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V8-Powered Libraries and the Happiness Engines that Run Them

A lot of the work that we've been doing involves developing a social space for both NYPL staff and the public through our site redesign. However, I still wonder motivates a patron to interact with us using our website. Right now, the only "social" aspect of our site is the ability to comment on blog posts - how can we expand this? At a basic, collection-focused level, we could develop a simple online scavenger hunt using materials in the NYPL Digital Gallery. We don't need to have prizes - as Lawley and game theorist Jane McGonigal suggest, friendly competition is motivation enough for people to participate and to continue participating in games.

I've also been thinking about what it would take to put together an alternate reality game within a large institution like NYPL or a forecasting game involving libraries. I've been really fascinated by the creation of Superstruct, a project of the Institute for the Future, and since a Superstruct scenario was created by the American Association of Museums:

It’s 2019. Your museum is informed that an international group currently touring your building was exposed to the latest deadly strain of Respiratory Distress Syndrome. You are instructed to lock down the museum and shelter staff and visitors in place while authorities determine whether anyone is infected. Are you prepared to deal with this?

Other snapshots from 2019: Is your museum ready to help your community cope with an influx of refugees fleeing climate change, food shortages and political upheaval? How will your operations change in the face of soaring energy prices or collapse of the food production and distribution system? Your museum depends on its website to deliver information and attract visitors, but your content has been corrupted repeatedly in the past few months by hackers attempting to undermine your credibility. How do you adapt?

In addition, the Luce Foundation Center at the Smithsonian American Art Museum has developed an ARG called Ghosts of a Chance, wherein players create artifacts for display that also unlock further parts of the game. As this post on the blog Museum 2.0 says, ARGS require narrative consistency that is incredibly demanding; as such, cultural heritage institutions may be weary to participate as they might have to open their practices to greater scrutiny and mislead patrons intentionally to advance the narrative of the game. City Mystery, one of the producers of Ghosts of a Chance apparently "develop[s] and deliver[s] alternate reality games to benefit city libraries, museums, and other cultural institutions." What I want to know is what other institutions have employed City Mystery (their website is as vague as the entry points for many ARGS!). Also, why are libraries so far behind museums in this regard? Public libraries need to get into the ARG business - drawing people in for ludic reasons might really help draw them in when they are in the mode of information seeking. In addition, ARGs are often driven by information seeking behavior. Why shouldn't we think of using them as a means to make library instruction fun?



  • 💬 Stefan Saal at November 8, 2008, 06:54 UTC:

    A couple of ideas:
    1. I found your site tonight by randomly selecting from a list posted at the exciting blog Bibliodyssey (great set of links). So what about listing links to other bookish sites along your margin here? Interesting sites tend to do this.
    2. Earlier today I googled the library because I was searching for a specific text. However, your interesting site does not come up thru googling your library using the terms "new york public library index". Not readily anyway, i just tried it again to make sure. What about you being more of the online social face of nypl?
    3. Now, the book I was looking for is a Harvard-Yenching Institute Concordance of Chinese Characters used in the Chuang Tzu, recommended as useful by all the serious translators, but I've never seen a copy and there's nothing on googlebooks. (I am doing my own translation for a version I'm illustrating.) You have the book "off-site": .
    I would like to inspect a few pages to understand how it is organized so that I can decide whether I ought to buy my own copy via abebooks (o.p. $220). So here is a social function you could perform by sharing some scans online (I'm in northern New Hampshire). If there was sort of a person at an online window who was interested in helping users this way, I think that would be a very good way to innovate your site. What do you think? Maybe I'm just too out of it and don't understand how these things work.
    4. Actually I noticed that the page prompted by the url listed in #3 offers some sort of possibility of doing this, but the way the page looks I feel as though I am not "authorized" or something, that I may not do it right in some way, so then I demur. So this is an interesting interface problem. How to induce the user to use all the functionality of the catalogue index interface? After all, this is a basic function for the library and the user.
    Thanks, I think your blog looks very promising here. Love the library, btw... (oh, one last thing, ARG, IU, UA, etc etc, all the abbreviations...spell them out the first time you use them in a post, then abbreviate, otherwise nobody understands what you are talking about and you lose your audience, WTTW)

  • 💬 M.A. Matienzo at November 9, 2008, 00:45 UTC:

    Stefan, thanks for your comments - I'll respond to them one by one.

    1. That's a great idea, and I'll suggest it to the other people in the department. I think it would make more sense to have us compile a list and put as a post that we can go back and revise regularly.

    2. I'm not sure what you mean about being the "more social" face - we part of a larger NYPL blogosphere. Other NYPL blogs can be found at .

    3. In terms of that book, if you click on the "OFFSITE" link, a pop up window comes up that tells you how you can request that book to consult onsite or how to order a free digital copy of part of the book. If you can't find it, that page is located at .

    In terms of online reference help, we do provide chat-based reference - see for more information.

    4. I agree with you that the language on that page is not really straightforward. One of our major tasks is to increase the usability of the library website and make it easier for people to find library materials.

  • 💬 Daniel Clark at November 18, 2008, 05:41 UTC:

    A few years back I put a simple alternate reality game on our public library blog. It was called "Murder in the Library." I wrote a short entry describing the corpse and the crime scene - a certain book in the victim's hand with a sentence underlined, contents of the victim's wallet, etc. - and asked people to play detective. They submitted their stories as comments on the blog (moderated). The response was enthusiastic, with more stories than I'd hoped for - most of them surprisingly imaginative. I didn't do a repeat performance - went on to some other concept - but now you've got me thinking it's time to do it again!