The Digital Public Library of America: What Does a New Platform Mean for Academic Research?

Robert Darnton asked in the New York Review of Books blog nearly two years ago: “Can we create a National Digital Library?” 1 Anyone who recalls reference homework exercises checking bibliographic information for United States imprints versus British or French will certainly remember the United States does not have a national library in the sense of a library that collects all the works of that country and creates a national bibliography 2 Certain libraries, such as the Library of Congress, have certain prerogatives for collection and dissemination of standards 3, but there is no one library that creates a national bibliography. Such it was for print, and so it remains even more so for digital. So when Darnton asks that–as he goes on to illuminate further in his article–he is asking a much larger question about  libraries in the United States. European and Asian countries have created national digital libraries as part of or in addition to their national print libraries.  The question is: if others can do it, why can’t we? Furthermore, why can’t we join those libraries with our national digital library? The DPLA has  announced collaboration with Europeana, which has already had notable successes with digitizing content and making it and its metadata freely available. This indicates that we could potentially create a useful worldwide digital library, or at least a North American/European one.The dream of Paul Otlet’s universal bibliography seems once again to be just out of reach.

In this post, I want to examine what the Digital Public Library of America claims to do, and what approaches it is taking. It is still new enough and there are still enough unanswered questions to give any sort of final answer to whether this will actually be the national digital library. Nonetheless, there seems to be enough traction and, perhaps more importantly, funding that we should pay close attention to what is delivered in April 2013.

Can we reach a common vision about the nature of the DPLA?

The planning for the DPLA started in the  fall of 2010 when Harvard’s Berkman Center received a grant from the Sloan Foundation to begin planning the project in earnest. The initial idea was to digitize all the materials which it was legal to digitize, and create a platform that would be accessible to all people in the US (or nationally). Google had already proved that it was possible, so it seemed that with many libraries working together it would be concievable to repeat their sucesses, but with solely non-commerical motives  4.

The initials stages of planning brought out many different ideas and perspectives about the philosophical and practical components of the DPLA, many of which are still unanswered. The theme of debate that has emerged are whether the DPLA would be a true “public” library, and what in fact ought to be in such a library. David Rothman argues that the DPLA as described by Darnton would be a wonderful tool for making humanities research easy and viable for more people, but would not solve the problems of making popular e-books  accessible through libraries or getting students up-to-date textbooks. The latter two aims are much more challenging than getting access to public domain or academic materials because a lot more money is at stake 5.

One of the projects for the Audience and Content workstream is to figure out how average Americans might actually use a digital public library of America. One of the potential use cases is a student who can just use DPLA to write a whole paper on the Iriquois Nations. Teachers and librarians posted some questions about this in the comments, including questioning whether it is appropriate to tell students to use one portal for all research. We generally counsel students to check multiple sources–and getting students used to searching one place that happens to be appropriate for searching one topic may not work if the DPLA has nothing available on say, the latest computer technology.

Digital content and the DPLA

What content the DPLA will provide will surely become more clear over the following months. They have appointed Emily Gore as Director of Content, and continue to hold further working groups on content and audience. The DPLA website promises a remarkable vision for content:

The DPLA will incorporate all media types and formats including the written record—books, pamphlets, periodicals, manuscripts, and digital texts—and expanding into visual and audiovisual materials in concert with existing repositories. In order to lay a solid foundation for its collections, the DPLA will begin with works in the public domain that have already been digitized and are accessible through other initiatives. Further material will be added incrementally to this basic foundation, starting with orphan works and materials that are in copyright but out-of-print. The DPLA will also explore models for digital lending of in-copyright materials. The content that is contributed to or funded by the DPLA will be made available, including through bulk download, with no new restrictions, via a service available to libraries, museums, and archives in the United States, with use and reuse governed only by public law.  6

All of these models exist in one way or another already, however, so how is this something new?

The major purveyors of out of copyright digital book content are Google Books and HathiTrust. The potential problems with Google Books are obvious just in the name–Google is a publicly traded company with aspirations to be the hub of all world information. Privacy and availability, not to mention legality, are a few of the concerns. HathiTrust is a collective of research universities digitizing collections, many in concert with Google Books, but the full text of these books in a convenient format is generally only available to members of HathiTrust. HathiTrust faced a lawsuit from the Authors Guild about its digitization of orphan works, which is an issue the DPLA is also planning to address.

Other projects exist trying to make currently in copyright digital books more accessible, of which Unglue.it is probably best known. This requires a critical mass of people to actively work to pay to release a book into the public domain, and so may not serve the scholar with a unique research project. Some future plans for the DPLA include to obtain funds to pay authors for use–but this may or may not include releasing books into the public domain.

DPLA is not meant to include books alone. Planning so far suggests that books make a logical jumping off point. The “Concept Note” points out that “if it takes the sky as its limit, it will never get off the ground.” Despite this caution, ideally it would eventually be a portal to all types of materials already made available by cultural institutions, including datasets and government information.

Do we need another platform?

The first element of the DPLA is code–it will use open source technologies in developing a platform, and will release all code (and the tools and services this code builds) as open source software.  The so-called “Beta Sprint” that took place last year invited people to “grapple, technically and creatively, with what has already been accomplished and what still need to be developed…” 7. The winning “betas” deal largely with issues of interoperability and linked data. Certainly if a platform could be developed that solved these problems, this would be a huge boon to the library world.

Getting involved withe DPLA and looking to the future

While the governance structure is becoming more formal, there are plenty of opportunities to become involved with the DPLA. Six working groups (called workstreams) were formed to discuss content, audience, legal issues, business models, governance, and technical issues. Becoming involved with the DPLA is as easy as signing up for an  account on the wiki and noting your name and comments on the working group page in which are interested. You can also sign up mailing lists to stay involved in the project. Like many such projects, the work is done by the people who show up and speak up. If you read this and have an opinion on the direction the DPLA should take, it is not difficult to make sure your opinion gets heard by the right people.

Like all writing about the DPLA since the planning began, turning to a thought experiment seems the next logical rhetorical step. Let’s say that the DPLA succeeds to the point where all public domain books in the United States are digitized and available in multiple formats to any person in the country, and a significant number of in copyright works are also available. What does this mean for libraries as a whole? Does it make public libraries research libraries? How does it change the nature of research libraries? And lastly, will all this information create a new desire for knowledge among the American people?

References
  1. Darnton, Robert. “A Library Without Walls.” NYRblog, October 4, 2010. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/oct/04/library-without-walls/.
  2. McGowan, Ian. “National Libraries.” In Encyclopedia of Library and Information Sciences, Third Edition, 3850–3863.
  3. “Frequently Asked Questions – About the Library (Library of Congress).” Text, n.d. http://www.loc.gov/about/faqs.html#every_book
  4. Dillon, Cy. “Planning the Digital Public Library of America.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 19, no. 1 (March 2012): 101–107.
  5. Rothman, David H. “It’s Time for a National Digital-Library System.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 24, 2011, sec. The Chronicle Review. http://chronicle.com/article/Its-Time-for-a-National/126489/.
  6. “Elements of the DPLA.” Digital Public Library of America, n.d. http://dp.la/about/elements-of-the-dpla/.
  7. “Digital Public Library of America Steering Committee Announces ‘Beta Sprint’ ”, May 20, 2011. http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/newsroom/Digital_Public_Library_America_Beta_Sprint.

2012 Eyeo Festival

Tuesday June 5th through Friday June 8th 2012, 500 creatives from numerous fields such as, computer science, art, design, data visualization, gathered together to listen, converse, and participate in the second Eyeo Festival. Held in Minneapolis, MN at the Walker Art Center, the event organizers created an environment of learning, exchange, exploration, and fun. There were various workshops with some top names leading the way. Thoughtfully curated presentations throughout the day complemented keynotes held nightly in party-like atmospheres: Eyeo was an event not to be missed. Ranging from independent artists to the highest levels of innovative companies, Eyeo offered inspiration on many levels.

Why the Eyeo Festival?
As I began to think about what I experienced at the Eyeo Festival, I struggled to express exactly how impactful this event was for me and those I connected with. In a way, Eyeo is like TED and in fact, many presenters have given TED talks. Eyeo has a more targeted focus on art, design, data, and creative code but it is also so much more than that. With an interactive art and sound installation, Zygotes, by Tangible Interaction kicking off the festival, though the video is a poor substitute to actually being there, it still evokes a sense of wonder and possibility. I strongly encourage anyone who is drawn to design, data, art, interaction or to express their creativity through code to attend this outstanding creative event and follow the incredible people that make up the impressive speaker list.

I went to the Eyeo Festival because I like to seek out what professionals in other fields are doing. I like staying curious and stretching outside my comfort zone in big ways, surrounding myself with people doing things I don’t understand, and then trying to understand them. Over the years I’ve been to many library conferences and there are some amazing events with excellent programming but they are, understandably, very library-centric. So, to challenge myself, I decided to go to a conference where there would be some content related to libraries but that was not a library conference. There are many individuals and professions outside of libraries that care about many of the same values and initiatives we do, that work on similar kinds of problems, and have the same drive to make the world a better place. So why not talk to them, ask questions, learn, and see what their perspective is? How do they approach and solve problems? What is their process in creating? What is their perspective and attitude? What kind of communities are they part of and work with?

I was greatly inspired by the group of librarians who have attended the SXSWi Festival which has grown further over the years. There are a now a rather large number of librarians speaking about and advocating for libraries in such an innovative and elevated platform. There is even a Facebook Group where professionals working in libraries, archives, and museums can connect with each other for encouragement, support, and collaborations in relation to SXSWi. Andrea Davis, Reference & Instruction Librarian at the Dudley Knox Library, Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, has been heavily involved in offering leadership in getting librarians to collaborate at SXSW. She states, “I’ve found it absolutely invigorating to get outside of library circles to learn from others, and to test the waters on what changes and effects are having on those not so intimately involved in libraries. Getting outside of library conferences keeps the blood flowing across tech, publishing, education. Insularity doesn’t do much for growth and learning.”

I’ve also been inspired by librarians who have been involved in the TED community, such as Janie Herman and her leadership with Princeton Public Library’s local TEDx in addition to her participation in the TEDxSummit in Doha, Qatar. Additionally, Chrystie Hill, the Community Relations Director at OCLC, has given more than one TedX talk about libraries. Seeing our library colleagues represent our profession in arenas broader than libraries is energizing and infectious.

Librarians having a seat at the table and a voice at two of the premier innovative gatherings in the world is powerful. This concept of librarians embedding themselves in communities outside of librarianship has been discussed in a number of articles including The Undergraduate Science Librarian and In the Library With the Lead Pipe.

Highlights
Rather than giving detailed comprehensive coverage of Eyeo, you’ll see a glimpse of a few presentations plus a number of resources so that you can see for yourself some of the amazing, collaborative work being done. Presenter’s names link to the full talk that you can watch for yourself. Because a lot of the work being done is interactive and participatory in some way, I encourage you to seek these projects out and interact with them. The organizers are in the midst of processing a lot of videos and putting them up on the Eyeo Festival Vimeo channel; I highly recommend watching them and checking back for more.

Ben Fry
Principal of Fathom, a Boston based design and data visualization firm, and co-initiator of the programming language Processing, Ben Fry’s work in data visualization and design is worth delving into. In his Eyeo presentation, 3 Things, the project that most stood out was the digitization project Fathom produced for GE: http://fathom.info/latest/category/ge. Years of annual reports were beautifully digitized and incorporated into an interactive web application they built from scratch. When faced with scanning issues, they built a tool that improved the scanned results.

Jer Thorp
Data artist in residence for the New York Times, and former geneticist, Jer Thorp’s range in working with data, art, and design is far and wide. Thorp is one of the few founders of the Eyeo Festival and in his presentation Near/Far he discussed several data visualization projects with the focus on storytelling. The two main pieces that stood out from Jer’s talk was his encouragement to dive into data visualization. He even included 10 year old, Theodore Zaballos’ handmade visualization of The Illiad which was rather impressive. The other piece that stood out was his focus on data visualization in context to location and people owning their own data versus a third party. This lead into the Open Paths project he showcased. He has also presented to librarians at the Canadian library conference, Access 2011.

Jen Lowe
Jen Lowe was by far the standout from all of the amazing Ignite Eyeo talks. She spoke about how people are intrinsically inspired by storytelling and the need for those working with data to focus on storytelling through the use of visualizing data and the story it tells. She works for the Open Knowledge Foundation in addition to running Datatelling and she has her library degree (she’s one of us!).

Jonathan Harris
Jonathan Harris gave one of the most personal and poignant presentations at Eyeo. In a retrospective of his work, Jonathan covered years of work interwoven with personal stories from his life. Jonathan is an artist and designer and his work life and personal life are rarely separated. Each project began with the initial intention and ended with a more critical inward examination from the artist. The presentation led to his most recent endeavor, the Cowbird project, where storytelling once again emerges strongly. In describing this project he focused on the idea that technology and software could be used for good, in a more human way, created by “social engineers” to build a community of storytellers. He describes Cowbird as “a community of storytellers working to build a public library of human experience.”

Additional people + projects to delve into:

Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg of the Google Big Picture data visualization group. Wind Map: http://hint.fm/wind/

Kyle McDonald: http://kylemcdonald.net/

Tahir Temphill: http://tahirhemphill.com/ and his latest work, Hip Hop Word Count: http://staplecrops.com/index.php/hiphop_wordcount/

Julian Oliver: http://julianoliver.com/

Nicholas Felton of Facebook: http://feltron.com/

Aaron Koblin of the Google Data Arts Group: http://www.aaronkoblin.com/ and their latest project with the Tate Modern: http://www.exquisiteforest.com/

Local Projects: http://localprojects.net/

Oblong Industries: http://oblong.com/

Eyebeam Art + Technology Center: http://eyebeam.org/

What can libraries get from the Eyeo Festival?

Libraries and library work are everywhere at this conference. That this eclectic group of creative people were often thinking about and producing work similar to librarians is thrilling. There is incredible potential for libraries to embrace some of the concepts and problems in many of the presentations I saw and conversations I was part of. There are multiple ways that libraries could learn from and perhaps participate in this broader community and work across fields.

People love libraries and these attendees were no exception. There were attendees from numerous private/corporate companies, newspapers, museums, government, libraries, and more. I was not the only library professional in attendance so I suspect those individuals might see the potential I see, which I also find really exciting. The drive behind every presenter and attendee was by far creativity in some form, the desire to make something, and communicate. The breadth of creativity and imagination that I saw reminded me of a quote from David Lankes in his keynote from the New England Library Association Annual Conference:

“What might kill our profession is not ebooks, Amazon or Google, but a lack of imagination. We must envision a bright future for librarians and the communities they serve, then fight to make that vision a reality. We need a new activist librarianship focused on solving the grand challenges of our communities. Without action we will kill librarianship.”

If librarianship is in need of more imagination and perhaps creativity too, there is a world of wonder out there in terms of resources to help us achieve this vision.

The Eyeo Festival is but one place where we can become inspired, learn, and dream and then bring that experience back to our libraries and inject our own imagination, ideas, experimentation, and creativity into the work we do. By doing the most creative, imaginative library work we can do will inspire our communities; I have seen it first hand. Eyeo personally taught me that I need to fail more, focus more, make more, and have more fun doing it all.


Security!

“I didn’t do anything! All I did was plugged in the USB stick to see if there was a name in any documents so I can return it to its owner.”

“I kept getting pop-ups on my workstation, and I keep clicking the cancel button on all of them. Why won’t they stop popping up?”

“Six people have called in the last half hour, saying they couldn’t access The Expensive Electronic Resource. I’ve called the vendor, and they said there’s been strange activity on our IP address and their system’s not allowing us to access their site…”

Have you heard any of the above, or have others to add? If so, you’re not alone. When you’re one of the techies in an academic library, you are on the front line when things go wrong. You help people get through printing, emails, and various library systems troubleshooting, and you’re good at it. How good are you, though, in regards of dealing with library IT security?

Why bother with security? What’s at stake and what to do about it
Parody error message for an OPAC

Source: Credaro,A.B.(2002). Computer Error Messages for Library OPACs. Warrior Librarian Weekly [online]
http://www.warriorlibrarian.com/LOL/portal.html

I mean, who is that desperate to break library IT security? All we have is bibliographic records, and, really, who in the heck wants them?

The reality is that academic libraries have much to offer for those who want to break in and wreak havoc, including student and faculty data, restricted resources, and access to the campus network. And yes, there are bots out there that screen scrape MARC records from OPACs that slow systems down to a crawl when a bot is scraping away (I’ve been through my share, and they’re a pain to deal with). Though academic libraries usually have the benefit of campus IT to take care of antivirus and firewall setup and maintenance, it is up to the library staff themselves to ensure that their system is secure.

The most important thing you can do is to be proactive. Assessing loopholes in your library technology setup before an attack will not only decrease the ways that your system can be compromised but also decrease the damage done to your system if your system is compromised.

Passwords
Your campus IT has password requirements built into various campus systems including hardware; library systems usually do not see the same treatment. You also have systems not forcing password changes after a certain time. And, since these systems typically not to talk to each other, you have staff using the same password for multiple accounts. Do any of the systems or applications you use in your library have any built-in password requirements? Can the system be set to automatically require a password change after a certain amount of time? If the systems in question cannot do either of the above, you can still create password policies that will need to be manually enforced.

System logs and usage reports
System and report monitoring can help pinpoint suspicious activity as well as determine if a system has been compromised. Many of you may remember Aaron Swartz systematically downloading materials from JSTOR on the MIT network in 2011 1. Sometimes unauthorized access to a library resource happens with one person systematically downloading a huge number of materials; other times, like University of Saskatchewan found out when they looked at their reports, unauthorized access may be dispersed geographically 2. In similar situations regular monitoring of usage reports would tip off library staff of the unusual behavior and contact the vendor to relay the information before the vendor’s systems cuts off access to all users.

Servers also need monitoring for suspicious activity. If your library is responsible for its own servers, there are many server monitoring applications to choose from, like Nagios 3. In addition to monitoring server resources through these applications, depending on the server setup you will have access to a variety of system logs for your perusal. I occasionally see a bot unsuccessfully to hack into one of our servers while scanning through our system logs; however, that’s the only way I would have known about those attempts. Logs and reports might be your first sign that your system has been compromised, so it’s best to check them regularly.

Human staff

A van with "free candy" painted on its side

Any email from “Campus IT” asking for your password = the above picture. Source: https://secure.flickr.com/photos/stephen_nomura/3070133859/

The biggest security loophole in any IT environment is your average human. Humans plug in USB sticks left behind in the computer lab into their workstation, they download files from emails or websites, and they keep clicking on those flashing pop-ups. Humans are also too trustworthy – you’ve probably seen the email where “Campus IT” is asking for your password so they can increase your storage quota. Many people still email their passwords and other sensitive information because they truly believe that the email is from IT, their bank, that businessman overseas, and so on. The best way to close the human loophole is through training. Training library staff in security issues can take on many forms. For example, at our monthly library staff meeting at Grinnell College we dedicate 10-15 minutes for “Tech Topics” where we regularly cover security topics, including what to do when you think your computer is infected, passwords, and data security. Staff have access to resources covered at these meetings in our shared drive for future reference.

Unfortunately, you cannot completely close the human loophole. While you can control the staff side, you cannot prevent a student giving out their password to their friends, or a faculty member giving their password to a colleague at a different institution. Not all is lost – tightening other loopholes does help with dealing with the user loophole.

Where to start

There’s a lot to keep track of when you are tackling IT security at your library; you might feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start. Here are a few places and resources to help you start:

Campus IT: Most likely your campus IT department already has campus-wide policies on various topics, including password changes, what standards 3rd party vendors must meet when storing institutional data on off campus servers, and what to do when you suspect a networked computer is infected with a virus. Read the policies and talk to your campus IT staff to see how you can adapt their policies in your library’s specific needs.

SEC4LIB: Blake Carver, of LISNews fame, has created an online resource dedicated to library IT security. The website has a number of resources as well as a wiki with some outlines covering general IT security issues. If you find yourself with a library IT security question, there is a listserv where like-minded library staff can point you in the right direction.

Here!: Does your library have a security policy or action plan? Do you have a security horror story that you want others to learn from your mistake? Share them in the comments below.

  1. Schwartz, John. “Open-Access Advocate is Arrested for Huge Download.” New York Times, Jul 20, 2011. http://search.proquest.com/docview/878013667?accountid=7379.
  2. White, Heather Tones. “Electronic Resources Security: A look at Unauthorized Users.” Code4Lib Journal 12 (December 2010): http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/4117.
  3. Silver, T. Michael. “Monitoring Network and Service Availability with Open-Source Software.” Information Technology & Libraries 29, no. 1 (March 2010): 8-22.

Why Gamify and What to Avoid in Library Gamification

In my last post, “Applying Game Dynamics to Library Services,” I presented several ideas for applying game dynamics to library services. After the post, I have received a comment like this, which I thought worthwhile to further explore.

  • What about the risk of gamification – the fact that it can deprive people of internal motivation for serious activities by offering superficial external rewards?

We tend to associate the library with learning, research, scholarship, and something serious. By contrast, games make us think of fun. For this reason, it is natural to worry about a library or any library-related activities such as reading, studying, researching becoming frivolous and trivial by gamification. In an effort to address this concern, I will point out that (a) gamification is a society-wide trend (and as such, highly likely to become not so frivolous after all), (b) what to avoid in gamifying libraries, and (c) what the limit of gamification is in this post. The key to successful gamification is to harness its impressive power while being fully aware of its limit so that you won’t overestimate what you can achieve with it.

Why gamify?

SCVNGR plans to create a game platform as Facebook built a social platform.

Gamification is not just a hot topic in libraries or higher education. It is a much bigger society-wide trend. In a similar way in which Facebook has evolved from a single website to practically ‘the’ social platform and layer of the real world with over 900 million active users as of May 2012, now a game layer is slowly being built on top of the real world. Just as the social layer effectively fused social elements into the world, the game layer brings gaming elements into reality. A game layer that we can compare to Facebook has not yet emerged. Nor is clear how far gamification will penetrate our daily activities. But we can imagine what a semi-universal social platform is going to be like from location-based smartphone apps such as Foursquare and Gowalla. Instead of building a virtual world for a game, these apps gamify the real world. Our mundane everyday activities in the non-game context turn into gaming opportunities for rewards like badges, points, rankings, and statuses.

But why apply game design elements to the non-game context in the first place? The short answer is that people are more motivated, engaged, and often achieve more in games than in the real world. Why are people better at a game than in real life? It is because games offer an environment intentionally designed to provide people with optimal experience by means of various gaming mechanisms and dynamics. Games make people perform better in the way the real world does not. It was in this context that a game designer and game studies researcher, Jane McGonigal, stated that reality is broken.”1 Gamification aims at extracting those game mechanisms and apply them to reality in order to make the real world experience more interesting and engaging.

Gabe Zichermann’s definition of gamificaion as “the process of game-thinking and game mechanics to engage users and solve problems” expresses the goal of gamification well.2 In this definition lies a good answer to the question of why libraries need to pay attention to games and game dynamics. Game dynamics can raise library users’ level of engagement with library resources, programs, and services. They can help library users to solve problems more effectively and quickly by making the process fun. A good example of such gamification is the NCSU Mobile Scanvenger Hunt, which was described in the previous post here in ACRL TechConnect blog.

What to avoid in library gamification

Since games can induce strong motivation and spur a high level of productivity, it is easy to overestimate the power of game dynamics. Perhaps, everything we do will turn into a game one day and we will be the slaves of omnipresent games that demand ever more motivation and productivity than we can summon! However, not all games are fun or worth playing. Designing good game experiences is nothing but easy.

The first thing to avoid in gamification is poor gamification. Gamification can easily backfire if it is poorly designed. Creating a library game or gamifying certain aspects of a library doesn’t guarantee that it will be successful with its target group. Games that are too challenging or too boring are both poorly designed games. Naturally, it is much more difficult to design and create a good game than a bad one. The quality of the game – i.e. how fun it is – can make or break your library’s gamification project.

Second, one can over-gamify and make everything into a game. This is quite unlikely to happen at a library. But it is still important to remember that people’s attention is limited in amount. The more information we have to process and digest, the scarcer our attention becomes. If a library offers many different games or a variety of gamified experiences all at once, users may become overwhelmed and tired. For this reason, in pioneering the application of game dynamics to libraries, the best approach might be to start small and simple.

Third, a game that is organization-centered rather than user-centered can be worse than no game at all. A game with organization-centered design uses external rewards to increase the organization’s bottom line in the short term.3 Games designed this way attempt to control behavior with rewards. Once users feel the game is playing them rather than they are playing the game, however, they are likely to have a negative feeling towards the game and the organization. While a library doesn’t have the goal of maximizing profits like a business, which can easily drive a business to lean towards organization-centered gamification, it is entirely possible for a library to design a game that is too heavily focused on the educational aspect of the game, for example. Such gamification is likely to result in lukewarm responses from library patrons if what they are looking for is fun more than anything else. This doesn’t mean that gamification cannot make a significant contribution to learning. It means that successful gamification should bring out learning as a natural by-product of pleasant and fun experiences, not as a forced outcome.

Harnessing the power of game dynamics

Games are played for fun, and the fun comes from their being ‘not’ real life where one’s action comes with inconvenient real-world consequences. For this reason, when a goal other than fun is imposed on it, the game begins to lose its magical effect on motivation and productivity.  It is true that games can achieve amazing things. For example, the game FoldIt revealed the structure of a specific protein that long eluded biochemists.4 But people played this game not because the result would be revolutionary in science but because it was simply fun to play.

It is probably unrealistic to think that every task and project can be turned into a fun game. However, games can be used to make not-so-fun work into something less painful and even enjoyable to some degree, particularly when we lack motivation. In his book, Game Frame, Aaron Dignan cites the story of tennis player Andre Agassi.5 Agassi played a mental game of imagining the tennis ball machine as a black dragon spitting balls in an attempt to smite him. He did not hit 2,500 balls a day purely because it was fun. But by making the grueling practice into a game in his mind and tying the game with his own real-life goal of becoming a successful tennis player, he was able to endure the training and make the progress he needed.

In applying game dynamics to library services and programs, we can take either of two approaches:

  1. The ultimate goal can be simply having fun in some library-related context. There is nothing wrong with this, and at minimum, it will make the library a more friendly and interesting place to patrons.
  2. Or, we can utilize game dynamics to transform a more serious task or project (such as learning how to cite literature for a research paper) into something less painful and even enjoyable.

 

Gamification with little investment

Budge, a gamification website

Gamification is still a new trend. A pioneering gamification app, Gowalla lost to Foursquare in competition and was acquired by Facebook last December, and it is yet to be seen how Facebook will put Gowalla to use. Another gamification tool, Budge is closing down at the end of this month. For this reason, those who are interested in trying a gamification project at a library may wonder if the result will be worth investment.

In this early stage of gamification, it will be useful to remember that gamification doesn’t necessarily require complicated technology or huge investment. For example, you can run a successful game in your library instruction class with a pencil and paper. How about rewarding your library patrons who write to your library’s Facebook page and get most “likes” by other patrons? Or perhaps, a library can surprise and delight the first library patron who checks in your library’s Foursquare or Yelp page by offering a free coffee coupon at the library coffeeshop or simply awarding the Early-Bird badge? In gamification, imagination and creativity can go a long way.

What are your gamification ideas that can engage library patrons and enliven their library experience without huge investment? Share them with us here!

Notes
  1. Jane McGonigal. Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.  (New York: Penguin Press, 2011), 3.
  2. Gabe Zichermann and Christopher Cunningham. Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2011), xiv.
  3.  The distinction between games with organization-centered design vs. those with user-centered is from Scott Nicholson, “A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification,” (pre-print) http://scottnicholson.com/pubs/meaningfulframework.pdf.
  4. Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, “Foldit Game Leads to AIDS Research Breakthrough.” CNET, Sep. 19, 2011, http://news.cnet.com/8301-27083_3-20108365-247/foldit-game-leads-to-aids-research-breakthrough/.
  5. Aaron Dignan, Game Frame: Using Games as a Strategy for Success, (New York: Free Press, 2011), 80.

Diversity Recruitment in Library Information Technology

“A study of innovation in corporations found that the most innovative companies deliberately established diverse work teams (Kanter, 1983).” 

The above quote is from a book length treatment on innovation in the workplace, this finding underscores the need to recruit diverse perspectives in order to sustain innovation. Past reports on Racial and ethnic diversity in libraries are an unsettling read for me personally. These include the Racial and Ethnic Diversity among Librarians: a status report, and the Diversity Counts study. I can see clearly from reading these two documents that diversity has not reached rates that makes us an inclusive profession. Take a look at the diversity counts report and you’ll learn that one of the issues librarianship faces is not simply recruiting into the profession, but also keeping diverse perspectives in libraries as well.

I am, at present, winding down a two-year stint on my library’s Equal Employment Opportunity Committee. In this role I personally attend every search committee kick-off meeting. With the number of retirements in the library we’ve been hiring at an ambitious rate. At every search committee kick-off meeting, I suggest ways to recruit for diversity into the library; making and extending invitations to apply by way of personal contacts to diverse candidates seem to get the best results in terms of building a diverse pool of applicants.

Merely posting to the American Library Association caucasus’ list serves, these include the American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific American Librarians Association, Black Caucus of the American Library Association, Chinese American Librarians Association, The National Association to Promote Library & Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish Speaking (REFORMA) does not in itself result in a diverse pool of candidates– that is a rather passive approach to diversity recruiting.

One area I wanted to ask the readership here about is intentional recruiting for Library IT jobs. By diversity in recruiting, I take diversity to include (as set by my campus Office of Equal Opportunity and Access), in entry level IT jobs include goals for both women and minoritiesHispanic or Latino (A person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rico, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race); American Indian or Alaskan Native – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) who maintains cultural identification through tribal affiliation or community attachment; Asian – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian Subcontinent, including, for example, Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippine Islands, Thailand, and Vietnam; Black or African American – A person having origins in any of the black racial groups of Africa; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – A person having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands. 

But to continually define terminology is to sidestep the bigger issue which I turn to: the number of diverse perspectives we generally find in library information technology settings is few. My concern is that libraries and the profession as a whole will become conservative and homogenous and ineffective in meeting twenty-first century challenges if it doesn’t take sustained and intentional strides to implement diversity recruitment in library information technology settings.

With funding from a University of Illinois Library Innovation Grant, I hired and am actively working with a team of student diversity interns who are doing library information technology work. I advertised in a number of locations, including the undergrad library blog; the informatics program web-board; campus virtual job board; and numerous registered student organizations.

 

minrva team, summer 2012

The students have built mobile software modules and are also investigating article search inside of mobile applications. Over a series of 8 weeks they are all now proficient Java coders, and can implement RESTful web services in a Tomcat/Jersey servlet. Their work will be showcased to the library next week–a few students were interested in Drupal experience, so they built a Drupal instance on my Linode here: http://minrvaproject.org

While the summer internships will be funded into the fall semester, we (the university library) are specifically hoping to understand how to broaden and build the diversity recruitment for library information technology.

By the end of the grant the innovation questions that we hope to answer include:

1)    How to recruit individuals with diverse backgrounds into library information technology positions?

2)    How individuals with technical backgrounds from two-year schools can be recruited into library IT positions?

3)    What types of mentoring support and transitional initiatives are necessary to create bridges between two-year programs and graduate study in library and information science?

Recent work (see for example the student coded Minrva app) with undergraduate student software teams has shown that students who have earned two-year degrees (associate level) in software engineering or programming will be valuable to library service development. These students have shown to be particularly effective in developing micro-services that could support library wide production environments. Students with these practical backgrounds have much to offer the University Library particularly as it turns its focus to discovery layers that are a part of the new strategic plan– the outputs of student work that this grant will fund supports Goal 1 – Provide access to and discovery of, library content and collections.

What library IT diversity recruitment are you doing in your library? Do you address this gap in diversity with sustained support?

Cited

Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. The Change Masters: Innovations For Productivity In The American Corporation. New York : Simon And Schuster, 1983. Print.

Consulted

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Office of Equal Opportunity and Access – http://oeoa.illinois.edu/resources.html

How to diversify the faculty - http://oeoa.illinois.edu/SupportingDocs/HowToDiversifyTheFaculty.pdf