Gamification seems to be the hot new buzzword in the library world. You can even pay $175 for a four week course entitled Game Based Learning in Library Instruction. What is gamification all about? Is it really something new?

What is it?

Gamification is the application of game elements in non-gaming situations, often to motivate or influence behavior. Businesses have been using Gamification for years to build brand loyalty. One of the earliest strategies is whenever you buy 9 widgets; you get the 10th one free. Kohl’s sends out postcards where you peel off the sticker to find out if you get 10%, 20% or 30% off on your next purchase. Maybe you are taking advantage of Westlaw or Lexis Nexis point system.

In 2011, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation invested more than $20 million to develop game based learning tools for children in the United States. Other similar initiatives mean that our future law students will be familiar with gamification techniques in education.

In a recent AALL Spectrum article, Carli Spina states that gamification when done right “can lead people to a state of flow.”  Flow is a term created by Mihaly Csikszantmihaly which refers to the state of mind in which people lose themselves through complete focus on an enjoyable activity.

According to EDUCAUSE, gamification is “most effective as a pedagogical tool where it forms part of a well-planned strategy to encourage research, inspire creativity, teach basic principles, or hone problem solving skills.” A more simple explanation would be to learn while playing a game and having fun.

Who is doing it?

  • The University of California-Merced (UC-Merced) Library uses SCVNGR. SCVNGR is one gaming platform used by both businesses and universities. Participants earn points and rewards by completing challenges. UC-Merced used it to introduce students to library and campus resources on the first day of school. Although they had a low turnout, they were encouraged by the level of student interest.
  • Purdue University has used Passport platform where educators or librarians can develop customized challenges and design badges to be awarded when students gain new skills. Students can display their badges on the Passport platform.
  • The University of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England uses LibraryGame. LibraryGame has two forms: Lemontree for academic libraries and Orangetree for public libraries. Lemontree uses the library’s management system to collect information about student participants and rewards them for specific activities like using the e-learning resources or frequently visiting the library. In addition, Lemontree’s leaderboard can be shared on Facebook.
  • Other libraries use gamification on a limited basis such as teaching a particular type of legal research or more extensively across the whole library experience. See the references at the end of this blog for further information.

What are the negatives?

First, some critics point out that gamification can actually decrease motivation if it focuses solely on a reward system to encourage participation. From traditional psychology, over time external motivators have less impact than internal motivators. Second, some educators feel that including game elements trivializes the instructional material. Students may also feel frustrated if they are not successful. Competition may just add another level of complexity to learning the material. From a legal perspective, questions have been raised concerning privacy. Many of the gamification applications track participant’s activities to award points or use a leaderboard listing the top achievers. Students may not realize that their results may appear in social media sites. Of course, the opposing argument would be to take these concerns in consideration during the design phase. Lastly, gamification can be difficult to implement effectively. Even at UC-Merced, unforeseen factors impacted the results. Just administering the program by having to maintain points, tokens or badges can be time consuming for the administrator.

What’s the future?

Our students will be familiar with gamification. Incorporating game elements in library instruction offers the possibility of changing up instruction with contests, leaderboards, or badges that gives students opportunities for recognition. People like to play games whether it is against themselves or others. However, gamification, done correctly, can be a time consuming and complicated project which will take plenty of creative thought and technical skill to be successful. Gamification is not new. The challenge for libraries is to use gamification as a way to take advantage of engaging students in a different way.

So let the games begin…..



  • 7 things you should know about…gamification. (2011, August). Retrieved from
  • Danforth, L. (2011, February 15). Gamification and libraries. Library Journal, 136(3), 84.
  • McMunn-Tetangco, E. (2013, April).  If you build it….?: One campus’ firsthand account of gamification in the academic library.  C&RL News, 74(4), 208-210.
  • Spina, C. (2013, April). Gamification: Is it right for your library?  AALL Spectrum, 17(6), 7-25.
  • Weaver, A. (2011, September). Gamification – time for an epic win?  Access, 25(3), 2023.

~Betty Thomas~

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Filed under Librarians Can Be Fun Too, Library, Unique Libraries

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