just emerging.
While this report doesn’t directly address mobile devices used for gaming in public libraries it does show that there is a relationship between accessing information in the physical space and using mobile technologies to do it. This can be important information for libraries wanting to capitalize on that interest. Some things you might want to consider include:
• Convenience/just in time information. By including QR codes in information the library is creating— whether it be on a bookmark, as part of a flyer, or on our programming calendars, we’re tapping into the ease and convenience of locating additional information through scanning a code. We’re also helping make the connection between the real and the virtual by giving people another resource in which they can find information if they wish.
• Building community. Whether it’s accessing an app that will lead a library user directly to the catalog via their mobile device or supporting a mobile gaming tournament, we’re creating access points for people to connect with information and each other.
• Marketing of resources. Finding ways to integrate the use of mobile devices with the library’s resources such as through scavenger hunts can be a powerful marketing tool to show that the library is a fun and interactive place to be.
• Exploration of history outside of the library. Using QR codes for scavenger hunts in the library is just the beginning. If your library is located in a neighborhood or community rich with interesting historical facts, mobile scavenger hunts can be used outside the building and take the form of geocaching through using GPS units or building an online game by participants using SCVNGR. Finding those access points to resources unique to your library and of interest to the surrounding community can help build information rich settings.
designing a QR code quest
When creating the quest for teens at ImaginOn, we took several things into consideration. We chose challenges that highlighted spaces or resources that were underused. In this sense the quest functioned a bit as a marketing tool to help some areas and resources gain more familiarity. For example, the Reader’s Club is an online site maintained by library staff that includes such information as book reviews, new releases and author interviews. Teens don’t necessarily know to use Reader’s Club as a resource when they’re trying to find something to read— whether as assigned for a school project or something recreational.
This challenge linked the Reader’s Club site to the physical space of the fiction collection in the library. The challenge reads, “Look for the Reader’s Club QR Code somewhere in the fiction section. Write down two of the latest titles that are reviewed in the Teen Corner of the Reader’s Club that sound most interesting to you.” Their answers can also be entry points to further discussion in getting to know the participants better. It can also help identify if people are just writing down anything to finish or are at least giving some thought about what they’re putting down as an answer! If they really didn’t find anything on the Reader’s Club site that looked interesting, that can be another avenue to find out what it is they read or what kind of games they like to play that can help make connections to other resources the library owns such as downloadable items, magazines, or graphic novels.
Another consideration we took into account was designing a challenge around areas that were well used. For example, the Gaming Corner which has console gaming (Wii, Xbox, PS2 and 3) during the week when public schools adjourn as well as during open hours on weekends, is a popular place in the library. The challenge we integrated with the QR Code Quest was this: “Stop by the Loft’s Gaming Corner. Find the Gaming Corner QR Code Hint. What is one of our newest dancing games and what console does it play on?” The challenge
was designed to let teens know that we own a game they might not have known about, we do try and purchase up to date games, and their suggestions are taken into consideration for purchase. Consequently, because the Gaming Corner is frequented at the library, teens notice the QR Code Hints and ask us what that’s about. This gives us an opportunity to invite them to participate in the scavenger hunt while they’re waiting for their turn to game or to try something that might be completely different for them in the library if they pretty much just console game when they’re at ImaginOn.
Many sites are available to create QR codes for free. You can choose a search engine and practice with what comes up when typing in ‘QR code generator’ or look at the features of several mentioned below. Most sites generate a QR code after you put a URL into the online form. A phone number, SMS message or any text can also generate a QR code. Depending on the site you’re using, once a code is created, you can take a screen shot and add it to the document you want to incorporate it into. Be sure and check that it works by testing it with your own QR code reader. It should bring you to the information such as a web site that generated the code in the first place.
I regularly use the Kaywa QR code generator (http://qrcode.kaywa.com/) as it gives several options of information to use in order to create a code (URL, text, phone number, or SMS message). It also lets you choose the size of your code. The Google Chrome browser creates a code for any URL that is currently open— you simply right click to generate the code. This works on images as well and can be shared easily with other social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter. QR Droid (qrdroid.com/generate) is another site that generates a code after you enter your URL. There’s also a QR code template available for setting up a scavenger hunt on the Active History site (Tarr, Russel, 1998– 2012).
QR codes are used in all kinds of libraries including school and academic for more than just scavenger hunts. They can be used for anything from linking additional information to library exhibits such as an artist’s web site to video or book trailers before material is checked out. The key with QR codes, whether used for a scavenger hunt or other purpose in the library, is to bring additional content to the user. While the challenges for a scavenger hunt may focus on underused or regularly used areas within the library, the key also is to highlight some additional content for the participant. In other words, rather than have the code simply link to the library’s web site, choose something more specific that you’re aiming to highlight— perhaps content that might be a bit underused. Link the content to something physical in the library so that the connection makes more sense. A QR code that shows the library’s electronic holdings placed near the print materials may give the challenge more of a context to show that there are multiple ways that content can be obtained in the library.
a word on mobile gaming and public libraries
While this chapter solely focused on the integration of QR codes as a scavenger
hunt game, it’s fair to say there is a lot of movement in public libraries with gaming and mobile devices. There is also a lot of time and funding spent on other uses of mobile devices with the public library such as apps to interface with the catalog or the loaning out of iPads to toddlers. To go more in depth with any of these examples, is beyond the scope of this chapter, but it is worth mentioning that integrating mobile devices with the public library is very much on everyone’s radar and significant strides have been made in combining access and information in this way.
Gaming is nothing new in libraries. Board games have been played for years and video games, while slower to catch on, have become a part of regular services at many libraries. Whether it’s allowing games to be checked out or hosting a tournament, public libraries are generally very supportive of this activity. In a 2009 Library Journal blog post of the Games, Gamers, and Gaming column, writer Liz Danforth points out how video game technology is constantly changing. She asks, do mobile games have a place in the future of gaming in libraries? Can your library support games and gaming played on mobile devices as an organized activity, competitively or cooperatively? (Danforth, Liz, 2009).
A few examples of what public libraries are doing support gaming and mobile devices include:
• Find the Future, New York Public Library. In honor of the NYPL’s centennial celebration, starting in the Spring of 2011 as an overnight adventure, people were invited to download an app to the iPhone or Android that would unlock a clue to an object located in the library. Once the object was found, players would write a short essay inspired by the object which was to be part of collaboratively written book. The game was able to continue to be played online (Find the Future at NYPL: The Game, 2011).
• Finding History, YouMedia, Chicago Public Library. Teens participated in a high– tech scavenger hunt using GPS units to locate geocache’s throughout the city. The activity was used to engage teens outside of the library around One Book One Chicago events focusing on Daniel Burnham, an architect who helped plan the design for Chicago in the early 1900’s. Clues about Burnham and his plan could be located using GPS units (Karp, Josh, 2010).
• Foursquare. Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library. Every time players visit the library, they can check in with their mobile device and earn points. Their page also includes a list of activities to do while visiting the library including getting a library card, using a database for getting full– text magazine articles, and playing a video game (https://foursquare.com/v/topeka– shawnee– county– public– library/4b06c23cf964a520b6ef22e3).
• NYC Haunts. New York Public Library. In 2011, a partnership with Global Kids and the New York Public Library resulted in teens using iPads and smartphones to create a game. Using the online platform of SCVNGR, participants created clues and riddles about their local neighborhood history. The Edgar Allan Poe Cottage was located in their neighborhood. The teens learned more about Poe and his legacy through this game (Martin, H. Jack, 2011).
• Educational Game Technology, South Carolina State Library. Many libraries lend mobile games and/or their devices to patrons to check out just like they do books with their library card. The South Carolina State Library is just one example of a library that lends out DS Lites and games to member libraries within the state. While these aren’t lent out directly to patrons, libraries request the mobile games and devices which then can be used to host a program in the library for patrons to use (Hotchkiss, Deborah, 2007).
• Library Conferences, Location Based Services. Librarian Joe Murphy shares on his blog post how he’s used location based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, and Getglue at major library conferences to create experiences for attendees to learn together and obtain rewards for playing (Murphy, Joe, 2011).
QR codes are just the beginning of how public libraries are using mobile devices for gaming. Even though gaming consoles such as the Xbox or PS3 offer so much more than just gaming such as the ability to play movies, they still have a stigma attached to them in some libraries, particularly in the difficult economic picture of recent years, that gaming isn’t a priority activity in terms of how we should be spending our time and scarce resources. However, integrating gaming with mobile devices such as phones or iPads, in libraries, might have a bit more credibility than with using a console because the mobile devices can be used for so much more. IPads, for example, could have apps that help deliver book related content in a different way. Phones can access apps that are a direct link to a library catalog or contacting a librarian. In other words, the relationship between gaming and accessing information via mobile devices might have a more obvious link to the priorities of a library such as literacy or educational success.
Because of how the economy has affected the viability of libraries in the last five years, to be innovative yet with less staff, and still deliver services that are essential to many communities, can be challenging. While video gaming has become a more mainstream activity in many public libraries, there’s still the need to prove that this is an important activity where participants are learning valued information that can’t necessarily be replicated in the same way by other organizations in the community. This isn’t to say that there is any less learning that is valued by the library going on when engaging with console gaming, but that the learning is somehow more apparent when using mobile devices because of their multiple uses and also the ability to bring geography into the picture. Many games, including scavenger hunts using smartphones or GPS units are dependent on location.
For an organization such as a library that seeks to bring people together with the larger community while integrating such things as neighborhood geography
whether through an actual location of a clue or simply anytime access to information, this can be a very powerful tool for libraries to help make these connections.
Barack, Lauren (2012). To Attract Parents and Kids, Libraries Should Think Mobile. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/01/research/to– attract– parents– and– kids– libraries– should– think– mobile/
Carlucci, Lisa. (2012). The State of Mobile in Libraries 2012. Retrieved from http://www.thedigitalshift.com/2012/02/mobile/the– state– of– mobile– in– libraries– 2012/
Danforth, Liz (2009). Mobile Gaming. Retrieved from http://blog.libraryjournal.com/gamesgamersgaming/
Find the Future at NYPL: The Game (2011). Retrieved from http://game.nypl.org/#/
Hotchkiss, Deborah (2007). South Carolina State Library Public Libraries Can Check Out Educational Game Technology. Retrieved from http://www.statelibrary.sc.gov/public– libraries– can– check– out– educational– game– technology
Karp, Josh (2010). The Chicago Public Library Helps Teens “Find History”. Retrieved from http://spotlight.macfound.org/featured– stories/entry/chicago– public– library– helps– teens– find– history/
Martin, H. Jack (2011). The New York Public Library: NYC Haunts: Bronx Teens Discover Their Neighborhood Through an Interactive Look at the Dead. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the– new– york– public– library/nyc– haunts– bronx– teens– di_b_898206.html
Murphy, Joe (2011). Foursquare & Conferences: Enhancing library conferences with Location– based services. Retrieved from http://joemurphylibraryfuture.com/foursquare– conferences/
Nelson, James. (2011). “Bubble Ball” iPhone app inventor is Utah eighth grader. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/01/20/us– whizkid– iphone– idUSTRE70J05W20110120
Tarr, Russel. (1998– 2012). How to Set up a QR Code Treasure Hunt. Retrieved from http://www.activehistory.co.uk/Miscellaneous/menus/history_mystery/qr.php
Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library– Topeka, KS Foursquare (?). Retrieved from https://foursquare.com/v/topeka– shawnee– county– public– library/4b06c23cf964a520b6ef22e3