Monday, June 25, 2007

Library gaming (from Inside Higher Ed)

Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article encouraging librarians to think like gamers:

“The librarian as information priest is as dead as Elvis,” Needham said. The whole “gestalt” of the academic library has been set up like a church, he said, with various parts of a reading room acting like “the stations of the cross,” all leading up to the “altar of the reference desk,” where “you make supplication and if you are found worthy, you will be helped.”

So if this hierarchical model doesn’t reach today’s students, what will?

James Paul Gee, a linguist who is the Tashia Morgridge Professor of Reading at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of Why Video Games Are Good for Your Soul, argued that librarians need to adapt their techniques to digital natives. A digital native would never read an instruction manual with a new game before simply trying the game out, Gee said. Similarly, students shouldn’t be expected to read long explanations of tools they may use before they start experimenting with them.

Some thoughts:

  • Do I really have to play video games? Way back when, I tried a few of the text-based games that the Little Professor and Acephalous spoof so beautifully (heck, I even participated in MUD and MOO activities), but a game for me = less effort than work. If I have to put that much effort into it, I'd rather just work, thanks.

  • If preferring to experiment rather than to RTFM makes me a digital native, then I guess I am one, no matter how much I dislike the term.

  • I've seen the "library as church" metaphor before but had never thought of the reference desk as its altar.

  • It sounds as though those of us who are already building a "find this" model assignment and turning students loose rather than lecturing about the Library of Congress system are doing the right thing.

  • Wouldn't it be great if someone built a game that was based in finding library materials? To tell the truth, this would probably be more popular with teachers than students, but if it meant one less lecture on doing a keyword search, students would surely embrace it.

    On a more serious note, it's true that most students would rather deal with technology for an hour than ask a reference librarian something that would get them where they want to be in five minutes. From the article: "Even then, he said, librarians shouldn’t say that they are providing formal training, but should say things like 'let me show you a short cut,' the kind of language students use with one another all the time."

    Sometimes students are intimidated by the process, but sometimes there are other reasons. Although about 95% of the reference librarians I've encountered have been more than helpful, I've met a few who were so irritatingly condescending (a la the "priest at altar" model) that I steered clear of them: "This is the library catalogue online, you see? You can put in your search terms here, and then you can narrow your search by adding words." Sometimes, too, as the article says, they want to lecture about the history and nature of the resource before helping anyone to use it.

    Oh, and "dead as Elvis"? He's totally alive.

    Cero said...

    Muy interesante. I hate games that are like work, too.

    When I ask questions at the reference desk nowadays, it is assumed I am an undergraduate who has not used a computer before.

    I have figured out that it is because many of the people who sit back there do not have librarian training, or even undergraduate training.

    Sometimes this makes me feel really desperate. I once drove all the way to Austin just so I could walk up to a reference desk and know I will meet a reference librarian. But the students just feel stupid when condescended to the by people behind those desks.

    undine said...

    I get the same response sometimes, cero, even if I take pains to explain just what I'm asking. It's as though some of them are reading a script of possible answers and aren't really listening to the question. I haven't gone so far as to drive to another library, though, to have this conversation.