Sandra Bebbington: Got Game? Designing Engaging Library Experiences for the 21st Century

Sandra Bebbington: Got Game? Designing Engaging Library Experiences for the 21st Century

Summary by Convenor:  Effie Patelos

Gaming has become a ubiquitous part of our daily experience. The popular Chapters card rewards you with points like a game, and even Happy Hour mirrors the appointment dynamic in game design by rewarding bar goers for regular attendance. In her session, Sandra Bebbington shared a myriad of existing examples of how libraries can incorporate gaming into their services and programming. Game design can be used not only to solve problems in libraries, but also to motivate patrons to learn and access services. Sandra pointed out that gaming is everywhere now, and a gaming layer is emerging within every element of our lives such as in social media. The popular Facebook game Farmville has more users than all of Twitter, and Sandra said in her presentation that if the game developers adjusted the crop-watering period to 15 minutes they could bring the North American workforce to a standstill.

She then presented some statistics that illustrated how much gaming is part of everyday life, and that we are all gamers to some extent. In Canada every age group has reported playing a game in the last four weeks. The average gamer is not a teenager (though 97% of teens play games) – but is thirty years old. The average World of Warcraft player plays for six hours per day, which is almost a full time job in itself. With statistics like these supporting the popularity of gaming, it makes sense that libraries should consider incorporating gaming into their educational and outreach activities.

Sandra also provided tips for introducing gaming into one’s library. Gaming initiatives should have two goals: provide patrons a way to have fun with library content, and makes tedious tasks, such as citing, fun to do. Some “dos” for game design include providing users only “just-in-time” information, design activities to encourage collaboration and a sense of team dynamics by giving players in group games a common goal to work towards, and emphasize status because humans like being rewarded for moving up in the ranks. Though she also stressed the importance of starting small for libraries interested in gaming, and warned against gamifying everything.

Saving the best for last, Sandra shared games tried by other others. These included hosting mystery nights and scavenger hunts at the library. Trivia can be part of a weekly or monthly family feud or Jeopardy nights at the library. One interesting idea to engage patrons in collections is to make challenges such as collecting badges for taking out books on various topics, and awarding prizes to patrons who collect the most badges. Loyalty cards for library use have been shown to be successful with both young, and adult library patrons. She also shared some online resources for gaming in libraries including The Library Game (, with specific versions for public and academic libraries: (OrangeTree and LemonTree).

Sandra concluded by talking about the focus of her own Masters thesis, Minecraft and teen information literacy skills. She has hosted Minecraft sessions for teens at various Montreal area public libraries and  sees her participants regularly using information literacy skills to locate information online on how to improve in playing the game. Clearly gaming is here to stay, and has a great capacity to support learning and community building for both public and academic libraries. Judging by the interest of the audience, this fascinating session could have been a full afternoon on its own.



L to R: Effie Patelos, Sandra Bebbington