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Learning through play: games and crowdsourcing for adult education.

Games are a powerful to engage people with ideas and with each other. They are a way to learn new skills, and to interact with other people. This interaction can be with other people in the same room or with people online. Games are fun. This is obvious, but sometimes it can become forgotten about in the discussion.

In research in 2011 by Bond University for the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association

* pcs are in 98% of game households with 62% of game households using a pc for games. Game consoles are in 63% of game households, dedicated handheld consoles in 13%. Mobile phones are used to play games in 43% of game households, tablet computers in 13%

* 43% of people aged 51 or over are garners

* most garners play between half an hour and an hour at a time and most play every other day 59% play for up to an hour at one time and just 3% play for five or more hours in one sitting 57% of all gamers play either daily or every other day.

* 83% of parents play video games. (1)

Comparable statistics are not available for board, tabletop and card games. This is unfortunate as, from word of mouth, board games are very popular. The German, or European, style games have strong appeal for adults. Games in this category include Settlers of Catan (2) and Carcassone. (3) Board games can be used as part of an education program exploring games, game design, history, and strategy. They could also be used to introduce adults to games they did not play when they were growing up--and that is just the start of what is possible.

Ann Arbor District Library

Ann Arbor District Library is successfully running a summer game instead of a summer reading program. (4) The target group is anyone who is a member of the library. The game play involves many different elements. You can earn points if you

* attend an AADL Event, get a code, and redeem the code for 200-500 points, depending on the event

* add tags to any item in our catalog for 10 points

* give a star rating to any item in our catalog for 10 points. Get 50 points for rating items that are in your checkout history!

* write a review of any item in our catalog for 50 points

* create and share a new public list for 50 points

* add an item to one of your public lists for 10 points

* comment on any blog post for 50 points. (5)

There are other ways of earning points, some to do with local studies collections, others to do with reading, others to do with visiting exhibitions at the library and commenting on them. This game encourages people to engage fully in interacting with the library because of the opportunity to earn points which lead to real world rewards. They also lead to people being more engaged in their library, and in their community. This is a game of learning. In 2011 the active participants aged from about six through to people in their seventies, and there were thousands of people playing this game. It also means that more of the community is learning and is engaged with their library.

This is a model other libraries can learn from. Ann Arbor District Library uses Drupal to run the game, and staff expertise in game design. This game has no stated age limits on play, and the interactions are designed to appeal to a wide range of people in the community. People will enjoy different parts of the game. This is an important element as it means you can play the game the way you want, and there are not barriers to participation. This is a game designed for the whole community.

By week six of the game in 2012
   14,626 BADGES this year! And this is only week 6!
   In addition to all those badges, you've all earned
   27.5 million points in this year's summer game.

which highlights the enthusiasm for this game. (6) The Ann Arbour game, with its badges, is reflective of GetGlue. (7) However, it has library specific quests to help people explore collections and services.

There is a limited number of libraries exploring this kind of learning--one is Pierce County Library in Washington State. It has a teen summer challenge, (8) targeting one element of the community. One of the aims of this game is to teach teenagers about their library is a fun way, and encourage interactions with library staff.

The Ann Arbor District Library experience highlights something important in games related programs, and it is an idea which Scott Nicholson has written about as well. (9) It is that of not having state age limited on games related programs so that people can self select based on their interest in games. Reading Everyone plays at the library by Scott Nicholson is an excellent introduction to games programming in libraries.

Find the future

New York Public Library received much coverage for its 2011 game Find the future (10) which ran as part of their centenary celebrations as a way for people to discover and explore the collection. The game was deliberately designed with an education focus. The first night of the game was run as an event for five hundred people. After this people could play this game at their own pace and in their own time, at the library.

Changing thinking about games

There is still reluctance, despite the overwhelming statistics, for many libraries to admit how many of the adults who use their collections and services probably play games. Earlier this year Heikki Holmas, the new Norwegian minister for international development, was given media coverage because of his public statements about his own playing of Dungeons and Dragons, and how skills are learned in games which have real world applications. This means that his tabletop games skills will help him in parliament. (11) Adam Grimm highlights some of the skills and attributes gained or developed by playing Dungeons and Dragons which include imagination, structure, performance and problem solving. (12) People like Heikki Holmas and Adam Grimm are using our libraries and we are rarely giving them a way to engage--or may be guilty of making judgments about them because of the games they play.

The Central Arkansas Library System ran programming for adults teaching people about playing World of Warcraft. This may seem an unusual game to be part of a library education program. However, the aim of this education program was social inclusion, and it was thought that playing a game like World of Warcraft may be one way to assist in this locally. Library staff were pleased with the outcomes. (13,14)

There are many opportunities in libraries using games for education Some of these can be done by showing how exciting games can be and by having people realise that the boardgames they may have played as children, or even have played with their children have developed and new possibilities target adult players. Playing Carcassonne could be used as part of an adult education program on medieval history, so people could be discussing the history they are reading, but also play a game constructing a medieval town and so apply the ideas they have learned from reading or hearing about the medieval world. Games can allow a different angle on creativity in education programming. Brian Mayer and Christopher Harris in their book Libraries got game: aligned learning through modern board games have written about this from a primary school aged perspective, but many of their ideas apply to learning through games at any age. (15) They also make the point strongly that a game has to really be a game. This sounds obvious, yet people forget this point surprisingly often.

There is a lot of tools to help with boardgames. BoardGameGeek (16) is an invaluable online resource with detailed reviews about boardgames as well as walk throughs of the different games. Table Top with Wil Wheaton by Geek & Sundry (17) is an excellent video channel to learn how different table top games are played--so you can start thinking about their place in educational programming, and not simply programs about learning to play games.

The Game Library for the School Library System of Genesee Valley Educational Partnership (18) has some useful resources for games targeting infants and primary aged children.

Science games

There are also ways to draw in the community through games. A game like (19) a University of Washington initiative which is about folding proteins has resulted in scientific breakthroughs. (20) It was designed to trigger scientific discovery, but the game is also an experiment. could be used as part of a series of science talks, with visiting or local scientists, at a library where the participants could join in with others who are contributing to scientific discoveries. Then people could be working in a collaborative space in the library, folding proteins together interacting with the other people also in the library space as well as others online in This could appeal to a wide range of ages, from students considering science careers, to adults wanting creative and puzzle solving options. It is a free, social, online game.

EteRNA, (21) a collaboration between Stanford University and Carnegie Mellon University has similar concepts. This is a game about RNA molecules, and again serious science is being done through playing games. (22) This would also make for interesting library programming. These games could be part of a series about science, but equally they could be part of a series about games to help more people understand the range of options available to people who play games exploring creative problem solving, and helping to do science at the same time. Both and EteRNA would be useful inclusions with library based science programming, and could provide a useful tie in to your library collection, including databases. The Science Museum in London has a significant collection of online games about science, which could be used to help people learn more about specific ideas, as well as to explore ideas of game design and engagement. (23) Through all this science it is important to remember the ideas of Mayer and Harris, that first and foremost the games have to be fun.

Zombie Climate Apocalypse (24) run by The Edge at the State Library of Queensland may seem an unusual inclusion for science games--however the game is about survival. The players have to problem solve a vast range of survival skills (including water purification) so science is really important. A game like Zombie Apocalypse taps into many library collections (books, dvds and databases with information about the idea of zombies and survival), and can help bring a new range of clients to the library. A game like this can also be used to bring in ideas from places like the USA Centre for Disease Control and its web pages about zombie preparedness (25) which they created as a different way for people to think about disaster preparedness. If you are ready to survive zombies you are probably ready for other natural disasters as well.

Science is well suited to education programs involving games, using ideas for partnerships mentioned above. Unlike Orange County Library Service we are not all going to have Otronicon in our area. Otronicon explored the science, art, technology, careers and fun behind videogames, simulation and digital media. Each year, multiple industry partners join the Orlando Science Center to celebrate how digital media technologies impact the way we live, learn, work and play. (26) Orange County Library Service has also been highlighting games as part of its services, and as part of the education program. They have classes teaching game design, but also educating people about the employment possibilities presented by games. (27) We will all have scientists in our communities, no matter how small. It just requires some creative thinking to explore partnerships, and to consider who you might invite to your library as part of a science education program including games, collections and science databases.

Museum games

The games that the Smithsonian Museum run may also inspire libraries such as its game Smithsonian Art Adventure: O' Brother, Where ART Thou? (28) which is an art discovery scavenger hunt across several of the Smithsonian museums. The Smithsonian has been active in the games area for a while with a range of mobile games such as different kinds of scavenger hunt related games, targeting adults as often as children. Go Smithsonian ran in 2010 (29) and led the way for other museums to use games (with SCVNGR (30)) as part of education programs. The Royal Ontario Museum is using SCVNGR as part of an education program to conduct a treasure hunt through their museum. It is running over several months this year. (31)

Games design for all ages

This is an area of potential partnership with universities which teach game design (if they are local to your area) or with local games groups. It is a specialist area of education. Some public libraries and museums have been running programs on game design, mainly targeting children and teenagers. There is much underexplored potential for running this kind of education program for adults.

It also might be about seeing if you can create a game to help people explore the history of their area so the education elements would be around research (so that the history of the area can be explored), and games design (to see if a meaningful game can be created for the community). This is a specialist area, needing specialist trainers. Be open to the formats you are considering, as the games do not need to be made on computers or even for computers. Board games are a very popular format, as are large scale games outdoors.


What is crowdsourcing? Crowdsourcing is getting others to do the work for you in a way which they benefit from as well. Wikipedia (32) is an example of crowdsourcing. The previously mentioned and EteRNA as well as being games are also crowdsourced science research. Thousands of people are playing both of these games for fun, and for science. This highlights the fun element being in the eye of the player or the crowdsourcer. We will like different games, and different crowdsourcing opportunities.

Astronomy has been using crowdsourcing for years, long before it was given this name as distributed networks of scientists and keen amateurs were involved in exploring space either looking directly into space, or looking at the vast number of images from space. The newspapers on Trove (33) use crowdsourcing for text corrections. The text correctors hall of fame is a games leader board, (34) but that is the only games like element within this crowdsources project. The California Digital newspaper collection (35) has a similar model. Digitalkoot (36) from the National Library of Finland is a game, played within facebook. The purpose of this game is newspaper text correction. This is a crowdsourced solution, and it is a game.

The next examples have some game, or gamification, elements, but function more effectively as crowdsourced projects with some reward elements. The reward elements are not to be underrated as people play games for many reasons.

Old Weather

Old Weather (37) is a collaboration between a number of agencies including the Citizen Science Alliance, University of Oxford, Atmospheric Circulation Reconstructions over the Earth (ACRE), the Met Office (UK), Naval-History.Net of Penarth, UK, the National Maritime Museum (England), JISK and the National Archives (England). The project is to transcribe records from Royal Navy ships around 1914-1918 to study the weather at that time. People from all around the world are involved in the transcriptions as they use digitised records which can be accessed via the internet. Over 28,000 people have been involved, with over one million pages from over 286 ships already transcribed. There are some game elements to the transcription so that your progress can serve to inspire and others progress may spur one on to more transcripts. These transcripts are done for purposes of scientific research on climate change. Logs from more ships are being released over time, and new people sign on to join the transcription team. Old Weather would be an interesting inclusion in a library education program. The ships whose logs are being transcribed ranged all around the world, including our part of it, so there are possible local links. Even without this there could be interest in participating in an international science collaboration. The education sessions could include information about local shipping history or current climate change research, tying in with a session where people sign up for accounts and start transcribing in a local community, and through the transcriptions becoming part of an international collaboration. Old Weather has moved into a second phase with records from ships around the Arctic being transcribed.

Old Weather is one in a series of crowd-sourced science related projects coordinated by Zooinvers. (38) If it seemed a better fit for your library you could combine a talk or information session from a local astronomer with people joining the over 650,000 people who are involved in helping with research about the Milky Way. Workshops in the UK are being run by Zooinverse, and they may be interested in providing distance education sessions to Australia, or local astronomers could be approached. There could be strong ties back to local collections and content creation for libraries through these international projects. There are several other crowdsourced astronomy projects which you could encourage your library patrons to participate in, and be educated by. Astronomy projects lend themselves well to crowdsourcing because of the high volume of data collected which can be made accessible. There is also a Greek language transcription project which involves recognition of shape of letters rather than transcription, so this could appeal to someone wanting to match patterns, or be part of an education session linking Greek ideas or archaeology. You do not need to read Greek to participate in this project. You may not want to use some of these crowdsourced projects as standalone adult education programs, although it would seem that they could be effective as this way. They could also fit as part of social media education sessions, or by being linked to whatever the core idea within them are. You could even use Trove newspaper transcription as a way of locating and improving the newspaper articles which relate to your council area, but engaging with different interest groups. This has the potential for local studies related education programs. Do not underestimate the enthusiasm people have for the text correction on Trove. It has a fiercely contested leaderboard.

Other crowdsourcing ideas to consider including in education programs

The University of Iowa is crowdsourcing the transcription of the Civil War Diaries. (39) As well as showing the progress of transcription on its website, it is tweeting extracts from some of the transcriptions. People from all over the world can participate in this, highlighting one of the interesting elements of crowdsourcing, it does not have to be local. This may be a crowdsourced project to consider using as part of an adult education program on library resources, history, Civil War and many other areas as well. (40)

The Bodleian Library is seeking help with music scores. It describes the project as follows
   What's the score at the Bodleian? is a project which
   aims to enlist the wider community's help in
   describing a selection of digitised scores from the
   Bodleian Library's extensive music collections,
   thereby facilitating access to valuable and interesting
   material which has not been catalogued and is
   therefore difficult to find. (41)

This project, which is mainly about contributing metadata could be an interesting inclusion in a range of education projects to do with music or history, or on other topics as well.

Whale sounds can be categorised, (42) you can look for bubbles in the Milky Way (43) People can identify things which computers cannot which is why crowdsourcing is being used in this broad range of areas. You could run an education program matching people to crowdsourcing project of interest, or tailor your training to complement the crowdsourcing. You might want to create your own crowdsourcing opportunities, but connecting with a global project has appeal too because of the social nature of some crowdsourcing. While there is not a crowdsourcing project for every interest there is a wide range available, many with some really strong education elements which can be included for adult learners, and which can tie to local library collections and services as well as linking to other organisations in other states and in other countries.

The British Museum used crowdsourcing to place historic maps on a Google maps interface so that the maps were put in context. This project is finished but it sounds like it is likely to explore this method further. (44)

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is using crowdsourcing to identify children in photographs in their collection (45) They are using crowdsourcing for other information collecting as well. (46)

The Museum of the Future blog has brought together excellent examples of museum crowdsourcing which has some useful ideas for libraries to consider. (47)

The USA National Archives is using crowdsourcing for quite a few areas relating their collections. They are encouraging people to share their digital images of the archives as this makes items available which do not yet have digital records. You can tag images and records in the collection, index the 1940 census, and help transcribe records. (48) They are also asking for people to add to and edit content on their archives wiki. Exploring some of these options could be of a lot of interest in an education program for people who are interested in the history of the US, and are interested in contributing as well.

Distributed Proofreaders, (49) is a crowdsource program which connects with Project Gutenburg. (50) This has potential for inclusion in a library education program. It encourages a diversity of reading, and uses basic skills. It could be part of a reading program, or it could be part of a program relating specific writers just for a start. Distributed Proofreaders is about people proofreading the Project Gutenburg titles which is contributing the global store of free ebooks. It could be regarded as a revolutionary action.

Duolingo (51) is a crowdsourcing translation program where you learn a language as you go. It has received a lot of very positive comments (52) and could be a very interesting inclusion in a library education program relating to language learning, or social media. It has great tie in potential with library collections about learning languages or different countries.

Gooseberry Patch (53) is a crowdsourced recipe book site where you contribute recipes and if your recipe is included in a book you receive a free copy of that book. This could be an interesting site to explore with an education program about food or publishing.

History pin (54) where people pin photographs on a map, and other people can contribute information to the photographs, can be viewed as a crowdsourcing tool. History Pin could be part of a local studies education program encouraging people to pin their images of your area.

You can find out about even more crowdsourcing ideas from Wikipedia which has very effectively brought a large list together. (55)

Sites such as CrowdFlower (56) can be used to explore ideas of commercial crowdsourcing. Tomnod (57) has different challenges over time so you can choose the crowdsourcing challenge which best suits your education priorities for the library. For example you can help find the tomb of Genghis Khan (with National Geographic).

Following the work of The Guardian newspaper with crowdsourcing could also provide many education program options. Their crowdsourcing has included government documents about expense claims for members of parliament. (58) This could be an interesting including for an education program about politics and governance. Their Datablog (59) has potential for crowdsourced applications as each data set which is written about, it also included as a link to the article.

Flickr Commons (60) is also a crowdsource tool which is great for people exploring photographs, history and many ideas with in this. While training in the use of Flickr is sometimes provided by libraries, the crowdsourcing elements are often not explored in much detail.

Education programs for adults which include games or crowdsourcing are still rare, but have the potential to provide exciting and diverse programs for your library and to connect people in your community to others with similar interests all around the world. There are many online tools which you could use to include games and crowdsourcing in your programs. You could explore working with another library in another country with some of these tools, or with a library in a town or suburb nearby.

Education programs for adults which include games or crowdsourcing are still rare, but have the potential to provide exciting and diverse programs for your library and to connect people in your community to others with similar interests all around the world. You could explore working with another library in another country with some of these tools, or with a library in a town or suburb nearby.


1 Consider using a game as part of an adult education program.

2 Think about the opportunities linking your community to a crowdsourcing project and tying it to information available from your library whether in the collection, access to a database or access to staff expertise.

3 Try a game or a crowdsourced project you have not. If you try EteRNA or you can try both at once. Do not forget to have fun.

For other library and potential library uses of games, see my paper from the Information online conference 2011. (61)


(1) Digital Australia 12 pdf accessed 20 August 2012

(2) Settlers of Catan accessed 20 August 2012

(3) Carcassonne carcassonne-original-board-game.html accessed 20 August 2012

(4) Ann Arbor District Library summer game 20 August 2012

(5) Ann Arbor District Library summer game earn points accessed 20 August 2012

(6) BADGE DROP #6: Dropping badges like Galileo dropped the orange Ann Arbor District Library summer game accessed 20 August 2012

(7) GetGlue accessed 20 August 2012

(8) Pierce County Library teen summer challenge accessed 20 August 2012

(9) Nicholson, S Everyone plays at the library: creating great gaming experiences for all ages Medford, NJ: Information Today, Inc., c2010

(10) Find the future: the game e_game accessed 20 August 2012

(11) LARPs can change the world 27 March 2012 20 August 2012

(12) Grimm, N 5 reasons to play D&D Grimm wisdom 5 August 2012 http://grimmwisdom.wordpress. com/2012/08/05/5-reasons-to-play-dd/accessed 20 August 2012

(13) Beck B, Porter, M and Lisa, D World of warcraft and libraries 2010 napoleonsolo/world-of-warcraft-computers-in-libraries-2010 accessed 20 August 2012

(14) Edited transcript of online seminar June 2010 Games and libraries wiki http://gamesandlibraries. Seminar accessed 20 August 2012

(15) Mayer, B and Harris, C Libraries got game: aligned learning through modern board games Chicago, American Library Association 2010

(16) BoardGameGeek accessed 27 August 2012

(17) TableTop with Wil Wheaton by Geek & Sundry D2DC8D9B6C&feature=plcp accessed 27 August 2012

(18) Game library for the school library system of Genesee Valley Educational Partnership gaming/ accessed 27 August 2012

(19) solve puzzles for science portal/accessed 20 August 2012

(20) The science behind portal/info/science accessed 20 August 2012

(21) EteRNA page=me_tab accessed 20 August 2012

(22) About EteRNA php?page=about accessed 20 August 2012

(23) Science Museum games accessed 20 August 2012

(24) Zombie climate apocalypse programs/zombies/accessed 20 August 2012

(25) Centre for Disease Control and Preparedness, Zombie preparedness zombies.htm accessed 20 August 2012

(26) Otronicon origins content&view=category&layout=blog&id=1& Itemid=19 accessed 28 August 2012

(27) Orange County Library Service 28 August 2012

(28) Smithsonian art adventure: O'brother, where ART thou? ington-dc/smithsonian-art-adventure-tour/ accessed 20 August 2012

(29) GoSmithsonian scvngr/accessed 20 August 2012

(30) SCVNGR accessed 20 August 2012

(31) Play SCVNGR at the Royal Ontario Museum 20 August 2012

(32) Wikipedia accessed 30 August 2012

(33) Trove digitised newspapers newspaper accessed 20 August 2012

(34) Trove text correctors hall of fame accessed 20 August 2012

(35) California digital newspaper collection accessed 20 August 2012

(36) Digitalkoot accessed 20 August 2012

(37) Old Weather 20 August 2012

(38) Zooinverse accessed 20 August 2012

(39) University of Iowa Libraries civil war diaries and letters transcription project http://digital.lib.uiowa. edu/cwd/transcripts.html accessed 20 August 2012

(40) UI Lib transcripts UIL_transcripts accessed 20 August 2012

(41) What's the score at the Bodleian ? accessed 20 August 2012

(42) Hear whales communicate https://www.zoon accessed 20 August 2012

(43) The Milky Way project http://www.milkyway 20 August 2012

(44) British Library Placing historic maps accessed 20 August 2012

(45) Remember me: displaced children of the Holocaust accessed 20 August 2012

(46) Kesler, S Crowdsourcing helps Holocaust survivors find answers Mashable 23 May 2011 2011/05/23/holocaustmuseum-crowdsourcing/accessed 20 August 2012

(47) Museum of the future, Crowdsourcing ng/accessed 20 August 2012

(48) US National Archives Citizen archivist dashboard accessed 20 August 2012

(49) Distributed proofreaders accessed 20 August 2012

(50) Project Gutenburg accessed 20 August 2012

(51) Duolingo 20 August 2012

(52) Duolingo review PCMag article2/0,2817,2402570,00.asp accessed 20 August 2012

(53) Gooseberry patch http://www2.gooseberrypatch. com/gooseberry/recipe.nsf/v.pages/f.archiveclub accessed 20 August 2012

(54) HistoryPin accessed 20 August 2012

(55) Wikipedia list of crowdsourcing projects g_projects accessed 20 August 2012

(56) CrowdFlower accessed 20 August 2012

(57) Tomnod accessed 20 August 2012

(58) MPs' expenses The Guardian http://www. accessed 20 August 2012

(59) Datablog The Guardian uk/news/datablog accessed 20 August 2012

(60) Flickr commons accessed 20 August 2012

(61) Forsyth, E Playing with readers Information online January 2011 102306751/Abstract-title-Playing-with-readers-online-games-and-their-potential-for-reference- and-readersadvisory-services-in-public-libraries accessed 20 August 2012

Ellen Forsyth Consultant Public Library Services, State Library of New South Wales

Ellen Forsyth is a consultant with the Public Library Services at the State Library of NSW and works with public libraries across that state. Her work includes library reviews, advice and working with statewide working groups. In 2011 Ellen was only the second Australian to be named a Library journal (US) mover and shaker. Address: State Library of NSW Macquarie Street Sydney NSW 2000 email
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Author:Forsyth, Ellen
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Dec 1, 2012
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