Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Creating Analog and Digital Games for Reference Training: Overview and Examples

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Creating Analog and Digital Games for Reference Training: Overview and Examples

Article excerpt

To provide effective service at the reference desk, proper training for those staffing the desk is essential. Those responsible for reference training know that developing trainings that are both effective and engaging can be a challenge. In this column, Sam Kirk discusses the benefits of gamification in trainings. She describes how the University of Pennsylvania Libraries have used low-cost strategies to gamify their reference training for library interns. She shares examples of different types of games that can be used to scaffold learning for interns, culminating in a final, comprehensive game.--Editor

Training interns to supplement reference services is a challenging but essential practice in maintaining quality interactions with patrons. With the proliferation of educational games in workplace contexts, several libraries have published descriptions of their efforts to gamify training practices. This article provides an overview of notable examples of digital and analog library training games and supplies a detailed list of examples from the intern reference training program at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Libraries.

Reference and information services at Penn Libraries, as with many academic libraries, operate with the support of trained interns. While full-time staff answer the majority of our chat and e-mail reference questions, the information desk is staffed by interns. The information desk is located at the front of the largest library on Penn's campus, the Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, and is just one of the reference service points in a network of departmental libraries and learning commons. Patrons come to the information desk with questions on a range of topics, from technology assistance to directional questions to known-item and ready reference inquiries. Research-intensive questions that originate at the information desk are referred to on-call librarians, or, if preferred, interns will assist patrons in booking an appointment with a subject specialist.

Interns are patron-facing staff without the same institutional knowledge or level of training as full-time staff, yet are expected to provide a high level of customer service in making referrals, supplying directions, and answering questions about services and policies. Helping interns acquire competency in these areas requires considerable investment in training time.

In some of our conventional training methods, we ask trainees to read text, give presentations, take quizzes, complete online modules, participate in discussions, review anonymized chat transcripts, and conduct mock reference interviews. As part of our training program for the information desk at Penn Libraries, we have developed a number of digital and analog (i.e., board and card games) training games to complement traditional training methods. Training games are not replacements for traditional training techniques but valuable additions and knowledge reinforcement tools. While the content in these games is specific to our institutional policies and services, the rough structures of the games can be applied anywhere and at little cost. This article will give a brief overview of past literature on games used for library staff training and then provide detailed explanations of the games used in Penn Libraries reference training.


Training games are a type of "serious game," those that "have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement." (1) Using games as an instruction method, both in education and workplace environments, has been applied in contexts ranging from fashion retail to health and medical education, (2) and the library workplace is no exception. In 1993, in an early example of analog game use for library training, the American Library Association (ALA) published a training manual on the topic of confidentiality, accompanied by a card game. …

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