Gamifying games: an academic library’s approach to embracing fun to encourage the future success of our students

Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:

Books are awesome, but they are no longer the dominant focus of the library; let’s be honest, were they ever really? After reading Joe Hardenbrook’s short blog (2019) about an academic library’s success in creating a food pantry for students, I was inspired to find other areas of student life and the college campus experience that could be amplified through a library-led service. One thing I have learned from the readings during this semester, especially Hardenbrooks blog, is that libraries are not just places for studying and reading books. Students don’t realize this, sometimes librarians fail to realize this as well. As librarians, we should be showing students not only what the library is, but what it can be.

I work in the library of a small, private college (Emory and Henry) located in rural Southwest Virginia. Years of budget cuts, staff layoffs, and stagnant, library tradition have frozen this library in the last century. The idea that the library is a makerspace and that librarians can offer services that do not necessarily involve the usage of books, is slowly starting to creep its way through the staff, but it has been a slow process. This past year, I have been working with a librarian to make our strategic planning meetings more enjoyable, constructive, and worthwhile. Our director has noted that so far staff communication and engagement concerning strategic planning has been exceptional, she hasn’t had to prod us for ideas, everyone is willing and WANTS to share their thoughts. I attribute this success to the inclusion of games during each meeting. Employees are now constantly expressing how they “cannot wait” for the next strategic planning meeting. 

This reaction has inspired me to embrace gaming and gamification to create a new service for the library’s user community. Games and gaming have been suggested as possible ways for librarians to connect with students, as a way to open up communication and increase user involvement with library planning and to increase overall usage of the library’s other services. The Emory and Henry Library needs its students, the students need the library, but currently there are no services or actions being taken that demonstrate those needs exist. Students think the library is just for books. My goal is to recreate the library and its staff into something unexpected. A source of fun and games on campus. 

How? Hosting game days in the library. All day events, twice a month during Fall and Spring semester, where students can go and come as they please, interact and play with other community members and library staff in an informal, comfortable setting that encourages social growth, creates new avenues of communication between librarian and user, and removes any physical or psychological barriers that may have unknowingly been the cause of the decline in library use. These game days can include a variety of game types and genres, from “just-for-fun”, to topical games that cover themes like library instruction, critical thinking skills and career development, and other items chosen for specific learning objectives. 

 As a companion to the game days, and a service that can be made available year-long, the development of mobile app gamifying student’s campus life will be spearheaded by the library, but may require a collaborative effort between the college’s IT department and a third-party game developer. This mobile app would rely on an experience and level up system of play, where the user (student) is given different tasks to perform daily and upon completion, is awarded experience points. “Players” level up, earn badges and title that represent different achievements, and can share those achievements so that others can see. Tasks could range from finishing a homework assignment, visiting the library, or meeting someone new. 

In a college campus where more often than not, a student is complaining that “there is nothing to do” or “nothing fun on campus,” this gaming and gamification service is the perfect opportunity for the library not only to become the central hub on campus, but demonstrate (to students and administration) that their primary concern is the students that they serve. It may appear all fun and games, but this service is intended to better prepare students for once they finish their studies and enter into the career force. 

“The most significant help you can provide your users is to add value and meaning to the information experience, wherever it happens…” (Schneider, 2006). 

Expected Outcomes:

    Social growth (being comfortable and able to appropriately and significantly add to the conversation/ environment.)

    Opportunity to interact with differing perspectives

    Library Awareness (offering a chance for engaging conversations between student and librarian)

    Community Awareness/ Breaking down barriers (In a comfortable, semi-formal environment, these games offer the opportunity for conversations to spark, people who may not have known each other beforehand become better acquainted, everyone begins to learn new things about people in their community.)

    Development of collaboration and critical thinking skills

    Retention (for college admissions and enrollment)

Description of Community you wish to engage:

It is my intention that through the implementation of this project, the library will have better extended its reach to the entire campus community, with an emphasis on appealing to and engaging with the student body, but in no way excluding the participation of the institution’s faculty and staff.

Action Brief Statement: 

Convince students that by attending and participating in gaming events in the library and by downloading and participating in the companion phone app, they will discover that the library is a place for community growth and engagement, collaboration, and fun which will encourage student retention and library awareness because the library cares about its user community and strives to be more than a storage place for books.

Convince library staff and administration that through the implementation of gaming and gamification in the library, they will discover a new means to promoting critical thinking and reinventing the current library into a welcoming, comfortable, safe space which will increase library usage, create a lasting experience for students, and also prepare students for life after college because the current and future success of students depends on the actions done by the library and college employees.

Evidence and Resources to support Technology or Service: 


Mallon, M. (2013). Gaming and gamification. Public Services Quarterly, 9. Retrieved from 

Mallon, M. (2013). Gaming and gamification part II. Public Services Quarterly, 9. Retrieved from 

Walker, C. (27 June, 2019). Gamification in the library – Level one. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

Game programs and examples:

Keeler, A. (5 November, 2014). Gamification: Creating a level up for your students. Retrieved from 


Open Badges. 


Safe Zone training.

Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:

As with the creation and implementation of any service on an academic campus, that service must abide not only by the mission and policies of the library, but also that of the entire institution. Failure to meet the college’s standards and expectations will likely guarantee that this service will not be adopted.

For the gaming portion:

    Library staff will be tasked with creating procedures/policy for game selection. While the games are not necessarily required to fit within a particular genre or offer specific learning outcomes, a process of review should be considered. Not all games would be considered appropriate, even in a college setting. As these activities will involve employee/student interactions, care will be taken to avoid including any games that could produce uncomfortable or potentially harmful (physically and emotionally) results.

For the mobile app:

    Privacy will be of utmost importance when creating a mobile app that will allow users to share and communicate with other users. Policies will have to be created to ensure that the mobile app and creating company does not violate user privacy. For this concern, librarians will need to work alongside any third-party groups to ensure that users’ information remains secure and is not being sold or provided to outside sources. 

 Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service: 

    Staff Time: Depending on the preparation required, which should primarily consist of the selection and set up for “game days”, the library director should expect staff to actively participate in games. Staff can either select or be assigned specific times to engage with the event, or the library director may devote the entire work day to interacting with the participants. 

    Grants and Donations: For the library to be able to supply a large selection of gaming materials for the physical events, the director or project leader may consider researching if grants are available. Grants could also be useful for kickstarting the development of the mobile app, although for both parts of this projection, the director may consider allocating some of the library’s budget to cover any recurring costs.

Action Steps & Timeline: 

The start date for this service (including the release of the mobile game) will coincide with the Fall 2020 Semester start date. If we begin preparing at the beginning of November, we should have everything ready and everyone trained by Summer.

for Game days:

Selecting and purchasing games can be added to the library’s collection development policy. Projects for student assistants in the remainder of the Fall 2019 semester, and upcoming Spring, could include preparation and additional research into gamification and what games are best for a college crowd.

While preparation for this aspect of the service will be ongoing and needs to be governed by several library staff, the only other preparation of dire importance is staff communication and diversity training. As the college already offers employees these programs on an annual basis, staff that are not already trained, will be able to attend these courses before the semester begins. 

Of course, we can begin preparing now and test run a few game days during the Spring semester. Doing this will allow staff to gauge student interest in such a service and allow for student, faculty, and administrative input. This will give users the chance to tell us what they want to see from the service.

for Mobile App*:

The mobile app will probably be the most difficult aspect of this project. Approval will be needed from the Library Director and depending on college policy, this portion of the project may require discussion with the administration. Feasibly, the approval process could be finished by the end of the year. This would give the library two months to research and locate potential games designers, come up with cost estimates, and begin brainstorming design and gameplay ideas.

Game development needs to begin the first of the new year, as it can take anywhere from 3 to 6 months to create a well-developed app. This will give library staff ample amount of time to learn how to use the program.

*one consideration to keep in mind: not all students and community members have a cellular device. During the planning phase, and ideally this is discussed with the Director and others involved, that an additional resource should be considered so as to not exclude anyone.

 Staffing Considerations for this Technology or Service: 

For gaming events days: 

    Staffing is not necessary, although in order to meet all of the desired objectives, the success of this service will benefit from staff support and participation. As previously mentioned, staff participation can be all-day, or scheduled for portions of the event. As far as monitoring the event and resolving any questions of issues that may arise, as well as making sure everything is running smoothly, student workers can be utilized, not only as an extra set of eyes, but as promoters and participants in the games.

For the gamification mobile app:

Although the programs exists that could enable the librarians to create their own mobile app from scratch, the app’s creation will be assigned to an outside organization. As for any monitoring that may be required, that is a service that can also be included as part of the contract between the library and the creating organization. Employees will also actively be using the app, so any issues or concerns with this gamification service should reach librarians attention in no time.

 Training for this Technology or Service:  

While library staff will be expected to know how the mobile app works and be able to provide basic assistance for students seeking help. As this app will provide another point of communication access between students and librarians, all library staff will be required to use the app. That doesn’t mean staff will be required to actively engage with the gaming portion of the app, but they should make an effort to actively communicate and maintain a library presence in the virtual space. This will undoubtedly be an ongoing process. A basic training session will be provided prior to making this service available. 

Communication training is a must. One of the primary objectives of this service is to create new outlets for communication between students and staff. We want to know what students need from the library, what they want, and sometimes students just want someone to talk to. In order to ensure staff feel comfortable and that they are able to appropriately address any number of topics and ideas that may arise, each employee must attend programs on diversity and inclusion,including Safe Zone training . 

Promotion & Marketing for this Technology or Service:

There are several options available for E&H Library staff for in-house promotion of this service. The library’s web page would be a reasonable and obvious outlet to spreading the word about a new service and should definitely be utilized, however the Library’s Facebook, even in its current state (growth is slow and there has been little effort to take advantage of this resource) may prove more effective at spreading the word. If anything, this would offer the chance for the Library’s Facebook page to become a more efficient source of information and activity within the community. Unrolling new technologies such as interactive blogs are another way the library can spread the word and become more modernized and up-to-date.

Bulletin boards and television displays within the library are another promotional tool that should be utilized. And of course, physical communication can not be ignored. Sometimes students are more receptive to an idea if they hear about it in person, instead seeing a piece of paper or online post. 

There are also several options for campus-wide promotion and advertisement outside of the library. The Mass Communication and Student Life Departments should be contacted as not only could they provide promotional services, but may even offer to work alongside the library during the actual creation and implementation of this new service. They may offer additional sources of revenue and staff to ensure that this service project reaches its full potential. Other areas that could be used for marketing include Greek Life, the school newspaper, and the library’s student assistants. 

Evaluation: (What benchmarks and performance metrics will you use to evaluate the technology or service.  What stories are you envisioning telling about it? How might you expand the service in the future?)

Statistics will be used to reflect the success, or failure of marketing efforts and student interest and can be obtained through library gate and physical counts of participants during each “Game Day”. For the mobile app librarians should be able to see how many times the app was downloaded each semester/year and how often it gets used. Users of the mobile app will also have a place to leave feedback and express what does and doesn’t work.  

Online surveys and “suggestion boxes” would be used to evaluate whether this service is meeting its stated objectives and that participants are benefitting from its use. Performing before and after surveys/questionnaires would allow librarians to compare entering freshmen’s expectations and apprehensions of attending college, and offer those students a chance to share what this program has done to help them, or in what areas it came up short.

For the Future: 

Try to make this a campus-wide event (game day, all day, everywhere on campus)

    Continue updating and adding new things to the app, create an “after graduation” version of the app so that former students can continue to participate and grow


Schneider, K.G. The user is not broken: A meme masquerading as a manifesto. Retrieved from

Hardenbrook, J. (13 September, 2019). Starting a food pantry in an academic library. [Web blog post]. Retrieved from

Join the Conversation


  1. Hi Adam,
    I love the idea of offering game days in the library. Besides the unexpectedness of something so fun and casual as games in something as “formal” as an academic library, I think that students, faculty, and staff would appreciate something social and interactive that doesn’t cost anything but is still connected to the community. Great idea!

  2. I agree with Nikki’s commentary—this is a great way to create community in the library while also engaging students to try different games and collaborate. Cool idea Adam!

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