Sam Croft

Full-stack developer

Running in the Halls launches Librarygame—gamification for public and academic libraries

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Badges and achievements you can unlock while playing Librarygame
Librarygame—a beautiful game to play in public and academic libraries

In October 2009 Running in the Halls (RITH) sat down and penned the idea of gamifying the library experience. The concept? To award points, badges and achievements for borrowing and returning items, accessing resources and physically visiting the library.

And the reasons for doing this? Well there are numerous reasons, but first I should point out that Librarygame is for public and academic libraries and while the general reasons for making Librarygame cover both types of library, each has its own unique reasons.

Due to government cuts, in the UK at least, public libraries are under threat of closure and library usage is down in a lot of areas. We see Librarygame as a fresh and innovative product to help reinvigorate public libraries and lead to increased usage, partly by appealing to a younger audience.

The case is somewhat different for academic libraries. Studies have been made into the relationship between a students library usage and the degree level they leave university with. Statistics exist that prove there is a correlation between the amount of activity in the library and the likelihood of achieving a first class degree. Librarygame intends to appeal to groups that may not be very active in the library and encourage, through gamification, more day to day usage.

Our first year as a startup

So we had this great idea for a product, that we knew there was a market for, but we were also a web and apps startup… in our first year. We had to be rather careful at balancing the business development of RITH, our growing client work and our passion for creating Librarygame.

We had a pretty solid first year with RITH, hitting just about all of our targets, and by summer 2010 we were in a position to really start fleshing out the concept. We spent hours going through the flow of a user, detailing the technical aspects and wireframing our very own product.

Circa 2010 Librarygame wireframes
Early Librarygame wireframes for Lemontree

Our unique position as creators

Creating a product was one thing, but actually building it and then getting it infront of the right people was an entirely different matter altogether. This is where our background as individuals really came into play.

Fellow RITH co-founder Iman Moradi already had a lot of experience in the library world. Prior to us starting RITH he had completed a Masters in Smart Design where he created an annotation tool for academic libraries called Windmill. And following that he had worked as a senior design lecturer at the University of Huddersfield for five years. His knowledge of libraries, particularly academic ones, was pivotal in how we went about planning Librarygame.

Up to this point my own background was in creating large data driven web applications. Before starting RITH I had a business who’s largest client was in the education sector. Their business was, and still is, to create reports for schools and local authorities based on performance. I spent the best part of a year working with this client to create a delivery web app for these reports, allowing them to be securely distributed to over 2000 users.

At RITH we had the means to build, the knowledge of the market and the contacts to really give Librarygame a great shot.

Introducing Lemontree and Orangetree

Lemontree and Orangetree are two versions, or flavours as we like to call them, of Librarygame.

Lemontree is for academic libraries in universities; where the focus is on undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff, competing for their school by racking up points – awarded by taking part in the aforementioned points weighted activities.

Orangetree on the other hand is for public libraries where the aim is to establish reading groups by attracting new users.

How Librarygame works

Librarygame is a PHP/MySQL application running on a server that is either remote or local to a library’s existing Library Management System (LMS) / Integrated Library System (ILS).

Registering to use Librarygame requires a one time Librarygame > LMS account authentication. This establishes a link between the Librarygame user and their actual library account.

From this point onwards; when a Librarygame user borrows or returns an item (and other types of activities) the LMS sends this information automatically to Librarygame, where it is processed. No manual input of information is required by the user.

Certain activities will earn users points and occasionally award them achievements and badges.

Gamifying the University of Huddersfield’s library

A screenshot of the Lemontree live activity view and school leaderboards for the University of Huddersfield
The live activity view of the University of Huddersfield's Lemontree version of Librarygame

In January 2011 we approached the University of Huddersfield to talk about Lemontree and how it could be used to gamify their library. Our pitch was successful and we received a research funded development budget to create Librarygame. This was massive for us – we had our first Librarygame library!

The following two months were spent creating a lot of documentation about Librarygame and how exactly it was going to work on a technical level. We were fortunate to be able to work very closely with Dave Pattern, the University of Huddersfield’s Library Systems Manager who provided us with the necessary data access to make Lemontree work.

Several months later and we launched a public beta version of Lemontree for the University of Huddersfield. The feedback has been extremely positive and has generated a lot of interest.

We launch the Librarygame website

Throughout development we used our Tumblr and Facebook page to keep a public record of our progress and last week we launched the official Librarygame website. The response and feedback has been absolutely overwhelming. We have been contacted by public, academic, school and college libraries from all over the world.

We’re tremendously excited at RITH about where Librarygame is heading and I look forward to sharing more information about the development of our product.

About the author

I'm Sam Croft a full-stack developer with over 15 years experience in web and app development. For the last six years I have been a partner of Running in the Halls, an app and game design studio based in Huddersfield, UK. During this time I have developed many web and applications. Highlights include a node.js/ app to create the worlds largest crowd-based game on the first series of Channel 4's Gadget Man with Stephen Fry and Librarygame, a Library gamification platform for Universities. Librarygame is being played by over 6,000 students at The Open University, The University of Manchester, The University of Glasgow and The University of Huddersfield.

In my spare time I enjoy long distance running, watching all sports (especially F1) and playing video games. I live in the Holme Valley in West Yorkshire with my wife, Alex.

Sometimes I tweet.