Carnegie Mellon's Library Arcade Staying in the Spotlight

Since there has been some recent blog discussion and coverage of Carnegie Mellon’s Library Arcade by the LibrarianinBlack and other blogs here and here. I want to share some of my discussions with Daniel Hood, one of the librarians who worked on Carnegie Mellon University’s library game. Donna Beck and Rachel Callison were two of the other librarians heavily involved in the creation of the game. I talked with Dan at LOEX last spring and again in September right before the release of their games. The following is a summary of those conversations.

While the game project released as “The Library Arcade” in the fall of 2007, it was not how it was originally envisioned. The game was designed with an over-arching narrative very similar to what I described back in September:

Max has some work to do and he needs your help. Max is ordinary student who has procrastinated his research paper until the last day but before he can get started on his paper his needs to help his fellow students and the library.

Max was created as the main character to provide a story to connect and drive each of the minigames forward. The game and story was designed with five separate mini games, two of which are playable in “Library Arcade.”

“I’ll Get It” uses questions generated from subject specialist librarians based on reflections from actual student questions. A variety of disciplines were planned to be included (Music, English, Math, Business) and every discipline / department that supported the project by providing questions was included in the game.

“Within Range” was designed at a time when the library was undergoing the process of changing over from Dewey call numbers to Library of Congress. The game served multiple purposes of helping students understand subject organization within LC, practice reading LC call numbers, and help their students understand the transition from one call number system to another.

The game was envisioned with five minigames, with specific learning objectives for each game. The four members of the design committee had envisioned Max’s narrative tying each of the minigames together, but budget and time constraints led to the decision to release “Library Arcade” as stand-alone games. The project had a $50,000 dollar budget. The programming was initially done as part of a student project for a gaming / programming course. Unfortunately the dependence on a student project created a number of conflicts. The librarian design team had disagreements in direction and gameplay with the student group. While these design disagreements were good learning experiences for both the librarians and students the cost vs. benefits of using students eventually tipped in the favor of costs. As the semester came to a close and the assignment was due, the programming of the game slowed down and eventually drew to a standstill. The design committee used a good portion of the remaining budget to hire a Flash programmer to complete the work.

The game was designed to be incorporated into a first semester freshmen course as part of a library introduction. The course is a required one-credit class where the library has about 50 minutes to present material. Traditionally the librarians focused on databases and resources, but over the past few years have focused on creating an atmosphere by introducing people and some initial information literacy concepts. The game was designed to continue to help put a positive, public face on the library. Unfortunately the game was not ready for the fall 2007 semester.

The library opened up the “Library Arcade” in its beta phase at the end of September 2007. They team’s goal was to get feedback from other librarians on the games in order to help determine if they should continue to develop the project or leave it public as it is now. Fortunately, a variety of librarian blogs and even the ALA newsletter covered the games and raised awareness within the library community.

Back at the time of release in September, the committee members and the administration were happy with the results. Daniel stated that eventually the goal was to open up the XML files so that people could create new questions. While some on the committee like Dan have moved on to other projects, new members like John Fudrow are actively working on the project. John’s a great librarian and a gamer himself. He has continued to respond to blogs and questions about the games since there release.

I’m glad that people are still talking about these games even on gaming sites like Joystiq. It’s too bad their coverage was so negative and focused on the game that was less like a “game.” But that’s another topic.

Congrats again to Dan, Donna, Rachel, John and anyone involved in the project.