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A Library Orientation Game?

With the summer speeding along its merry way I’ve been thinking a lot lately about student orientation. At City Tech we have what I assume is a common scenario for student orientation at commuter colleges with large student populations: students have one day for orientation during which they need to learn about the entire college and their proposed program of study. The library is but one stop on a whirlwind campus tour so we only have a few minutes with each group of students (and our campus is fairly compact). We’ve created a great handout for students that goes into their orientation packets, but there’s a limit to what we can fit on one 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper, and probably also a limit to the amount of attention that students will give to all of those papers in their orientation folder (even those printed on bright yellow paper). And at a commuter college there’s no guarantee that all students will be able to attend orientation.

Given all of these limitations, the library orientation for students seems like the perfect opportunity to create a game or use game mechanics. Orientations cover the nuts and bolts of library use: hours, layout, services, resources. These are things we know students are likely to need at some point during their college careers, but unlike with course-related research instruction, it can often be difficult to reach students with orientation-kinds of information at their point of need. Here’s an example from last semester: one day as I stepped out of my office I encountered three students sitting on the floor studying. Of course I let them know that they could use one of our group study rooms, which they were happy to do. Those rooms seem so obvious to me — they’re adjacent to the stairs that students walked up to get to the space where they sat on the floor — but clearly the students hadn’t noticed them.

Some kinds of games, like scavenger hunts or those that require players to solve a mystery, seem to lend themselves well to an orientation context, and there are lots of examples of librarians who have created orientation games along those lines. Other libraries have gone further and come up with more extensive games. At Ohio State librarians created a game called Head Hunt in which students are asked to virtually visit 11 library locations on campus to search for clues to find out who stole the head of the university’s mascot. Librarians at Cal State U at Fresno crafted a game called HML-IQ that took place over six weeks designed to both orient students to the library and included basic information literacy instruction as well.

Many of these library orientation games culminate by awarding students small prizes for completing the game, and some include a drawing or raffle for a larger prize like a gift certificate or small digital device. Other than the opportunity to learn about what the library offers that can be useful to students, there’s no real incentive for them to play an orientation game. So prizes sound good to me as they could provide an additional enticement for students to play.

There are lots of parameters to consider when creating any kind of game. How long should gameplay be? I’m thinking no more than an hour, because if the game runs longer students might lose interest or feel that they don’t have enough time to play. Should students be able to check in and out of the game over a period of days or weeks, or should the game be played straight through from start to finish? If there’s a prize we’ll need to set some time limits on the game, and I’d guess that students would be more likely to play at the beginning of the semester (or even before the start of term) than later. How can we balance game moves that require students to physically be in the library with those that can be accomplished online? (Which I assume we want, because we have services and resources available in-person and online and want students to know about both.) And, perhaps most importantly: how can we create a game that can be reused from semester to semester with only minor modifications (and associated time commitments) required by librarians?

I’ve got lots on my plate this summer so I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to do anything more than start thinking through the answers to these questions. But I’ll report back when I’ve got something more concrete, and would be interested to read suggestions or feedback in the comments.

Image credit: Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

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