Monday, December 05, 2005

Gaming in Libraries 2005: Les Gasser's New Landscapes for Libraries

Notes from the first presentation of Gaming Learning and Libraries follow.

Gaming in Libraries 2005
Monday December 5

Les Gasser: New Landscapes for Libraries


Kathyrn Deiss from MLS began the session with a welcome, and talked about how libraries have a tendency to become more conservation during tight fiscal and or political times. “Some people can look into a forest of trees and where we don’t even see trees moving, they see birds.”

The first “seer of possibility for libraries” was Les Gasser from the University of Illinois Urbana, who instructs LIS 450 GCG, a class in gaming at UIUrbana-Champagne
Les asked: Why aren’t we beginning to think of libraries differently? With his presentation, “New Landscapes for Libraries,” an overview of previous models for libraries seen through the Gamer lens.

Although he began with a disclaimer “IANAL” (I am not a librarian), I think sometimes it can be very effective to have an “outsider” look at our practices with a level of objectivity. He spoke about his forays into the CBC research in children’s literature after noting commonalities with children and literature, methodology, mythology – and games, calling for us to begin recognizing games as literature (narrative that impacts children and through which skills are impacted. Some of these issues are beginning to be addressed with the Center for Computing in Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences.

Models discussed:
What’s a library? (B Model) A Box of Books – information repository that collects & organizes books & other stuff, then provides them “free” to patrons, cost effective way for promoting knowledge in society

“B” is also for bee – bumblebee – not supposed to fly! Will the box of books be able to fly in the future?

Digital transformations (e-books)
The library could be the e-book (or collection of e-books), not the physical building. EBooks are portable, searchable, hyperlinked, but not browsable in the same way traditional books are; and culturally, it’s not the same as taking a book around with you – not as warm and cuddly.
Fujitsu is a company that’s done some work on the e-books platform, experimenting with the flexibility of e-books and e-paper (electronic signage), e-ink, Readius devices that scroll or stretch e-paper that is uploadable, bendable, etc. Applications include universal game boards (chess, checkers, etc), electronic signage, restaurant menus.

Les introduced the concept of transaction economics: the idea that the arrangements of transaction costs shape social organization. If transaction costs are high, hire (organization) instead of contracting (market), and information transaction costs each contribute to the cost of other activities. There are inherent costs in library activities such as copying, indexing, arranging, searching, etc. The overall trend is that information costs are decreasing because of technology, evident in companies such as Google making money with a copying & delivering service free, paid for by millions in advertising dollars. The program results of decreased information costs are software like Napster and Kazaa, Flickr, the proliferation of blogs, wikis, and MMOGs, which in turn cause us to re-examine issues such as copyright conflict, filtering, flaming, open source, etc. These practices are also driving users from libraries (as well as movies, radio and tv)

“I don’t go to the library,” said Les. The things he needs are generally available online, and everything else gets delivered to a staff mailbox. Interesting fact: Online journals are cited SEVEN times more frequently (as paper sources).

When games in libraries are viewed through the B model, they are envisioned as a way to entice gamers the library o result increased circulation and to support the mission info, offer resources, value reading and literacy. This model implies the attitude “don’t play games; read books.” This has the feeling of a “safe” practice.

This debate over Hi-Lo culture has been fought before with tremendous uncertainty
We worry about issues of stewardship and fiscally responsibility.
We had this debate about fiction, paperbacks, picture books, A/V and Media, toys & puzzles, Internet, and now we’re having it over console games and MMOGs

The (K Model) of libraries is one of Community Intelligence Center (University of the People, informed citizenry) with programs that promote resources & knowledge
K libraries have a critical role of innovation for society, assimilate the new, visit the cutting edge, and explore, migrating new knowledge/experience into traditional practices, such as Reader’s Advisory. The library is a venue for community and cultural innovation.

Building games to teach entrepreneurship (The World Bank estimates that only 2-5 of the population will become entrepreneurs, or producers rather than consumers) amidst difficult pressures from society.

When gaming and libraries is viewed through the lens of the K- model, gaming is accepted as a ubiquitous cultural phenomenon, a reflection of emerging culture, and a foundation of cultural mythology and transmission.

We get much of today’s mythology through media: Power rangers, Pokemon, Harry Potter are the current mythology of 4 & 5 year olds. In fact there are many different manifestations of characters, for example, Harry Potter.

Les went on to talk about how people learn. “Learning is gaining membership in a community of practice” –Callois. One must be participating in community to learn, and there are ancillary benefits of joining a guild/becoming a member

The K model includes open systems problems, constant change and evolution (patches & new versions overnight), player directed content (new games, new players, new worlds, new rules), emergent experience (unpredictable), unplanned interactions, cultural conflict (Grand Theft Auto), and involving external worlds (GPS)

Games are an essential misfit with existing library structures and processes. We like stability of content, structure, format, meaning; control (assured of quality and authority); and endurance.

The final model Les talked about was the Information Space Model (I Model), that of libraries as extended placeness (virtual spaces) with multimodal interacting webs of services, immersive, persistent spaces, social spaces, and collections – sounds like 3rd place. They use game models as metaphors, incorporate game technology, in-game models, use info dashboards, and conduct faculty meetings in-game.

One example in a game of an information space model is Apolyton University and Library in Civilization – an in-game university for the purpose of learning how to play the game.

He showed a clip from a film with Allen Cray, about CAVE, an electronic megabook c. 1997 where the player “walks” into book to interact with immersive built in kiosks for more info, and a mobile information service instructs player on where to go. These CAVES are virtual place extensions, immersion experiences, and could be new venues for services. Someone asked about the expense of creating games: it is prohibitive, but there are about 400 CAVES (rear projection immersive games) in the world, and the resources can be shared. Les encouraged libraries to exploit communities of game modders to create the things we want to create. Maybe even have a mod fest that will help to locating the cheap – proliferate the idea of games.

Interestingly enough, peer to peer exchange among equals is equivalent of World Bank’s findings of 2-5% entrepreneurship – many more people downloading files than putting them up

One participant talked about historical simulation in music – using period instruments and music to offer historical and cultural insight. Les concurred that time travel is a wonderful learning experience!

In fact, history can have tremendous economic leverage Game (reactivating historical games) building on the model of Turner Classic Movies.
Another participant asked what services as a user do you want to see libraries adopt using a game model? What skills do new MLS grads need? I came up with a list on my own that I’ll share when I speak tomorrow.

Les concluding with the thought that bringing people from diverse backgrounds together is a role of libraries – you can use games to accomplish this mission.
He also talked about the progression of types of games from Math Blaster – problems get in the way of following the rabbit, to Flight simulations – learning how to fly immersive to more implicit – need broad skills: negotiating, navigation, math, social, detective, critical thinking - learn by doing.

Although a prevailing attitude about games in the profession may be “That stuff is all for public libraries, we collect authorative information, as opposing to gathering little kids around to play DDR” there may be nothing wrong with collecting information that may not be the authority. Les used the example of DNA research progression from a time when we were trying to figure out the composition of DNA to knowing the composition and making models to programming those models.

“We’re floundering and trying to make sense,” said Les, adding that it is a natural state and an exciting place to live!

The library can be the IT center for the community, hosting the software and hardware for the whole community

We buy propriety stuff and lend it out; we don’t procure much software to loan; why not do it for open source software? Personally, I think we are afraid of looking stupid; we’ll be asked for technical support!

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