Innovation and Ice-cream: Northern Collaboration Conference 2014

NC NC          CT NC

Ciaran and I presented at the 2014 Northern Collaboration conference last week. The title of the conference was “Engagement & Audiences” and our host was Teesside University, the event was held at their Darlington Campus.

Our presentation focused on Eureka! and the “BookedIn” library game ; two of the key projects powered by the University of Manchester Library’s Innovation Group. Both seek to engage with students and enhance the Library experience in exciting new ways. I detailed how the ‘Eureka! Library Innovation Challenge’ competition encourages students to submit their ideas to improve the Library experience. We showed how ideas were shortlisted and how finalists were asked to pitch their idea to a panel of expert judges in a tense 5 minute presentation. Ice-cream featued heavily too as the audience in 2013 were able to testify in our videos as they enjoyed a scoop or two of the cold stuff whilst watching the event in The Manchester Museum.

It was great to share with other academic libraries how Eureka! has enabled us to promote student driven innovation and also boosted the status of the Library as a driver for positive change across the University as a whole.

Spinning off from Eureka, Ciaran presented on the BookedIn project. In collaboration with the University of Glasgow and software developers Running In The Halls, he discussed how BookedIn is seeking to gamify users’ library activities. Via the project students will gain points for visiting libraries and borrowing books, whilst achieving badges for particular challenges. We shared also how the social element of the game provides a platform for students to rate, review and recommend resources to friends whilst viewing and sharing all these activities.

Our session was the most highly attended for its afternoon slot and the feedback for the session was very positive with lots of twitter activity going on throughout the day.

Other break-out session included “Mobile First: The Library in your pocket” from the University of Salford, “Research cafes at Liverpool John Moores University” and the use of “roving student assistants at Edge Hill University”.

Twitter images of the day:



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…