Case Studies: School Libraries

Library Technology Reports, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Case Studies: School Libraries


Downers Grove South High School Library

So far, it seems like I've been focusing a lot on how public libraries can implement gaming services, but many of the same techniques could work for school libraries, too. And as authors Gee and Johnson note in their respective titles What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy and Everything Bad Is Good for You (see notes in chapter 1), there is a lot of potential for gaming to revolutionize schools and education. What if it started in the library?

Many media specialists have trouble understanding how gaming can fit into a school library setting. Many school budgets are already at bare minimum. In addition, there is an increasing trend for many institutions to not employ professional staff in the school library. Even those school libraries that do hire professional media specialists or librarians are having a difficult time trying to teach information literacy to the Google generation. School librarians, administrators, and media specialists may wonder: "How, when, and where would gaming ever fly in the restrictive school environment?" and "How would we ever defend letting students play games when they should be studying?" But, as cited in chapter 2, Bell and Brown's Gaming in the Media Center Made Easy illustrates this is not the first time school libraries have considered using games.

At Downers Grove South High School (DGSHS) in Downers Grove, Illinois, library staff members have seized the initiative and used the gamers' ethos of experimentation, risk taking, and trial-and-error to introduce gaming in the library. In the last year, members of the DGSHS staff have tried two different approaches to introduce gaming to students.

In 2005, the first attempt was a very simple, straight-forward conversion of an existing paper-based quiz (that tested students' knowledge of where things are located in the library) into an online game. It's really just an online quiz with some fancy graphics, but it helps demonstrate how much more engaging even standard types of tests can be when presented as a more interactive and proactive way (actually having to click on the answer and advancing to the next screen) to learn.

Rags to Riches is the online game/quiz that DGSHS staff members created, and it's located on the third-party Quia Web site (www.quia.com/rr/124501.html). For $49 per year, Quia makes it easy for anyone to create interactive quizzes. The third-party provider also hosts them, so you don't need to worry about bandwidth or security issues.

When classes come into the media center, DGSHS staff members have the students sit at computers and "play the game." Librarian Mindy Null hoped to make the traditional quizzes more fun by converting them to an online format, but even she was surprised when the kids started getting competitive, comparing scores, and boasting about winning.

This project was such a success the members of the library's staff decided to try something bigger for National Library Week (NLW) this year (2006). After much discussion, they implemented a day-long gaming event in the library (although the event had to be held a couple of weeks after NLW due to timing conflicts). This was the first time that students--not just faculty and staff members--were included in celebrating NLW at the school (see figure 12).

[FIGURE 12 OMITTED]

They started out with a very ambitious plan--gaming competitions that would be facilitated through consoles and hand-held devices--for the students. But their plan had to be scaled back for a variety of reasons; the librarians' lack of knowledge about gaming was certainly an issue, Null told me. "We found that we knew so little about this world (even after attending conferences and our own research) that we really had to scale back. We decided to start with what was manageable: online and board games," she explained.

It's important to note that this is a major benefit of gaming services in libraries--you can scale your program to your library's needs (big event, small event, inexpensive setup, video games, Board games, and so on). …

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