Sharing is caring; a Jolt from Lancaster

The Innovation Group recently had the pleasure of a visit by Masud Khokar (Head of Digital Innovation at Lancaster University Library) and Tim Leonard (Academic Liaison Librarian). Masud and Tim came to share their experiences of leading on innovation at Lancaster and of the student innovation competition Jolt the Library.

Lancaster University Library

Lancaster University Library

Tim covered Jolt the Library, Lancaster University Library’s  competition “to find an innovative idea to improve the student experience at the Library.” Sounds familiar? It should do as Tim alluded to the help Nick Campbell (Academic Engagement Librarian) and Lorraine Beard (Head of Digital Technologies and Services) where able to provide following the Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge events here at Manchester.

For Jolt, the Library teamed up with Lancaster’s Innovation Hub, a team of two from their Information System Services department (P.S. have a look the their projects for a ton of ideas). The winning Jolt idea resulted in Darma smart cushions being deployed across the Library. Interestingly submissions to Jolt had a similar theme to those we received to Eureka! with ideas on improving wayfinding, health and well being and methods to improve usage of space.

Lancaster too implemented a range of quick-win ideas; borrowable noise cancelling headphones, adjustable height desks and loanable laptop charging plugs. All told Lancaster found Jolt a powerful way to collaborating with students. I think the question for us and Lancaster is how to transpose the high engagement we get with these big-bang events, which take a lot of planning and resources to more agile, iterative and ongoing processes.

Darma smart cushion and app

Darma smart cushion and app

Masud then took us through the Library Journey’s Project. This was an ethnographic study, using a smartphone app and distributed smart beacons to map customer journeys around the newly refurbished Library. They used 110 Kontakt iBeacons (preferring them to the Estimote beacons we’ve played with). Next steps for the project could be to link up to the wifi and enable contextual information to be pushed to people through the app (“your friend is in the cafe nearby!”). As a recent study into using wifi data to understand Library space usage at the University of Sussex you will run into a data privacy and ethical minefield, but hopefully one through which we can smooth a furrow of benefit for Library users.

Kontakt smart beacon

Kontakt smart beacon

The Innovation Hub have built their own gamification platform called BackPack, not too dissimilar an idea to BookedIn. BackPack has an open API meaning other University systems can hook in and integrate with the badges and rewards system. With plans to integrate with their VLE and beyond and to award a physical certificate if you earn enough badges, this is one to watch.

Tacking towards staff engagement with innovation, Masud covered his lead on ‘Embedding Innovation – transformation from within’. Lancaster have the innovation group as a cross departmental, safe place for staff to voice opinion. Initially the group will focus on problem solving but the plan is to take a broader view on innovation as the group develops.

Overall it was fantastic that the Lancaster University Library took the time to share their experiences so openly. It gave us a lot to think about:

  • What can we do at Manchester to embed innovation and horizon scanning across the whole Library?
  • How can we build in collaboration with customers to more of our ongoing activity (usability testing and human centered design, for example?)
  • What other methods (tech and non) can we employ to understand how people use the Library spaces and how they feel when in the Library?
  • How do we get a good balance of outward collaboration (other Universities, JISC, NoWAL or wider) and focusing on driving efficiencies and innovation internally, with the resource we have?

Much to think about. Oh and also, they’ve built their campus in Minecraft.


View counts shoot through the photo sphere

I’ve mentioned Google photo spheres in a previous post. But I want to touch on them again as the total views for some photo spheres I added to Google maps last year passes 41,000.

photosphere views

Unfortunately the stats aren’t more granular than the view count otherwise I may be able to try and work out who was viewing them. Prospective students checking out Manchester or just the general populace?

Photo spheres aren’t anything too clever. Just the next step along from the photos and panoramas you can contribute to Google Maps already. Most new smartphones allow you to take 360 degree photo spheres with the out-the-box camera app. But one nice feature is that the latest Google Street View app works with Google Cardboard allowing you to take virtual tours around the Google mapped planet via your low-tech VR solution.


Let’s go indoors

One of the developments I do like is taking Google’s Street Views off road. You can now explore inside buildings, up mountains and even along the Inca Trail all under the Street View umbrella. The non-road based Street Views are not a new development having started way back in 2010, but we’re starting to see more interesting uses. In November 2015 The British Museum launched its interactive museum tour allowing you to peruse the museum and artifacts from the comfort of your armchair.

British Museum

It’s part of Google’s Cultural Institute project in which they’ve been busy working with organisations from across the globe to make cultural assets explorable via digital mediums.

Even our own Manchester City Council is getting in on the custom street view action, having Street View’d (new verb I invented) the Christmas Markets back in November.

In fact as an academic Library we’re behind the curve as colleagues at the University of Sheffield already ‘Street View indoor’d several of their buildings back in 2013. Here is their Information Commons:

 Why map indoors?

People are nosy and we like to poke around. But there are practical benefits too. It allows prospective students to get a feel for the environments of their potential Universities. I’ve found it useful for getting the heads-up on a place I’m going for a meeting or conference. It gives you an edge of confidence when you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. Street viewing indoors may also help with wayfinding. Perhaps we could find some clever way to link up the location of a book or group study room with a fly through to ‘take’ you virtually to your destination?

How do I see these indoor maps and photo spheres?

‘See Inside’s and photo spheres are all over Google maps. All you need to do is grab the little orange guy and hover over the map. See insides are orange dots whilst photo spheres are blue:

See Inside

The option to ‘See inside’ also appears if your top Google search result is related to a building or business which has been Street View’d indoors:

See Inside from Google search

Any concerns?

Security concerns have been raised. For example, all these maps indoors and out could help people plan criminal acts. But on the other hand I know from speaking to a Police officer friend they make much use of Street View when planning raids and so forth. I suppose it’s beneficial for everyone!

 How do I contribute photos to Google maps?

If you’ve got photos or photo spheres of a place you want to share, first you search for said place in Google maps and then you click the ‘Add a photo’. It takes a few days for Google to approve it before it shows up.

add a photo

So explore, snap happy and share. Just remember it’s no substitute for the real world. And I wonder, once our drone laws are untangled there could be a move to add another layer to Google’s map – if they criss-cross the country with flying 360 cameras… watch the skies!

 Further reading


Tools and trends on the horizon

Ciaran: A couple of years ago Ros and I attended a Tools and trends on the horizon workshop run by Martin Bryant at the Cornerhouse. Whilst there I learned we would soon all be paying for taxis via our mobile phone and finding holiday accommodation in stranger’s spare room. “Hmm,” I thought, “the public isn’t quite ready for all this new fangled gizmology”.

Ros: Can anyone imagine life without Uber now? It’s been over a year and a half now and I could not face it if I was asked to look at the total amount I’ve spent with them. Even thinking about it makes me feel a bit ill.

Ciaran: My assertions proved roundly incorrect. Now that I see disruptive innovations buzz down my street to deliver trendy burgers every day, I thought I had better attend this year’s event at HOME.

So, we’ll share these horizon gazers with you and we can reflect a year down the line and see which were zingers and which crashed drone-like into a tree.

You will be talking to your tech

Ciaran: Voice dialing has been around since the Nokia 3310, but with the likes of Siri and Google Now it has become marginally more acceptable to talk to your devices. The Amazon Echo will sit in your living room like HAL Home edition and respond to the voice commands of your family. Watch the promo video (and try not to think of it as the start of a Black Mirror episode)

Ros: There’s also a couple of predictable and dated stereotypical gender roles in there too, so watch out for them and get ready to roll your eyes.

With everything Echo can do, it’s really become part of the family…

Apps becoming more like the web


Ciaran: The ability to link from app to app will improve. Not just opening one app from another, but taking useful data across. For example, calendar app Sunrise can figure out you’ve got a meeting in Building X, and link through to CityMapper passing the start and end points of you journey to seamlessly present the best options for travel.

Ros: Citymapper and Sunrise are part of my daily routine and my life would be a lot more awkward without them. The in-app linking is beyond useful. Maybe in the future we’ll be able to build our own apps out of bits of other apps. Like a an app dashboard. In fact that can probably be done with some apps already…

App streaming

Ciaran: Google is looking at streaming apps direct to your phone, avoiding the need to install anything. Essentially the app will be running ‘in the cloud’ but you will be getting the app content and functionality fed to your phone.

Ros: Hmm, I wasn’t quite convinced with this one. I don’t understand the usefulness, I suppose.

Be careful with security

Ciaran: This was as much advice as it was a look at trends. With a disturbing number of high profile hacks this year, companies are going to have to take security more seriously. Martin opined that we as consumers should be holding companies to account rather than shrugging and moving on.

Ros: Yes! Security online is horribly underplayed. There was some attention in the media when Jennifer Lawrence had private photos hacked, but a lot of chat around that situation was, “If you don’t want people to see stuff, don’t send it via the Internet”. There was a great deal of cynical comments similar to this, without any real attention being paid to the fact that everyone sends information they don’t want public, over the Internet every day. Every. Day.

Ciaran: Biohacks attempt to use behavioural biometrics to monitor how you use your device normally and then kick in if it thinks you’ve been compromised.

Ros: Yes! This is really interesting. The angle at which you hold your device, the speed at which you type, lots of small, seemingly insignificant metrics that can be clues to if you’ve been hacked. Incredible.

 1 hour delivery

Ciaran: Already ‘a thing’ in places like San Francisco (Instacart, Postmates), but Martin reckons the UK might be ready for (and willing to pay for) 1 hour deliveries. We’re not just talking food here, but, a coffee, some washing powder, some AA batteries or whatever you happen to need quickly.

Ros: Deliveroo is a Postmates style company, which delivers restaurant food to your door. It’s expensive, but great if you don’t fancy leaving the house or cooking. While I was in SF in December Last year, we used Postmates, and found the level of service to be very much dependent on the delivery person…

Ciaran: Amazon offer 1-hour delivery in London, so we can watch with interest to see if this spreads via a swarm of fixies across the UK.

Ros: Yeah, I think this is a matter of time. My friend in London LOVES Amazon Now. Loves it. He uses it regularly. It’s more expensive than normal shopping, but it is incredibly convenient. It would be great to see some competition to Amazon springing up, though I doubt this is going to happen.


Using your smartphone as a wallet

Ciaran: With the likes of Apple Pay (Android Pay has no UK release date yet), the Starbucks app (although the pre-order functionality is London only #NorthSouthDivide) and now Manchester’s own Get Me There app allowing you to jump on a tram without a physical ticket – there really is no need to reach for your purse/wallet.

Until your battery runs out.

Ros: Edinburgh does this! Buses in Edinburgh use mobile tickets which you buy via an app. I’m excited about the proposition of a ticket/travel app, but it will only work if it’s accepted by all of Manchester’s many, many travel companies.

A new way of charging

Ciaran: USB-C will replace USB for pretty much everything. Nuff said.

Ros: My OnePlus 2 already uses USB-C. Let me tell you it is not an easy cable to get hold of on the high street. One USB-C cable in Maplin costs £25. That’s just the cable, not the plug. Ridiculous.

 Goodbye to ads?

Ciaran: Use of adblocking apps and extensions, such as Crystal, are on the rise. And now some mobile ISPs are considering blocking ads at the network level. If this was enabled the ads embedded in webpages wouldn’t even reach your phone, meaning quicker loading times.

Ros: How is this a bad thing for users? It isn’t. Marketing people on the other hand… They might have to think of a different way of handling sales.

Ciaran: Also, like Martin pointed out in his capacity as editor for The Next Web, is this will hit the revenue streams of many websites. No ads = no website? It is likely to lead to an interesting debate and could force content providers to consider alternate funding models.

Tech companies will curate your news feed

Ciaran: With Facebook’s Instant Articles and Twitter’s Moments, our news is starting to be pushed to us ‘in app’ rather than linking out to a full article. Ostensibly getting news via the apps you use already appears to be a good thing, but to what extent do you trust the tech giants not to filter out stories which paint them less favourably?

Ros: Urgh. No. No thanks. Twitter moments is a good idea,  this is the function that allows you to “subscribe” to a situation live as it happens. But I have no real interest in reading company news for the perspective of the company.

Cars as a hacker target

Ciaran: When hackers demonstrated they could remotely hijack a Jeep earlier this year it lead to an incredibly expensive product recall and firmware flash.

Expect car centric cyber security to get mentioned in the coming 12 months.

Ros: as someone who doesn’t drive, this is both amazing and terrifying!



Ciaran: ok, so from trends to tools. Nuzzel (Android, Apple) curates your news feed based on what you friends are sharing across your various social platforms. Do I trust my friends to be sharing the most relevant news any more than the tech companies…?

Ros: I installed this when Martin told us about it, but I haven’t used it yet. I wonder if that’s beacuse I forgot it was there, or because I don’t really need it. I’ll give it a go and get back to you.


Ciaran: Ros has already sold me on this as the best way to get around the city. I’m particularly intrigued that it can hook into your smartwatch and will vibrate at the moment you need to alight from the bus!

Ros: YES! It’s brilliant. It’s also really great if you’re not hot on getting around London. It’s ultra-reliable.

Google Photos

Ciaran: this is something I use, without really realising I do. My photos sync with Google Photos. And in the background it is doing smart photo image recognition and realising my pictures have bikes or cars or weddings in them.

google now

Ros: This is a problem for me currently, because I’m using Android Oxygen, and it doesn’t come with a photo organiser.  I’m not particularly keen on having my photos uploaded to the cloud instantly, though. I don’t know why… I guess I don’t want to discover that photos have been uploaded to Google+ because I wasn’t paying attention to what I was agreeing to, a constant fear of mine. Though your Google photos make you look like you live in an advert, Ciaran. I wonder if it’ll do that to mine too?

Hotel tonight

Ciaran: well this one probably has more to do with Martin’s jet set lifestyle, but is apparently good for last minute deals. For the sake of brevity I’ll race through the rest…

Periscope – Twitter owned app for live streaming. Apparently some of the content is NSFW. Similar to an Android version called Meerkat.

Ros: I don’t know if Periscope will be around in this format for long.

Slack – In a style similar to that of online collaboration tool Basecamp, Slack attempts to pull together all of your inter-company comms into one manageable place.

Ros: I use Slack for everything and I love it. The chatroom style set up can take some getting used to, but the search function is brilliant and it has a lot of IFTTT integrations that you can basically make it do whatever you want. Highly recommended.

TunnelBear – easy to use VPN for secure online browsing. Good for when you don’t trust the open wifi.

Password managers LastPass, OnePassword and Dashlane to help manage all of those accounts.

Let’s finish with a video of Amazon’s much touted Prime Air.

Well, we’ve covered a lot of tech there. Let’s see what happens during 2016! In the meantime, as a respite, I’m going up to the roof to throw paperbacks at drones.

Can you break down the barriers to learning, teaching and research?

Do you have an idea for how technology can support access and inclusion for the UK’s learners, staff and researchers?

Students using a PC
JISC are running a competition ‘Accessible by Design‘, inviting you to pitch ideas which could overcome accessibility issues and improve the experience for learners and researchers.

The winning idea receives £5000 in funding and support from JISC to turn concept into a reality. Video pitches must be submitted via the JISC Elevator page before 26th October.

Recent ideas include a more accessible version of YouTube and an ebook to capture the digital stories of students with Specific Learning Difficulties. For further inspiration have a look at some of the ideas which have been submitted to recent JISC Elevator projects.

Information about the competition can be found on the pages below:

If you would like any help submitting an idea contact the Innovation Group and we’d be happy to help.

2015: A Space Odyssey

Academic Libraries are amidst a sea of change and challenges. Open Access, new publishing models, self-publishing models, research data management, local systems moving to the cloud, big data, competition from Google, mobile apps, therapy dogs , linked data, restructures; a mix of opportunities and ideas through which the Library is striving to support students, staff, research and the community as best we possibly can using the resources available. But for all we might think we’ve found the Next Big Thing, there is one thing which still rides high in every survey, consultancy or conversation in the queue for coffee:


I need a desk. We need a study room. I can’t find a computer. A chair and a desk.

“…it can be difficult to find an available computer at peak times and there is also over demand for group study rooms and more informal group work spaces…”

“More space in the Learning Commons, seriously there is never a free seat in there to work.”

Source: Library customers’ experiences and perceptions report at The University of Manchester Library (January 2014)

Alan Gilbert Learning Commons

We opened the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons in October 2012 and one might think it would have reduced the demand for space at the Main Library. No such luck. Especially during the exam periods both buildings are chock full of students. The first thing we do with Exam Extra is open up more rooms and flood the spaces with additional tables and chairs. Could we keep on creating new spaces like the Learning Commons? I’d suggest, much like the adage “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, so the numbers of students would expand so as to fill the space available. Plus it would get quite expensive quite quickly.

Undergraduate visits per day May 2015

What can we do to solve the space issue?

What have we already done? First off we put it to the guys who are infinitely more creative than we can be. In May 2013 student Jade Brodie won the Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge. Jade’s issue was never being able to find a study space or, more frustratingly, finding a space which someone had left all their bits on but vacated to attend a lecture or meet friends or go shopping. Her solution was bookable study spaces. An idea which won the competition, was developed and became Book a space, now piloting in the Main Library. You can book a desk in advance and view the availability from anywhere in the world.

Book a space availability

As well as increasing the numbers of study spaces in the Main Library, during the January and June exam periods 2015 we attempted to direct students to the areas with available spaces more intelligently. Based on the whiteboard, marker pen and walkie-talkie system the Customer Services team had employed in the Summer 2014 exams period where roving Library staff called in availability from around the building (“Breaker! Breaker! We’ve got 3 spaces available on Blue 2! Over!”). Now we had a live webpage showing the space availability around the Library.

Main Library space availability

But you still needed roving staff manually updating the figures in the backend system using an iPad. It’s expensive to have Library staff roving the floors and using time they could be helping customers in more valuable ways.

What are other Universities doing to enable better use of space?

Birckbeck, University of London found the perception of space usage differed from the reality. Whilst students felt there were never enough available study spaces at peak times, the evidence showed that capacity only reached 75-80% occupancy. How to bridge the gap between the perception and the reality? Birckbeck opted for OccupEye.

Essentially an occupancy detecting unit on the underside of each desk relaying the data back to a central system which can then indicate currently availability.

The University of Stirling bring together their entry gate stats, PC occupancy and study space availability to give the Entrytron 4000. An infographical overview of space availability displayed to customers on a digital display as they enter the building.

The University of Cambridge have begun prototyping the SpaceFinder app aiming to “connect their users to the right spaces”:

The SpaceFinder concept, currently in an early prototyping stage, addresses the problem of finding the right type of space in which to work by connecting people with places based on bespoke criteria. Students who use it would be able read reviews of various spaces written by their peers and filter by the criteria that is important to them.

Source: University of Cambridge Futurelib blog

It’s an idea I will follow with interest as it looks less about managing discrete study slots but more about using amalgamated qualitative data by the people who actually use the Library spaces. Which links to taking a more anthropological approach to Libraries and spaces.

The J. Murrey Atkins Library at UNC Charlotte are fortunate to have ethnographer Donna Lanclos on the books. The research Donna is involved with makes for fascinating reading, producing wonderful layered heatmaps depicting different types of space usage based on the observations of the researcher.

Atkins Library space usage

Image: Donna Lanclos via the Anthropologist in the Stacks blog

So rather than drawing too many conclusions on space usage from gate stats, you objectively observe and question what people are doing in a space, which may then point you to the root of why there are X many people in particular areas of the Library.

Springer’s final thoughts

The whole topic of space and human interaction is one Libraries are taking increasingly seriously. And one that can no longer be confined to either physical or digital offerings. The recent User Experience in libraries conference (UX Lib) covers both, and looks to have given more of an emphasis to ethnographers and anthropologists.

The relationship between Libraries, space and people is always going to be challenging. It’s different to providing lecture theatres and classrooms for a fixed number of people. The Library aims to be a friendly face to all the disciplines, stretching it’s resources to cater for the many. And it’s not just undergraduates we should provide for. The NMC Horizon Report 2014 touches on the provision of multidisciplinary collaborative research spaces as one of the longer term challenges Libraries face.

I feel there’s a tension between some of the well meaning gatekeeper technology that sits between student and space. Do you lose some of the serendipitous happenings if you have to think ahead to when and where you want to study? Or is it good practice for the time management and organisation skills you need in the world of work? Technology wise there’s a wealth of possibilities on the horizon, the Internet Of Things, Smart Buildings, augmented reality could all have a part to play. But I think the winning solutions need to be pervasive yet subtle, uniting people and space without being too Big Brother-esque.

For us at the University of Manchester Library it will be interesting to see how the Main Library Redevelopment Project deals with these challenges.

More information

Ethnography for impact: a new way of exploring user experience in libraries – Andy Priestner

User Experience in Libraries conference:

Hit by the UXLibs freight train:

Journal of Library User Experience:

Google Cardboard – My life in cardboard

You’ve probably heard of the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headgear designed to immerse you in unimaginable experiences by taking over your sensory perception. But what if you’ve got £3 to spend rather than £300?

Enter Google Cardboard. Invented by a couple of Google developers during the famed Innovation Time Off (“20% time”), Google Cardboard was announced at Google’s I/O conference in June 2014.

The hardware bit (the cardboard!) is essentially just a set of open source plans. Google are saying, ‘this is how you make it, now go make it!’. However, simpler than actually getting out the Stanley knife and sticky back plastic, is just buy one for a few quid from the Internet.

Google Cardboard

You’ll need an Android smartphone to take advantage (although a few iPhone apps do exist). Download some of the apps, slot your phone into the cardboard and before you know it, you’re riding a roller coaster or being pursued by dinosaurs. The effectiveness and simplicity is really the genius here.

Indeed the Library’s own #digilab team helped wow at the recent Philanthropy Day using Google Cardboard alongside some of the pricier tech.

Obviously, it got me wondering what uses we could put Google Cardboard to here at the Library. One of the simplest things you can do is take a photosphere with your Android phone. For example:

which the Google Cardboard demo app will pick up and display under the photosphere option

Google Cardboard demo photosphere option

allowing you to then look, with barely suppressed wonder, around your scene:

Using Google Cardboard

Other ideas:
  • We could use it explore the redeveloped Library using imagery created by the architects for the Main Library Redevelopment Project
  • At open days and promotional events hosted elsewhere, we could have a VR narrated Library tour
  • Send a branded version of Google Cardboard to potential overseas students for a narrated look around Manchester
  • Take 3D images of some of the John Rylands Special Collection items which you could then view from all angles (see the Exhibit in the Google Cardboard demo for an example of this)
  • Use them for activities during the education and learning visits from local schools – a great idea from one Innovation Group member was to recreate 19th century scenes around the John Rylands Library which could then be viewed and compared with the current day

It’s an impressive bit of technology, and fun to play with too. If you have any ideas, add them in below.

I’ve created a Google cardboard how-to (1 page .pptx) which you can use to spread the word too.


BookedIn books in!

BookedIn, our social platform for gamifying and sharing your Library activity launched on Monday. The Library’s Marketing and Communications team have performed sterling work creating promotional badges and digital displays pointing students to My Manchester where they can access BookedIn via the Library tab. And of course keen members of staff can play directly via the BookedIn website.

What can you currently do in BookedIn? Well, in a nutshell, –

  • BookedIn gamifies your Library activity
    • Gain points each time you scan into a Library
    • Gain points each time you borrow a book
    • For each book you borrow you can
      • Rate it with stars
      • Write a review
      • Recommend it to a friend
    • You can make friends with other players
    • They can see your activity feed and which books you have borrowed
    • You gain virtual challenge badges for specific activities, for example reviewing 10 items or visiting a Library 5 times before 10am

You see all this via a web interface, scaling well on a smartphone screen.

BookedIn friends activity feed

Where did this all begin?

Back in 2012 the Library’s freshly formed Innovation Group discussed ideas for rewarding customer loyalty and encouraging engagement with the Library. We got as far as coffee style reward stamp cards, but now we have spangly new self-service machines, all of our Library based rubber stamping facilities have been buried deep in the New Mexico Desert. We stowed the idea, pending a brainwave.

Thankfully, our students showed their innovative prowess in the Eureka! 2013 competition, and suddenly we had a raft of ideas on rewarding positive behaviour, collecting points, gamification, mobile apps, book reviews and resource ratings.

We began to explore these ideas. We knew the University of Huddersfield Library had worked with creative software developers to build Lemontree to gamify elements of Library activity. We invited these developers, Running In The Halls (RITH), to attend a focus group with a mix of students to delve deeper and see if there was mileage in progressing further.

Student focus group

The feedback from the students was very positive so we worked to define a solid plan to create something a bit different from your usual Library service to get students engaged with us. RITH would build on their experience from Lemontree to create a bespoke platform for The University of Manchester, taking the concept to the next level.

At this point things got really interesting, because The University of Glasgow Library had a similar interest to Manchester in exploring gamification and sharing. Before you know it, we had a collaborative project between Manchester, Glasgow and the development team at RITH working together to create a new social gamification platform for our Libraries. Whilst RITH did the hard work on all aspects of development, both Universities worked together to run focus groups and sessions with groups of students to inform the direction the project was taking. It would be no use creating something if the students didn’t get it.


It was interesting to see how students distinguished between the kind of sharing you do on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on a personal <-> professional scale (BookedIn was somewhere in the middle).  They also gave it a name; BookedIn (other suggestions included Books Buddy, Go Mancs and BookPals).

Students and staff were then involved with testing the early incarnations of BookedIn ironing out any bugs before launch. Fast forward to Start of Year 2014/15 and we now have lift off. The University of Glasgow launched their version Librarytree last week and have reported several hundred sign-ups in the first couple of days.

What next?

The launch is just the first step. Initially we need to build the critical mass of players to make BookedIn a platform worth the user investing their time in. Because that’s where the interest is; competing with your friends to gain more points/badges and in seeing what your friends and other people are reading and reviewing.

Next, we’ll be introducing some of the other features lined up in the coming months. And then the  most interesting bit will be speaking to the students about what they think but also looking at the underlying data to see if we can gain insight on what sort of impact BookedIn has on how students use the Library.

An exciting project and lots more to come!

BookedIn tree

Playing For Change event

Rosie and myself were fortunate to attend the Playing For Change event at the Manchester Metropolitan University on the 19 February. The event was organised by Scott Gaule and Nicola Whitton to mark the creation of the Games and Social Change Network, a project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council. Nicola Whitton is a Research Fellow in the Education and Social Research at MMU and recently ran a game-building workshop for us here at the Library.

What is the Games and Social Change Network about? Well:

Outside of the world of sport, the potentials of play and games as agents of change are seldom acknowledged and explored. However, the landscape of game making and playing is undergoing a radical transformation. Recent developments are highlighting the possibilities of game design in engaging wider social processes, aligned to activism, journalism, public pedagogy, interpersonal communication and community development, for example.

Read more here. I attended Playing For Change from the perspective of the BookedIn project, something we are hypothesizing may be able to change behaviour.

Playing for change: The transformative power of gaming

The keynote was by Joost Raessens from the Center for the Study of Digital Games and Play, Utrecht University. Joost spoke in some depth about how to validate whether gaming is having a societal change. Joost used the example of Darfur is Dying, a viral computer game where you play a Darfurian refugee who must forage for water. The idea behind the game is to raise awareness of the plight of Darfurian refugees and to encourage people to help in some way. On an individual level you might be able to measure how many people have played the game and how many of those donate money, but he began to demonstrate how hard it is to measure societal change as a result of such games. Joost covered discourse analysis and George Lakoff’s concept of framing. Framing is the idea that in most situations we have an expectation of how things pan out; a script that is followed. Depending on how we frame gaming will effect how we can begin to measure any societal change. He questioned whether games should incite change. Are we using coercion or being duplicitous in using games to try and affect behaviour? It all got quite deep quite fast!

Darfur is Dying

Darfur is Dying

Alternate reality gaming as a support network

I attended this session by Fran Ilich, at which point all lines between real life and virtual got rather blurred. Fran is a Mexican writer and media artist who has created a virtual community and bank to go with it. Fran spoke about an Alternate Reality game he (and possibly his virtual community) created called Raiders of the Lost Crown. However, the game could get very real, as hinted by this disclaimer:

You have been chosen to participate in the “Raiders of the Lost Crown”, an Alternate Reality Game. By hitting the return button, you will automatically sign up for the game. You will not be charged for this service but you will need to travel to Austria, where the play exercise will become very very real.

So, this game appeared to be about raising awareness of an Aztec crown, taken by Cortez in the 16th century, now residing in Austria, which should be repatriated to South America. Or is that what the game was for? I wasn’t really sure. Fran spoke about his wider activities and how elements of the virtual world he created has real life benefits. People spending real money to invest in Spacebank are somehow supporting Zapatista communities through the purchase of coffee. I admit I was getting lost at this point and when Fran said he had been followed and warned about his activism by a Mexican special agent, I really didn’t know what to think. But maybe that was the point?

Obscuring physical play: How to make digitally enabled folk games

Luckily I was brought very much back into the room in the following session run by Patrick Jarnfelt and Ida Toft of the Copenhagen Games Collective.

It was a great session where we thought about analogue versus digital gaming and the different ways these functioned and how we felt about them. The Copenhagen Games Collective are very much about humans playing humans in real life, but with some of their games enhanced or just changed by digital elements. For example, we played a game using Playstation Move controllers where you have to push each other about to try and knock each other out of the game. We played and compared that to an analogue game, Turtle Wushu, a game where you also have to push each other about but this time try and knock a plastic turtle from the back of the other players hands. The participants concluded you don’t always know the parameters behind a digital game, whereas it is more obvious whether the turtle is going to fall from your hand.

We played a mass blindfolded newspaper jousting game, into which we introduced the Oculus Rift. The Oculus Rift is a VR headset to which the Copenhagen Games Collective have hooked up a laptop back pack and webcam. Two people donned the Oculus outfit and replayed the newspaper joust, but this time they saw through their webcam, which we could choose where to affix about their person. Watching two people edging cautiously towards each other because they are seeing out of their knee is strangely absorbing. The Copenhagen Games Collective would be great people to have at a party and they’ve certainly given me some ideas. (As an aside, for about £250 we should look into getting an Oculus Rift to help with our investigations into Augmented Reality.)

Oculus Joust

Oculus Joust

Super Political Street Fighter

Over lunch The Larks solved various political questions through the medium of Street Fighter. This was a surprisingly good way of solving arguments.

Super Political Street Fighter

Super Political Street Fighter

Games are conversations

The closing keynote was by Matt Adams from Blast Theory, a group of interactive artists who have created some particularly immersive gaming experiences. Their work includes Ivy4Evr an ‘interactive SMS drama’ commissioned by Channel 4 Education and aimed at teenagers. After signing up you receive texts from Ivy following her day to day life until she falls pregnant and struggles to deal with the situation. Matt was able to demonstrate the depth to which participants became emotionally involved in the game through their replied texts, perhaps not realising they were only ever replying to a computer program.

I'd Hide You

I’d Hide You

He also spoke about I’d Hide You, another merging of the physical and digital. A number of ‘runners’ fully togged out with cameras streaming footage from their headcams made their way around the streets of a real city chasing and evading each other. As it happens this game was played in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Online players, from the comfort of their home, could then choose a runner from whom to view the live stream and begin to interact with that runner. The online players score points by snapping a photo of competing runners through the online interface.

And possibly the boldest game was A Machine To See With:

You sign up online and hand over your mobile phone number. On the day, you receive an automated call giving you the address you need to go to. Once you arrive on your allotted street corner your phone rings. From there a series of instructions lead you through the city. You are the lead in a heist movie; it’s all about you.

Which was exactly as is sounded. Incredibly the bank you are lead to in the climax of this heist is not in on the game. Left me questioning the distinction between game and life, if there ever was one.

In conclusion

It was a very interesting day with some profound ideas about what exactly a game or playfulness is or means, or whether it matters if it means anything. It made me realise that in the digital world where gaming is so pervasive we don’t yet have the tools to measure the societal changes it may be causing. Whilst Farmville probably doesn’t mean everyone will start keeping chickens, casual and social digital gaming will doubtless be having some kind of effect on society.

What does all this mean for BookedIn? Whilst I would love to write a PhD on the societal changes BookedIn may instigate, we should for the moment concentrate on the quantitative and qualitative data that we will gain from the project. We might not be able to save the planet, but if it can help facilitate the discovery of resources between students working in groups then it will have achieved something.

Playing for Change also had a wealth of ideas that could be weaved into workshops or sessions you might be running; Turtle Wushu could make a great ice breaker in a Project kick-off meeting…

Librarygame to BookedIn: It’s all in the name

From Librarygame to BookedIn

A key to the success of the project is engagement with the students. And a big part of that is the name. The product we’re developing with Running In The Halls (RITH) already has several names associated with it. The underlying technology is called Librarygame which is the name we’ve been using this far. But outwardly RITH market Librarygame as Lemontree to academic libraries and Orangetree to public libraries.

Challenge stamps

Challenge stamps

However, through the course of our student focus groups we found students were put off by ‘Library’ (they instead saw the product as associated with the University not just the Library) and ‘game’ (they were more focused on the other features than on the gamification). Therefore we ran a session with students specifically to look at bringing all the ideas together and deciding on a name. After much deliberation, we agreed on BookedIn. The connotations being references to forming connections with your fellow students (LinkedIn for students), ‘booking’ in at a Library and of course the whole book/library thing. So we’ll be marketing this as ‘BookedIn’ and, where reference is made, ‘BookedIn powered by Librarygame’ to ensure RITH get acknowledgement for their product.

I think I can imagine a student saying, “Ooh! Have you seen this on BookedIn?”


With a live launch in Sept 2014, the pilot is due to run from the 27th January. We’re recruiting 200 students from the larger faculties to sign-up to BookedIn so we can test it and obtain feedback. We’ll be speaking to the students before they leave for the Summer to get feedback we can use to refine features for the full launch. We’ll also be looking at the hard data to see how BookedIn usage differs between schools, sexes, year group and other facets we think useful. The analysis of the pilot stage will help ensure we’re steering the project towards meeting the objectives:

1. Encourage engagement with the University of Manchester of Library.
2. Increase the number of first year undergraduates actively engaging with the Library.
3. Enhance the customer’s serendipitous discovery of Library resources by allowing customers share their use, reviews and ratings.
4. Evaluate gamification as a means of shaping positive user behavior.
5. Expose Library usage statistics in a meaningful way.

And because The University of Glasgow are running their pilot at the same time we can pool our findings and hopefully share some interesting results.

For any further information about the BookedIn project, please get in touch!

Librarygame: Your starter for 10

The Librarygame project is heading towards the first major milestone, with the pilot phase due to launch on Monday 27th January.

Just to recap, Librarygame is a product which adds elements of gamification to your library behaviour. If you check into the library, you’ll get some points. Pull an all-nighter, you might get a badge you can share with peers on Facebook. Take out your 50th book and you might leap to the top of the leader board. But there’s more to it than points and badges. In the student focus groups we found it was the ability to share that really appealed. For you to see and discover which resources your peers were using and recommending yours to others.


Why are we implementing Librarygame? As per our strategy, we’re seeking innovative ways to engage and captivate our customers. In a fast moving world of smartphones and Like’ing this is a great opportunity to try something radically different. The Eureka! project highlighted just how much more the students felt we could be doing to embrace these ideas.

Over the past 6 months we have run several student focus groups to help us steer the development of the product towards something the students will engage with. We’ve also been working with colleagues at the University of Glasgow, with whom we’re jointly running the project. The next step is to pilot Librarygame with a group of users.

We’ll be recruiting students to use Librarygame over Semester 2, with the aim of fixing, refining, improving and measuring the various aspects for a full launch in September 2014.

So, at the moment there is a lot of work going on by Marketing and Communications (doing the Marketing and Communications), Ian from the Digital Systems Team (creating the behind-the-scenes integrations), the development company Running In The Halls (creating the product, when they’re not busy breaking world records) and everyone else on the Project Board (doing everything that is left!).

One final point; the students didn’t find the name ‘Librarygame’ appealing at all. So, we’ll be marketing it under a different name entirely…