Library Scavenger Hunt Postmortem

Last July I blogged about wanting to create a library game for our new student orientation at City Tech this Fall. As is all-too-common over the summer, time got the better of me and I didn’t have a chance to create the game I’d initially wanted to. Which is okay! What I did do, instead, is create a smaller game — a scavenger hunt — to playtest some game concepts I might want to include in a bigger game, with an eye towards expanding the game for Fall 2013 (or maybe even Spring 2013).

For the full-fledged game I want the overarching goal to be to solve a mystery about the history of City Tech:

– because the game needs content, and learning more about the college is something that’s (hopefully) interesting and relevant to all students, regardless of their major, career aspirations, and outside interests
– because lots of other academic library orientation games use this basic structure, and it seems to be a successful model

One side effect of a game centered on a mystery about the college is that it could go a small way towards making students feel more connected with the City Tech community, which I think is always a good goal at a commuter college.

That’s my overarching goal, but this is a game about learning to use the library, so what are the library-related goals? I’d like students to learn:

– the basic layout of the physical library
– our main service points and what you can do there
– the basic layout of the library website
– where to ask for help when they need it

It’s tempting to try and shove some other goals in there — how use the databases to find peer-reviewed articles, e.g. — but I think that’s too much for a game that should ideally be completable in one hour or less. We’ve got other opportunities to teach students research skills and information literacy competencies, and I think we should keep the orientation simple and straightforward.

For the smaller game I decided on a scavenger hunt primarily as a way to test some of the game moves that require students to be in the library. I wanted students to be able to complete the hunt in no more than 30 minutes. I needed the clues to fit on one sheet of paper with enough room for students to write their name and contact info to submit their completed game forms for a prize drawing (the prize was a $50 gift certificate to the City Tech Bookstore). We promoted the game by handing out game forms at the New Student Orientation Info Fair as well as by leaving a stack of forms with a sign on a table just outside the entrance to the library. The game was available for the first 3 weeks of this semester, and students returned their completed game forms to a box at the Reference Desk.

Coming up with questions for the scavenger hunt that would meet as many of my game goals as possible was more challenging than I’d anticipated. I wanted students to walk around the library and see what we have to offer, but it wasn’t initially clear to me what they should do when they got there. My first draft of the scavenger hunt asked students to provide some information about each service point, for example, how many staff members work there or how many computers are available. But a colleague wisely pointed out that those questions were, well, pretty lame. We brainstormed a bit more and came up with a new idea: we’d include a floorplan for the 2 floors of the library and ask students to label library features on the map. It was a bit of a scramble to come up with an editable image file of a floorplan, but ultimately I was able to find something usable (if rough — I’d certainly rework it in the future).

I’m pleased to say that most of the students who submitted the game form were able to successfully complete the scavenger hunt. Most of them correctly labeled the library locations on their maps, located a book on the shelf and found the call number of the book next to it, and answered a question about the Student Services page on the library website. However, the number of students who entered was… on the low side. Of the 500 copies of the game form we handed out, only 9 students submitted their completed forms to enter the prize drawing. (Sigh.)

So, what happened? I’d guess that the biggest factor is interest: despite the prize drawing, it just may not seem all that interesting to students to spend 30 minutes on a library scavenger hunt. In some ways this gets at the heart of the library orientation issue: we’ve got so many great services and resources for students as they move through their college careers, but if they’ve never encountered an academic library before they may not realize how much we can help them.

I also suspect that we let the game run for too long. Students who picked up the form right before classes started may have put it away thinking that they didn’t need to worry about it, since the game ran for 3 weeks, and ultimately may have forgotten about it. I also missed getting the form ready in time to be included in the student orientation folders, which would have been another opportunity to recruit players (especially those who didn’t stay for the Info Fair on orientation day).

Regardless of the low participation rate, I think the library scavenger hunt pilot this semester gave me some good information about how to create a library orientation game. I’m looking forward to continuing to iterate on these ideas in the future (and I welcome any suggestions or feedback!).