planet code4lib

Syndicate content
Planet Code4Lib -
Updated: 19 weeks 1 day ago

Hochstenbach, Patrick: ELAG2014 Call for papers

Mon, 2013-12-23 21:26
Filed under: Doodles Tagged: bath, elag

Equinox Software Incorporated: Happy Holiday Development!

Mon, 2013-12-23 18:51

I’ve been remiss about posting about our development projects this year but in the spirit of the almost-new year, I’m turning over a new leaf. Please join me in thanking MassLNC and the BC Libraries Cooperative in sponsoring the final Evergreen development projects of 2013. MassLNC and BCLC joined forces to sponsor the MVF/CRA project, affectionately known as “the icon project”. But MVF/CRA is more than just a way to easily display things like “2 DVD + 1 Blu-ray” in the TPAC, it also lays the foundation for crucial RDA support. The work will also be necessary to support the other development project, bringing back Metarecord support in the TPAC.

BC Libraries Cooperative is sponsoring the development for TPAC Metarecords which will bring back the ability to choose formats and editions when placing holds. It’s going to be even better than it was in the old JSPAC.

The technical specifications for the projects can be found at:

See you in the New Year!

Add to:

Ng, Cynthia: Happy Holidays!

Mon, 2013-12-23 18:02

I’ll be on holidays this week until mid-January, so it’ll be my yearly short hiatus on blog posting (except maybe a blog year summary if WordPress does it again for me). I have a couple ideas brewing already though!

Merry Christmas (or whichever holiday you celebrate) and Happy New Year!

Filed under: Update

Cohen, Dan: Information Overload, Past and Present

Mon, 2013-12-23 02:18

The end of this year has seen much handwringing over the stress of information overload: the surging, unending streams, the inexorable decline of longer, more intermittent forms such as blogs, the feeling that our online presence is scattered and unmanageable. This worry spike had me scurrying back to Ann Blair’s terrific history of pre-modern information stress, Too Much to Know. Blair notes how every era has dealt with similar feelings, and how people throughout the ages have come up with different solutions:

These days we are particularly aware of the challenges of information management given the unprecedented explosion of information associated with computers and computer networking…But the perception of and complaints about overload are not unique to our period. Ancient, medieval, and early modern authors and authors working in non-Western contexts articulated similar concerns, notably about the overabundance of books and the frailty of human resources for mastering them (such as memory and time).

The perception of overload is best explained, therefore, not simply as the result of an objective state, but rather as the result of a coincidence of causal factors, including existing tools, cultural or personal expectations, and changes in the quantity of quality of information to be absorbed and managed…But the feeling of overload is often lived by those who experience it as if it were an utterly new phenomenon, as is perhaps characteristic of feelings more generally or of self-perceptions in the modern or postmodern periods especially. Certainly the perception of experiencing overload as unprecedented is dominant today. No doubt we have access to and must cope with a much greater quantity of information than earlier generations on almost every issue, and we use technologies that are subject to frequent change and hence often new.

Blair identifies four “S’s of text management” from the past that we still use today: storing, sorting, selecting, and summarizing. She also notes the history of alternative solutions to information overload that are the equivalent of deleting one’s Twitter account: Descartes and other philosophers, for instance, simply deciding to forget the library so they could start anew. Other to-hell-with-it daydreams proliferated too:

In the eighteenth century a number of writers articulated fantasies of destroying useless books to stem the never-ending accumulation…One critic has identified the articulation of the sublime as another kind of response to overabundance; Kant and Wordsworth are among the authors who described an experience of temporary mental blockage due to “sheer cognitive exhaustion,” whether triggered by sensory or mental overload.

When you ask historians which place and time they would most like to live in, it’s notable that they almost always choose eras and locales with a robust but not overwhelming circulation of ideas and art; just enough newness to chew on, but not too much to choke on; and a pervasive equanimity and thoughtfulness that the internet has not excelled at since the denizens of alt.tasteless invaded rec.pets.cats on Usenet. Jonathan Spence, for instance, imagines a life of moderation, sipping tea and trading considered thoughts in sixteenth-century Hangzhou.

Feels to me like there are many out there grasping for a similar circle of lively friends and deeper discussion as we head into 2014.


Schneider, Karen G: Postcards from the underworld: Doctoral program, semester 2

Mon, 2013-12-23 01:46

Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map

I was told this, my second semester, would be the hardest, and by gum, they delivered. For a lot of reasons, this was a heck of a time, an overload of schoolwork in the midst of a crisis at work that left me sleepless and scrambling for weeks on end.

But I’m done. When I received my grade on one overwhelming project I expressed relief to one cohort colleague, who replied, “Welcome to the Fraternal Order of Slackers.” Yes, it was not a grade commensurate of my other academic achievements. But I advanced to the next semester and this is my last degree and I’m too old to be grounded, so I just don’t care.

The big lesson I was reminded of for this semester came from a recent grad in our program with a gift for summarizing our experience: “Perseverance through high drama.”  I can dig it! The second big lesson: during this break I am lowering the flame under the kettle, but I’m not turning off the stove. It was wonderful to “have a life” after the first semester, but it’s a doctoral program, not elementary school. I need to keep my brain, and my projects, at a steady simmer, percolating away at various activities, and  ready to kick it up a notch when the third semester begins.  So along with resting and celebrating and whatnot, I’ll do some research and thinking and reading.

The three really big plusses for me for the second semester semester were first, getting into the groove on topics that excited me, second, having a Hail-Mary save on an assignment I had no background for (thank you Kara, amazing stats tutor at Holy Names), and third, having yet another Hail-Mary save just five days before my big assignment was due when I realized — in a flash of insight while driving on the Redwood Highway near Guerneville, an epiphanal moment so deep and striking I had to pull over — that this 45-page article proposal  had major structural flaws and needed to be reorganized from soup to nuts. I could even see how it needed to be reorganized: my brain, in this moment, was my own private Marauder’s Map.

I also traveled deep, deep into the heart of grounded theory, as well as into theories of social influence. Though maybe the most delicious moment came when my research converged with the writings of Rensis Likert, who deserves a better Wikipedia page than the one I linked to.

Once upon a time I learned about Likert scales when I met a consultant, Dr. Alison Head (before her Project Information Literacy days), who helped me develop surveys for the project I managed. She knows far more than I ever will, but I learned a little. It never occurred to me that “Likert” was a real person, and one who on paper, at least, seems like a mensch.

Studying Likert in the context of his era is interesting. I have been delving into the literature of leadership in the context of the LGBT experience, which is a very small body of literature indeed, though that has its advantages.

I became interested in grounded theory when I realized that far too many leadership “theories” felt specious, particularly when viewed by anything other than a “majority” perspective.  These theories either have an innate emptiness — q.v. “resonant leadership,” in which leaders benefit by practicing “mindfulness, hope, and compassion,” a cheerful thought, but one that cannot be reliably traced along an evidentiary path explaining the origins of these three emotional behaviors  – or fluffily prescribe practices such as “Bring more of yourself to work,” which rests on assumptions that are almost laughable when viewed through the lens of race, gender, sexual identity, or other “otherness.”

LGBT status is a “concealable difference” (at least in theory), and a fascinating area to study. (I am fighting the urge to add a footnote or two here.) People who elect to conceal their differences do so for many reasons, but one reason is to present one’s self as the de facto standard, that is, the norm — which proves the power and privilege issues raised by Cecily Walker in an elegant blog post.

Cecily was responding to a blog post written in what I think of as “Should-Speak,” in which someone from the “default” tells others what they “should” do (if a pointing finger is not actually present, I see one in my mind). In this case, the blogger had warned librarians that “if you step outside of the people’s expectations as to how [insert your kind of librarian] should look it’s going to take work to show them that you are a competent professional.”

Andy Woodworth was probably referring to things like unusual hair color or dress choices, but the twist on that statement, however casually or facetiously made,  is what it looks like from other sides of the power struggle. As Cecily argues, in the case of immutable distinctions such as race, “When we place the burden of of being the exception on those who fall outside of the norm, we are furthering an agenda that supports the idea that whiteness is the highest standard, indeed, the only standard that should be used to measure suitability.”

LGBT leadership research is interesting to me for more than just the most obvious reason (I love to research myself, just as I love watching myself on those TV cameras in store lobbies–after a while, Sandy shouts, “Stop watching yourself!”).  It’s also an area of research that inevitably overlaps with many other conversations, such as the one Cecily launched. When you research “otherness,” you open doors into entirely new ways of looking at the world.

One of my favorite discoveries during the research process this fall was a dissertation about openly LGBT university presidents. The investigator, Eric Bullard, had intended to use the lens of Queer Theory for his research, a theoretical approach that is too complex to describe here but includes the idea that sexual identity is constructed. I’ll resist the temptation to comment on the dangerous allure of the poststructuralist sirens to junior researchers, and focus instead on Bullard’s conclusion that “Queer Theory may not have been the best theoretical lens through which to view the experiences of out gay and lesbian higher education presidents.”

Bullard noted that the presidents were heavily invested in being perceived as “just like their heterosexual counterparts.”  I chuckle every time I re-read this, because it makes perfect sense that these smart, striving higher-ed types were invested in being LGBT equivalents of Mr. and Mrs. Cleaver (I recently viewed the first episode of Leave it to Beaver, so I speak with great authority on this matter). It takes a lot of emotional, intellectual, and physical labor to demonstrate that you’re university president material, and it’s even harder to do that when your innate self is not congruent with “people’s expectations.”

That said, major props to the author for even taking on this topic, and for being attuned to the intersectionalities that surfaced in the research process, particularly gender and sexual orientation. It was very moving to hear the stories of university presidents, such as the gay male president who was mocked for “redecorating” after implementing a physical plant improvement early in his administration, and the female president’s conclusion that “sexual orientation is really about gender. It’s misogyny. The problem for [lesbian] women is how can you get along without a man? And for [gay] men the problem is someone is perceived as acting like a woman.”  I know there were many criticisms of Denise Denton, the UC Santa Cruz president who was young, inexperienced, and openly lesbian, but however flawed her leadership may have been — and I have no real insight into the matter — whether or not she outwardly acknowledged it, she was shouldering quite a burden during her tenure.

Twenty years ago, in our field, library science, James Carmichael was soldiering on with research and findings similar to Bullard’s; in a random sampling of male members of ALA, Carmichael found that nearly two-thirds of the 482 respondents agreed that they “recognized a male librarian stereotype which corresponded to the negative female stereotype” and was “effeminate, probably gay.” There’s a whole lot of confirmatory research on the extent to which people confound gender and sexual identity, but it’s impressive that a researcher in my field was working on this problem two decades ago. (Whoops, had that footnote urge again.)

Anyway, my last thought I’ll share via this potluck blog post has more to do on the meta level. It’s so wonderful we have self-publishing avenues such as blogs and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. There’s  a constant slipstream of thinking and discussion that just wasn’t available prior to the Internet. I’ve been blogging for over a decade, and though my blogging is something I now squeeze between semesters, I appreciate the ability to write and be read outside of the “scholarly” canon, and I appreciate the discourse.

Bookmark to:

OCLC Dev Network: Updated WMS License Manager API Coming This Summer

Fri, 2013-12-20 21:00

The WMS License Manager web service continues to grow and, coming this summer, you can expect a new version of the API with several additional features. In addition to increased stability and extensibility, the next release of the License Manager web service will enable support for key features we know are important to users:

read more

Open Knowledge Foundation: Top 10 Greatest Hits of 2013!

Fri, 2013-12-20 10:00

The year is drawing to a close. Before we tumble headlong into the new year, let’s take a moment to reflect on the incredible success of 2013. Here’s our Top 10 Greatest Hits of the last year, in reverse order…

Launch of

In May, one of the most significant CKAN instances ever was launched, in the shape of the new US government open data portal, The total number of CKAN instances is unknown, as the software is fully open source, but at least seventy now exist around the world.

Open Economics

Opening economics makes for better research, as well as more just and sustainable outcomes. Great progress was made in the last year, including YourTopia Italy, an award-winning multidimensional index of social progress; the Failed Banks tracker, a visualisation of the big bank failures during the recent financial crash; and a set of Open Economics Principles, which have been widely endorsed by the economics community including the World Bank’s Data Development Group.


Crowdcrafting is a free platform for creating projects which need lots of people to take small actions. Since its launch in April, the uptake has been inspiring: around 150 investigations are currently being hosted on the site, including FrackFinder, a project to track the growth of highly controversial “fracking” for gas in the north-eastern U.S.; TweetClicker, which identified tweets relevant to disaster response teams during the devastating cyclone Yolanda; and Antimatter, investigating how antimatter particles respond to gravity. The tasks are designed for anyone to contribute: check it out.

Spending Stories

Open Spending rounded off a great year with the launch of the Spending Stories app, which enables citizens and journalists to make sense of the numbers in the news. What does it really mean that the UK school meals programme costs £6million per year? For one thing, that it costs about one fifth of annual spending on the monarchy…


This year’s OKCon saw 1000 of you join us for a profoundly engaging and passionate week of talks and workshops in Geneva. Inspiring talks from the likes of Jay Naidoo and Ellen Miller emphasised the social change potential of open data when applied to governance and development issues. Let’s make it 2000 for OKFestival in Berlin in 2014!

Open Data Index

This year saw the release of the Open Data Index, the product of an amazing community effort to assess the openness efforts of governments around the world. The Index will be a crucial benchmark in the coming years, enabling civil society to hold governments to account on their open promises.

Small Data

The big trend for Big Data is missing the more important revolution: #smalldata. As the cost of storage space plummets, there is a mass democratisation of data storage and processing. The real potential of the age of technology lies in the possibilities this creates for a decentralised, distributed ecosystem of data and knowledge – not in the centralisation and control of Big Data.

The Public Domain Review

Hailed as “magnificent…a model of digital curation” by the Guardian, the Public Domain Review has continued to build an incredible treasure trove of delights from across the public domain. The most popular posts this year were a dictionary of Victorian slang and illustrations from a Victorian book on magic, with the numerous other curios including a video of a dog’s head being revived. The Public Domain Review: making copyright questions cool.

School of Data

Open data alone does not empower people or produce change. Ordinary people need the skills to turn that data into knowledge: to use it to answer their questions and make the changes they want to see in the world. The School of Data has had an incredible year of sharing these skills across the globe, training over 1200 people from Nairobi to Bogota. There are now Portuguese and Spanish versions of the School as well, and altogether over 2000 have taken part in online trainings.


Some of our amazing ambassadors

The last year has seen an incredible expansion of our Local Groups Network, now at over 40 worldwide. We want to say Thank You so much to all of you, all around the world, for your hard work, creativity, and dedication. It’s brilliant to ring in the new year with the launch of the Brazil Chapter, the first Open Knowledge Foundation Chapter in Latin America, and we’re looking forward to seeing many more successful transitions over the coming years. We can’t wait to celebrate our tenth birthday with all of our fantastic community during 2014.

Happy New Year everyone!

Rochkind, Jonathan: You never want to call html_safe in a Rails template

Thu, 2013-12-19 16:36

Sometimes when looking at old Rails code, especially code that’s existed since Rails2 days and been upgraded along with Rails, I sometimes see `html_safe` called directly in a view template:

WRONG! <%= magicfy("foo").html_safe %>

It shows up in the old code because when someone (possibly me) upgraded to the version of Rails that first started tagging strings `html_safe`, there was some helper method producing HTML code that was winding up escaped and visible in the rendered output, and simply dropping in an `html_safe` seemed like a quick fix.

This is pretty much always wrong. In most cases, it’s going to be a potential security problem. In some cases it won’t be, but it can turn into one easily enough that it’s probably always a design flaw or ‘smell’. You’re fighting with Rails intended method of protecting you from HTML injection attacks — or just mal-formed HTML.

To illustrate, let’s imagine a helper method `magicfy` that simply wraps it’s argument in a span.magic:

def magicfy(value) content_tag(:span, value, :class => "magic") end

Now let’s imagine we pass in an argument with some non-html-safe stuff in it.

<%= magicfy("1 > 2") %>

Because we’re using `content_tag`, the `>` will get properly escaped to a `&gt;` and the string returned will be marked html_safe already. content_tag takes care of it for us. We’ll get returned the equivalent of:

'<span class="magic"> 1 &gt; 2</span>'.html_safe

Same if the argument was a string that originally came from user-input in an attempt to do some HTML injection…

user_input = "<script> ..." magicfy(user_input) #=> "<span class=\"magic\">&amp;lt;script&amp;gt; ...".html_safe

So adding on an `.html_safe` in the template is a redundant no-op, the results already are html-safe — both in the sense that they are marked `#html_safe`, and also that they truly are html-safe.

Now let’s look at another implementation of magicfy, completely wrong:

# WRONG!!! def magicfy(value) "<span class='magic'>#{value}</span>" end

Now under normal use, say we call `magicfy(“foo”)`, it returns the string we want, `<span class=”magic”>foo</span>`, but it’s not marked html_safe.  So if you display this in a Rails template, all the < and > will get escaped, “&lt;span…”, and you’ll see the literal HTML code in the rendered page, not what you want.

So maybe some poor coder says, oh, I’ll just throw in an .html safe in the template

WRONG! WRONG! <%= magicfy("foo").html_safe %>

That appears to work, the problem is that the string isn’t neccesarily actually html-safe, because it doesn’t properly escape it’s input.

magicfy(“1 > 2″)


You have made your code unsafe by just tagging on an `#html_safe` — depending on the arguments you might deliver invalid HTM (with un-escaped literal < or >), or if there’s user-input involved somewhere you might even be vulnerable to html injection.

The helper method itself has to be responsible for ensuring html-safety by escaping appropriate things, and then the helper method itself should mark the string .html_safe only once it’s done that — the same place that’s responsible for escaping has to be the place that marks html_safe, otherwise you’re just blindly marking html_safe without actually knowing it.

Using rails `content_tag` helpers is a great way to have html-safety just work appropriately. But you could do it yourself too (and sometimes have to), for instance:

# Safe, but it'd be easier to use content_tag def magicfy(value) "<span class=\"magic\">#{ html_escape(value) }</span>".html_safe end

If you do end up having to ensure html-safety and proper escaping yourself (always in the helper, never in the template), another really useful tool is the little-known safe_join helper.

If used properly, the Rails html-safety methods are pretty darn good at avoiding any possibility of HTML injection vulnerabilities or invalid HTML due to improperly unescaped chars. But `html_safe` method being called in template view code is, 99% of the time, a sign that you’re not doing things right and opening yourself up to problems. Code should never call html_safe on a string unless that code constructed the string and actually ensured it’s html-safety!

Filed under: General

ALA Equitable Access to Electronic Content: Good week for libraries and copyright

Thu, 2013-12-19 15:50

Ray Lewis via Keith Allison

This week, a federal appeals court upheld the Baltimore Ravens’ fair use of an historic logo created by Frederick Bouchat in an interesting copyright case. A few years ago, attorneys representing the Ravens contacted the ALA to ask for support of their position. They figured that libraries would care about preservation, First Amendment, and fair use, so they gave us a call. The case was an interesting one involving the old logo of the Ravens team (“the flying B”). When the Ravens asked fans to submit ideas for their new logo, Bouchat obliged providing a copy of an original logo he sketched. The Ravens then did something rather stupid and just went  ahead and used the logo  without compensating Bouchat. Soon after, the Ravens changed their logo to the one we see today (a shooting B on a raven’s head) and compensated Bouchat avoiding a expensive court battle.

But Bouchat came back to court asking for more compensation in addition to a thorough scrub of history.  He wanted any image, photograph, or old Baltimore Raven football helmets laying around with the old Ravens logo removed from Baltimore Ravens headquarters and from any film or television footage in which it appeared–essentially make it disappear. This is when ALA with the Library Copyright Alliance ultimately submitted “a friend of the court” brief on behalf of the Ravens arguing that history should be preserved and that a decision on behalf of Bouchat would negatively impact the First Amendment rights of documentary filmmakers and was a fair use.

The other good thing that happened this week occurred in Geneva, where the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is meeting to discuss international copyright. Guess what they are talking about?! Library exceptions to copyright (at this point, preservation). Just thinking about this makes me shake my head in disbelief. WIPO, a United Nations agency, is known for its support of maximalist copyright…  and today they are talking about libraries (and archives). They are actually considering that libraries around the world should have special privileges under international copyright law.  WOW!

Of course, supporters of library exceptions can expect the developed nations of WIPO and representatives from the content industries to be ready with stern rebuttals. Rights holders see these exceptions as slowly clipping away at their exclusive rights. In addition, authors have come to the session, asserting that they do not want WIPO to make decisions that they do not support.

The post Good week for libraries and copyright appeared first on District Dispatch.

Open Knowledge Foundation: PDF Liberation Hackathon – January 18-19

Thu, 2013-12-19 05:53

This guest blog post has been written by Marc Joffe, of Public Sector Credit Solutions.

Open government data is valuable only to the extent that it can be used cost-effectively. When governments provide “open data” in the form of voluminous PDFs they offer the appearance of openness without its benefits. In this situation, the open government movement had two options: demand machine readable data or hack the PDFs – using technology to liberate the interesting data from them. The two approaches are complimentary; we can pursue both at the same time.

When it comes to liberating data from PDFs, advanced technologies are available but expensive. In my previous life as a technology manager at a financial firm, I was given the opportunity to purchase a sophisticated PDF extraction tool for USD 200,000 – not counting annual maintenance and implementation consulting costs.

This amount is beyond the reach of just about every startup and non-profit in the open data world. It is also beyond the means of most media organizations, so lowering the cost of PDF extraction is also a priority for journalists. The data journalism community has responded by developing software to harvest usable information from PDFs. Tabula, a tool written by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellow Manuel Aristarán, extracts data from PDF tables in a form that can be readily imported to a spreadsheet – if the PDF was “printed” from a computer application. Introduced earlier this year, Tabula continues to evolve thanks to the volunteer efforts of Manuel, with help from OpenNews Fellow Mike Tigas and New York Times interactive developer Jeremy Merrill. Meanwhile, DocHive, a tool whose continuing development is being funded by a Knight Foundation grant, addresses PDFs that were created by scanning paper documents. DocHive is a project of Raleigh Public Record and is led by Charles and Edward Duncan.

These open source tools join a number of commercial offerings such as Able2Extract and ABBYY Fine Reader that extract data from PDFs. A more comprehensive list of open source and commercial resources is available here.

Unfortunately, the free and low cost tools available to data journalists and transparency advocates have limitations that hinder their ability to handle large scale tasks. If, like me, you want to submit hundreds of PDFs to a software tool, press “Go” and see large volumes of cleanly formatted data, you are out of luck. These limits reduce our ability to analyze and report on Parliamentary/Congressional financial disclosures, campaign contribution records and government budgets – which often arrive in volume, in PDF form.

PDF hacking has uses outside the government transparency / data journalism nexus. As Peter Murray-Rust has argued, the progress of science is being retarded because valuable data are “jailed” within PDF journal articles. For this reason, Dr. Rust and several colleagues have been developing AMI – a tool that leverages Apache PDFBox to mine usable content from scientific documents.

Whether your motive is to improve government, lower the cost of data journalism or free scientific data, you are welcome to join The PDF Liberation Hackathon on January 18-19, 2014 – sponsored by The Sunlight Foundation, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews and others. We’ll have hack sites at the NYU-Poly Incubator in New York, Chicago Community Trust, Sunlight’s Washington DC office and at RallyPad in San Francisco (one or two locations will have an opening social on the evening of the 17th). Developers can also join remotely because we will publish a number of clearly specified PDF extraction challenges before the hackathon.

Participants can work on one of the pre-specified challenges or choose their own PDF extraction projects. Ideally, hackathon teams will use (and hopefully improve upon) open source tools to meet the hacking challenges, but they will also be allowed to embed commercial tools into their projects as long as their licensing cost is less than $1000 and an unlimited trial is available.

Prizes of up to $500 will be awarded to winning entries. To receive a prize, a team must publish their source code on a GitHub public repository. To join the hackathon in DC or remotely, please sign up at Eventbrite; to hack with us in SF, please sign up via this Meetup. Signup links for New York and Chicago will be posted here. Please also complete our Google Form survey.

The PDF Liberation Hackathon is going to be a great opportunity to advance the state of the art when it comes to harvesting data from public documents. I hope you can join us.

ALA Equitable Access to Electronic Content: NSA surveillance examined by all 3 branches

Wed, 2013-12-18 23:50

U.S. Captiol by Jeffrey via flickr.

Reforms to the National Security Agency’s massive unconstitutional surveillance program may soon be underway. For the first time ever, the surveillance reform debate can be enjoined in all branches of government.

“The District Court ruling is the first time that a court or government agency has questioned the constitutionality of the surveillance program since news of the NSA phone collecting program leaked in June,” said American Library Association President Barbara Stripling. “While we applaud the Court’s ruling that the program is unconstitutional, we know that more work needs to be done. We continue to encourage library supporters to support the USA Freedom Act.”

Executive Branch

Late this afternoon, President Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies released a report calling for transparency, online security tools, and organizational reforms to the NSA.

Legislative Branch

Today, the American Library Association joined more than 50 businesses, civil liberties and public interest groups in opposing the FISA Improvements Act, a bill that seeks to legalize and extend NSA mass surveillance programs. Opposers to the bill include the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, PEN American Center, TechFreedom, and others.

Judicial Branch

This week, the D.C. District Court judge ruled that the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices on millions of unsuspecting Americans may be unconstitutional. In the ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon found the surveillance practices to be an “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary invasion” of personal data on Americans. In addition to finding that the program violates First and Fourth Amendments guaranteed by the Constitution, Judge Leon also examined the ineffectiveness of the NSA program in preventing terrorism.

The American Library Association?an organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties including First amendment and privacy rights?has called for more government transparency and public accountability.

The post NSA surveillance examined by all 3 branches appeared first on District Dispatch.

LITA: Jobs in Information Technology: December 18

Wed, 2013-12-18 18:01

New vacancy listings are posted weekly on Wednesday at approximately 12 noon Central Time. They appear under New This Week and under the appropriate regional listing. Postings remain on the LITA Job Site for a minimum of four weeks.

New This Week

Digital Resources Archivist- Digital Collections and Archives, Tufts University, Medford, MA

Software Developer, University of Maryland College Park – Libraries,  College Park, MD

Systems Programmer Analyst, Georgetown University, Washington, DC


Visit the LITA Job Site for more available jobs and for information on submitting a  job posting.


Ribaric, Tim: Presentation material from Scholars Portal Day

Wed, 2013-12-18 17:17


Material plus video *gulp* is hosted on the OCUL website. Login required, but available to all staff in OCUL Librarians. 

LITA: Online LITA Board Meeting: January 13, 2014

Wed, 2013-12-18 17:06

The LITA Board invites you to join this meeting online on Monday, January 13, 2014 at 2:00 p.m.  Eastern.

Join the meeting by clicking the following link:

View the meeting agenda:

If you have any questions, recommendations, or wish to discuss any of this, please leave a comment or contact the LITA office, lita (at)

Equinox Software Incorporated: Equinox Presenting at 2014 Evergreen International Conference

Wed, 2013-12-18 16:10

We’re very pleased that many of our presentation proposals were accepted for the 2014 Evergreen International Conference. Overall, Equinox is involved in fifteen presentations spread among nine lucky Equinoxians.

  • Galen Charlton
  • Grace Dunbar
  • Bill Erickson
  • Jason Etheridge
  • Lebbeous Fogle-Weekley
  • Angela Kilsdonk
  • Erica Rohlfs
  • Mike Rylander
  • Michael Tate
The talks will range across topics such as project management, SQL, Git, Serials, Vandelay, Authorities, Remote System Monitoring, and much more! Equinox is thankful for the opportunity to participate and we hope to see many of you at the conference! Add to:

Tennant, Roy: Unlatched or Unglued, It’s All Good

Wed, 2013-12-18 15:46

I and others on The Digital Shift have written about the efforts of to “unglue” books and make them openly available. The basic model is taken from crowdsourcing funding efforts. People pledge what they can, and if enough pledges are gathered before the time runs out the book is “unglued” and made openly available to all.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered another quite similar effort focused on libraries instead of individuals. Dubbed Knowledge Unlatched, the organization negotiates a fixed fee to be paid publishers for scholarly books, then seeks to distribute that fixed cost across participating libraries — the more libraries participate, the less the cost is to any individual library.

The KU web site lists such organizations as HathiTrust and JISC Collections as “partners” and the British Library Trust and the Open Society Foundation as “key supporters”. Interestingly enough, since the KU office is in London not far from Buckingham Palace, all of the “founding libraries” are Australian: Queensland University of Technology, The University of Melbourne, and the University of Western Australia.

I pointed out the parallel of these two efforts on Twitter, and Eric Hellman of Gluejar responded that he is in frequent contact with the KU Executive Director, and that he is a big fan of the KU effort as are they of Gluejar’s. So all is well in the crowdfunding ebooks world, and may all of these efforts and more prove successful as we move to new models of paying for creative and scholarly works.


In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Giving Games the Old College Try

Wed, 2013-12-18 14:00

Life’s a Game cc by Senor Hans

In Brief: Based on evidence that games might help students get more engaged in my online class, I decided to overcome my skepticism and road-test two information literacy games. First I tried BiblioBouts, which uses the online citation management tool Zotero to integrate gaming into a research paper assignment that is already part of the course syllabus. Students have to set up Zotero accounts and log into the game’s online platform to play and see their scoreboard; the technology requirements were too much for my class and the experiment didn’t feel successful. The following year I tried a comparatively low-tech game that students probably experienced as a regular assignment with a dash of competition thrown in. Whether or not this activity is a real game, I have continued to use it because it encourages students to practice expert researcher skills. After reconsidering my assumptions about games in an environment where serious learning takes place, I still have questions about using them for information literacy instruction.

Giving Games the Old College Try

When it comes to educational gaming, I’ve always been skeptical. I’m not opposed to gaming on principle—resistance seems futile in the same way that campaigning against comic books and rock and roll once was. As a non-gamer, the idea of “gamifying” information literacy instruction just sounded like another bandwagon for librarians to jump on. Yet the potential for engaging and even fun instructional activities was too much for me to resist. I decided to give games a try.

With apologies to real game designers, I’ll define games as activities that are designed as games from the beginning (not retrofitted with “gamification” components), are played online, and create interactive user experiences. My reasons for this working definition are entirely selfish: I teach online information literacy courses so I’m always looking for activities that will engage students and meet my learning objectives.

In this article, I look at where games fit into the information literacy instruction literature, discuss my experience trying out two different games in a for-credit online information literacy course, and leave you with the questions I still have now that I’ve reconsidered my assumptions about games in an environment where serious learning takes place. I’m not sure whether I fully met my goals with the games that I tried, but I did shake off some of my skepticism along the way.

Information literacy games

It’s easy to find so-called information literacy games that turn out to be regular old research instruction activities with puns in their titles. As game designer Liz Danforth notes, “…game mechanics are being tacked on to practically everything these days, almost as an afterthought” (2011, p. 84). Margaret Robertson, another game designer, makes the point that adding progress markers like points and badges to an activity does not actually make the activity a game. By contrast, she writes, “Games give their players meaningful choices that meaningfully impact on the world of the game… Games offer fail conditions as well as win conditions… It’s crucial that we stop conflating points and games” (2010). Broussard (2012) provides a thorough overview of online library games that meet at least some of these criteria, along with best practices for their implementation, in her article “Digital games in academic libraries: A review of games and suggested best practices.”

Librarians have embraced game-based learning for some time. For example, in 2008 LOEX-of-the-West was about gaming in library instruction, while in 2010 the Canadian conference Workshop for Instruction in Library Use took “Design, Play, Learn” as its theme. The LOEX-of-the-West conference organizers wrote,

The parallels between good pedagogy and game design were striking and thought provoking. Both seek to engage and challenge players/students in active learning, problem solving, and experimentation using a variety of strategies from narrative learning to multimedia appeals to varying learning styles to rewards both intrinsic and extrinsic. (Finley, MacMillan, & Skarl, 2008)

Others propose even more specific connections between gaming and information literacy. Waelchli (2008) has done indicator-level mapping of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards to fantasy sports, while Gumulak and Webber (2011) mapped game-playing to the SCONUL information literacy standards.

Further, there is good evidence that real learning takes place in video games. One authority, James Paul Gee (2003), describes 36 different learning principles found in good video games (and not necessarily found in school curricula). Along these lines, Nicholas Schiller (2008) provides an analysis of the video game “Portal” that includes takeaways for instruction librarians.

It is possible to find less optimistic opinions on the subject. For example, Kickmeier-Rust et al (2007) point out that games developed by educators are usually lackluster compared to the immersive experiences available commercially. Ian Bogost, a game designer and director of the Graduate Program in Digital Media at Georgia Institute of Technology, concurs: “There just aren’t enough high-quality games that also serve serious purposes effectively. Making games is hard. Making good games is even harder. Making good games that hope to serve some external purpose is even harder” (2011, p. 2). Librarians would be right to wonder whether we can possibly hope to succeed where well-funded corporations often fail.

Postmortem-style articles in the library literature reveal some of the problems librarians have had with games. One of the 2008 LOEX-of-the-West sessions described how outsourcing development to game designers resulted in a game that, from the librarians’ perspective, did not adequately address the learning objectives set out in the ACRL Standards (Hood, 2008). To take another example, a Welcome Week scavenger hunt game at UC Merced flopped when very few students participated (McMunn-Tetangco, 2013). Librarians don’t always like to share our failed experiments, but these case studies can be instructive.

Just because people learn while playing games, does it necessarily follow that we should therefore use games when the main goal is learning? Students are bound to notice when games have learning as a primary outcome, though they play along in order to humor us or get their grade. Librarian and blogger Bohyun Kim writes: “Games are played for fun, and the fun comes from actions not having real-world consequences. For this reason, when a goal other than fun is imposed, the game begins to lose its magical effect on our motivation and productivity” (Kim, 2012, 467-468). This suggests that games may fit best with orientation and outreach activities, where fun can be the primary goal.

Certainly no learner-centered librarian would advocate for dry, boring lessons. Undergraduates, in particular, may need an ice-breaker to help them overcome library anxiety. But real learning takes time and involves difficulty, and I think that we can admit this to students. Student comments after playing BiblioBouts (one of the online research games that I road-tested) reveal that we’re not really fooling them anyway: “BiblioBouts […] is a part of our grade so that’s why I saw it as an assignment. And like the game itself like finding sources, it was – it was helpful definitely but it was another assignment;” and, “You still had to go through and read the article. It still was a step-by-step process and that kind of gets boring like – not boring but it’s still something – like I saw [BiblioBouts] as an assignment, an assignment rather than a game” (Markey, Leeder, & Rieh, 2012, p. 25). Reading the article may not be fun, but it is, ultimately, what you have to do.

Further, librarians already have a problem getting our instructional content taken seriously, and we should be careful that we’re not compounding our image issues through gamification. For example, a student who played BiblioBouts said of the game:

I think it’s good because you’re not realizing at the time that you’re learning about research. Like you might not want to think, “Oh, I want to go learn about library research today.” You’re playing the game and you’re learning about it without doing that. (Markey et al, 2010)

This student seems to say that the purpose of games is to sneak in the part that’s good for you – the chocolate-covered broccoli approach to information literacy instruction.

The sneaky approach doesn’t sit well with my belief that students will benefit from librarians’ sharing the information science behind information literacy skills. One of my research interests is Meyer and Land’s threshold concepts, which encourage instructors to see students as novice practitioners rather than as outsiders to the discipline. From this perspective, librarians might look for activities that open the hood on database searching, or that contrast differing notions of authority in different contexts – that is, activities that will encourage students to view research through a new, librarian-like, lens (Townsend, Brunetti, & Hofer, 2011).

On the other hand, Waelchli and others point out that games don’t always equate with fast and easy solutions. Waelchli writes:

Video games create a unique popular culture experience where players can invest dozens of hours on one game, create characters to identify with, organize skill sets and plot points, collaborate with people around the world, and determine actions based on new and existing information. (2010, p. 381)

Players have the patience to spend this kind of time because they have achieved that enjoyable flow state. Waelchli seems to throw down the gauntlet in challenging librarians to come up with game activities that will make students take our content more seriously, not less. I think that there is enough evidence on the side of gaming that it’s worth investigating whether it is a strategy that can be adapted for real learning beyond the orientation session.

Game #1: BiblioBouts

BiblioBouts is an online game – scoreboard, points, badges, and all – designed to teach research and evaluation skills. It uses the online citation management tool Zotero to integrate gaming into a research paper assignment that is already part of the course syllabus. The BiblioBouts development team worked on the premise that interactive online gaming can help overcome the gaps in undergraduate information literacy skill development. (Leeder, Markey, & Rieh, 2010). With the support of an IMLS grant, the BiblioBouts team worked through several iterations of testing and assessment to develop the game (Markey, Leeder, & St. Jean, 2011). The game is no longer available now that the grant has ended, though the developers hope to find an organization to maintain it in the future (C. Leeder, personal communication, December 13, 2013).

At the time of my BiblioBouts experiment, I co-taught a 2-credit online information literacy elective called Basic Library Skills—LIB199 for short—with my Portland State University Library colleague Kerry Wu, Business and Economics Librarian. When I saw Chris Leeder present on BiblioBouts at the 2010 Library Research Seminar I could immediately see its potential for LIB199. The game seemed as if it might solve some of the problems that we were experiencing in our course: uninspired discussion board postings, little motivation to engage with classmates, and lack of community in the online classroom. We hoped that BiblioBouts would provide opportunities to practice skills learned in the course while shifting some of the interactivity away from the discussion boards.

BiblioBouts was designed for use in disciplinary courses, but we were able to adapt it for our information literacy course. Here is a detailed outline of how we used it in LIB199. Following the links below will also give you an idea of how the game works.

  • One week before the game started, we…
    • introduced the game along with links to BiblioBouts Home and setup instructions (links no longer available),
    • asked students to participate in a group discussion to decide on our research topic,
    • linked out to Georgia State’s Zotero guide and assigned a Zotero practice exercise.
  • The first and second weeks of play, we…
    • provided detailed instructions about how to get started and how we would grade the first two bouts,
    • linked to the BiblioBouts game instructions,
    • embedded the Donor bout demo (no longer available),
    • embedded the Closer bout demo (no longer available),
    • played the Donor and Closer bouts.
  • The third week, we…
    • provided instructions about the third bout and how we would grade it,
    • linked to the game instructions,
    • embedded the Rating & Tagging bout demo (no longer available),
    • played the Rating & Tagging bout.
  • The fourth week, we…
    • provided instructions about the third bout and how we would grade it,
    • linked to the game instructions,
    • embedded the Best Bibliography bout demo (no longer available),
    • played the Best Bibliography bout.

To clarify the scope of our goals, we didn’t think of the game as a teaching tool. In fact, we added instructional content to make sure that we were supporting all of the skills that students would be practicing with BiblioBouts. The new content included information on installing Firefox, a graded assignment on source evaluation, a database search practice worksheet, and a handout on subject databases, all of which we felt were needed in order to prepare students to play the game (and all of which were relevant to the overall goals of the course). Also, we had to make sure that that we covered the relevant concepts in time for them to be put to use in the game.

BiblioBouts in practice

Before we played BiblioBouts, some students showed enthusiasm for the idea of a research game while others went into a technology tailspin over Zotero’s Firefox requirement. The week before we planned to start playing, we set up the game by asking students to make a group decision on a course discussion board about a collective topic to research. This process ran smoothly and we settled on “teen drug use” before the end of the week. Those who suggested other topics (“alternative medicine” was a contender) were willing to go along with the majority decision in order to cooperatively play the game.

We began running into problems when we asked students to follow directions to set up their BiblioBouts and Zotero accounts. Starting the week before the game officially began, and continuing all the way to the end of the game, Kerry and I fielded panicked discussion board posts, emails, phone calls, and visits to the library for tech help. Almost half the class had trouble accepting their invitation to the game because they were logged into more than one email account (the game’s developers write that “Observing some players’ exasperation with the game’s initial registration process was a difficult pill for the R&D team to swallow because students’ interest, goodwill, and patience were sometimes lost before they even started playing the game” [Markey, Leeder, & Rieh, 2012]). Students were very confused by having to sync two different third-party platforms – Zotero and BiblioBouts – on top of using the learning management system to access the course. We often relied on the game developers for help when we couldn’t figure out how to fix problems ourselves.

For example, a student sent us the following email (anonymized, of course):

I got an invitation forwarded to my yahoo address, and I followed it to the bibliobouts page and logged in, but nothing happened.

I already have 2 zotero accounts and 2 bibliobouts accounts (one with yahoo address and one with gmail adress) I’ve tried 10 times to create a third with my school email address, but it won’t let me create one for some reason. Bibliobouts obviously has some bugs that need to be worked out.

Can I do something else for the next 2 bouts?

I can’t get it to work and I don’t have time to keep trying this anymore. Maybe I did it wrong initially, but I can’t get it to work!

I’ll do an MLA bibliography for the next two, but I’m done wrestling with that stupid website! so frustrated!

I’ll put it in what ever format you want with whatever sources you want, but I CAN’T GET BIBLIOBOUTS TO WORK.

please give me an alternative and let me know as soon as possible.

Our reply:

Yes, I agree that there are bugs with the BiblioBouts game and I am REALLY sorry that you are so frustrated. I hear you!

I am trying one more thing. I just sent an invite to your yahoo account. Please take a deep breath :) and accept that invite then register using that same yahoo address to create your account. Let me know what happens, OK?

Good luck,


The student’s response, which concluded the conversation:

Holy sh*# it worked!

thanks for your help, I guess I’m back on track.

Hopefully there won’t be any other issues.

Because we heard so much about the problems—our discussion board was filled with subject lines saying “help,” “still confused,” and “more trouble”—Kerry and I assumed that BiblioBouts was a complete flop. We were prepared to adjust our grading scheme if needed so that we wouldn’t penalize students for participating in our experiment. But when the time came to assign grades, it turned out that the class did incredibly well at meeting the expectations we had set. Almost everybody got the highest possible grade plus extra credit points for all four “bouts.” This was much better than they did on the individual quizzes and written assignments that we gave during the rest of the quarter. We were puzzled about how to connect the dots between the negative response to the game and the surprisingly good grades.

Did we realize our goals of providing skills practice and building online community? Maybe. I think that students did have a good opportunity to practice—perhaps better than they gave the game credit for. We hoped to address a student engagement problem unique to the online environment, yet the game proved too difficult to administer in an entirely online course. As one student posted on the discussion board, “This is the hardest online assignment, and I have had 10 other online classes.” We did not repeat BiblioBouts and resolved to henceforth and forevermore only use content that can be brought into the learning management system rather than asking students to navigate away to other platforms.

Game #2: Citation Sleuthing

Time passed, Kerry moved on to other projects and no longer co-taught LIB199, and I was ready to try another game in the course. This time I used a book as my starting point: Let the games begin! Engaging students with field-tested interactive information literacy instruction (McDevitt, 2011). I decided to adapt Jenna Kammer’s game called Database Diving (while I was at it, I changed the name as well). It appealed to me because it creates a context for students to practice expert research behavior. Professionals and academics don’t just read an article as a standalone piece—they read it in context and track down sources that catch their interest or relate to their own projects. At the same time, Kammer’s game provides an opportunity to scaffold writing a bibliography, which was part of the final project for my course.

The instructions and rubric for this assignment evolved over the three quarters that I used and refined it. Here is how I presented it the last time it was taught:

Assignment 2: Citation Sleuthing

This assignment has two goals: practice tracking down the sources of information mentioned in articles you read; and practice writing perfect citations in the style of your choice.

1. Read Dan Fisher’s article, Ready for the “Digital Natives”?, and write a perfect citation for it.

2. Track down at least 5 of the sources referenced in the post and write perfect citations for them (I counted 13 potential sources that you could cite for this article).

3. Keep going… If you see a reference list in one of the linked sources, track down and write perfect citations for those sources as well.

 4. Organize your perfect citations in a timeline, oldest to newest (note: usually bibliographies are organized alphabetically by the author’s last name, but for the purposes of this assignment please organize chronologically). In order to get full credit for this assignment, your timeline must include:

  • Citation for Fisher’s article;
  • Citation for at least one book;
  • Citation for at least one scholarly article;
  • Citation for at least one report from a private organization;
  • Citation for at least one website or webpage.

5. The group leader will upload the citation timeline to the specified group dropbox. Make sure that the names of participating group members are at the top of the document.

Note: Perfect citations don’t have any formatting mistakes. We care about punctuation, capitalization, italics, the order of the elements, etc. Visit the citation handout if you need a reminder of the resources available to you. The best you can do on this assignment is 5/10 if your citations are not perfect.

Extra Credit: You can compete for extra credit points for your group by finishing first, having the most correct citations, or finding the oldest citation in the class. On your mark, get set, go!

This activity was designed by Jenna Kammer and originally appeared in Let the games begin!: Engaging students with field-tested interactive information literacy instruction (Neal-Schuman, 2011).


Rubric for Assignment 2: Citation Sleuthing

Here is how we will evaluate Assignment 2. Please read the assignment instructions carefully before you begin!

2 pts

1 pt

0 pts

Cite Fisher’s article

Perfect citation

Has citation but it’s not perfect

No citation

Cite at least one book

Perfect citation

Has citation but it’s not perfect

No citation

Cite at least one scholarly article

Perfect citation

Has citation but it’s not perfect

No citation

Cite at least at least one report from a private organization

Perfect citation

Has citation but it’s not perfect

No citation

Cite at least one website or webpage

Perfect citation

Has citation but it’s not perfect

No citation

Extra Credit:

·         1 EC point for all members of the group that hands in their assignment first

·         1 EC point for all members of the group that submits the most correct citations

·         1 EC point for all members of the group that tracks down the oldest citation

In trying out this new game I applied some of the lessons that I learned from the BiblioBouts experience. It didn’t require registration with a third-party platform and could be done entirely using the same technologies that were used for all assignments (discussion boards, Google docs, email). There was no signup process – students worked in assigned groups that stayed the same for the whole quarter. Compared to BiblioBouts, this game is decidedly low-tech.

In order to prepare students for the assignment, I had to make sure that we covered the following skills before we started: identifying formats, advanced web search, searching databases for articles, searching the catalog for books, finding a known article, and citation. The groups had two weeks to complete the assignment.

Citation Sleuthing in practice

Once again, the first time I tried the game my students did not have a good experience. They spent far longer than I intended on it. I assigned the Newsweek article recommended by Kammer, but its sources were in some cases vanishingly hard to track down, and students expended too much effort chasing after the extra credit points. I had a group get into a serious fight over whether they were allowed to include sources that did not meet the evaluation criteria we had practiced using in the previous assignment.

One student posted to the discussion board:

Is it just my group, or is everyone spending hours upon hours on this?

A classmate replied:

That is such a great question. I feel like I am doing the amount of work equivalent to that of my 4-credit classes.

Trying to calm the waters, I wrote back:

Sounds frustrating! Do you have 5+ citations on your timeline? If so, why don’t you check whether your group is willing to call it a day and hand in the assignment as is. That way you can move on to other things.

Hope this helps,


With the help of my TAs, Emporia State University MLS students Jaki King and Carolyne Begin, I refined the wording of the assignment over the next two quarters in order to clarify my expectations about the amount of work involved. I also changed the rubric to enable partial credit for incorrect citations. Since the goal is to track down and cite the sources, the points needed to be divided evenly between demonstrating those two skills.

Finding an article to replace the original one was tricky. For the purposes of the assignment, the article cannot already have a bibliography or links to its sources. It should lead out to the types of sources that students need to practice citing, such as journal articles and books. I also wanted it to relate to an information literacy or information technology concept in order to stay within the theme of the course. After trying to use a Harvard Business Review blog post that turned out to only permit limited viewing, I finally hit on the Fisher article referenced above.

Perhaps it’s unfair to compare this experience to the one I had with BiblioBouts, since I gave this game the benefit of repeated attempts and revised it each time I used it. Setting aside the technology problems that I eliminated by playing a game within the course, I was willing to stick with this game because the connection between my objectives and what the students actually practiced was more easily controlled. Given another opportunity to teach a for-credit IL course, I will use this assignment again.

So… Did gaming work for me?

One premise of educational gaming is that it leverages our intrinsic motivation for play. Given this, I was intrigued by the BiblioBouts team’s findings that the real motivator for students to play BiblioBouts is grades. Even cash prizes were not as effective at getting students to play as the promise of a half-point grade increase from the professor (Markey et al, 2009). This finding would appear to answer the question posed by the title of the team’s 2009 article, “Will undergraduate students play games to learn how to conduct library research?”—Yes, if it is required for a grade. This finding offers insight into how to increase game participation, but at the same time it casts doubt on the claim that playing educational games motivates students to learn.

Students took the competitive element of Citation Sleuthing very seriously. Even one extra credit point clearly motivated them to find the most citations, hand their assignment in first, etc. I don’t think that it’s a good idea to equate feeling competitive with feeling playful. Some of my students had an agonizing experience with the game. Yet adding competition to an activity is a fairly simple way to “gamify” it, and it seems to me that it is so hard to use games well that we might be better off sticking with simple ideas.

Setting the motivation issue aside, does educational gaming improve student learning outcomes? The BiblioBouts designers have collected data that provides subjective information about whether students were satisfied with their experience (Markey et al, 2010), which is not quite the same thing (Hofer & Hanson, 2010). One faculty member reported in an interview that he saw improvement in the quality of final papers: “The assignments, the essays came out really much, much, much better than I have ever seen them with this group of students … So the quality of their thinking has gone up, which is why I am very excited about using this game” (Markey, 2012, p. 11).

The game developers’ research suggests, however, that students may not always apply the skills that they practice while playing BiblioBouts when it comes time to write their papers. They game the system by focusing on scholarly sources while playing BiblioBouts, but their assignment bibliographies were not significantly different from those of classmates who did not play or did not complete the game. BiblioBouts is about finding sources, not necessarily understanding them, and so students may not have the reading skills or specialized disciplinary knowledge needed to actually interpret, evaluate, and deploy an academic article in their own work (Markey, Leeder, & Taylor, 2012).

In their publications (one of which I coauthored: Markey, Leeder, & Hofer, 2011), the BiblioBouts developers strike a balance between advocating for the product of their hard work – e.g. “BiblioBouts solves the problem of teaching students information literacy skills, concepts, and tools in a unique way” (Markey et al, 2010) – and calling for sensible pedagogy, such as “These findings demonstrate that information literacy games cannot stand on their own” (Markey et al, 2009). The premise of the game itself is compelling in that it provides a very flexible scaffold for students to practice research-related skills while requiring faculty to consider how to integrate and support the game in the context of the course and assignment.

However, playing the less immersive, more limited game worked better in my course. I was also able to set it up so that I could assess the effectiveness of the game itself, which I was not able to do with BiblioBouts. At the same time, I’m not sure that my students experienced Citation Sleuthing as a game. It was presented as an assignment and generated as much anxiety as an assignment. I ended up feeling that if I engaged students and met my learning objectives, if I encouraged students to see information just a little bit more the way that information professionals do, then it didn’t matter very much whether the activity was or was not a game.

After this much investment, I don’t think that I can qualify as a gaming skeptic anymore. However, I still think that the use of games, or gamification, should be very carefully considered. I’ll leave you with a few questions I’d like to discuss further – please comment!

  • What is the minimum threshold for an activity to be a game? Do we need a better way to differentiate between games, activities, and gamified activities?
  • Do librarians in particular need to think about games? Or should we mind our own business?
  • Have you tried a game that worked? Have you tried a game that didn’t work?
  • Do librarians need a widely usable game that’s developed by professionals?

Thank you to the readers of this article: Chris Leeder, Emily Ford, Kerry Wu, and Korey Brunetti. Special thanks to Lead Pipe editor Erin Dorney for her patience, persistence, and insight. 


Bogost, I. (2011). Persuasive Games: Exploitationware. Gamasutra: The art & business of making games. Available from

Broussard, M.J.S. (2012). Digital games in academic libraries: A review of games and suggested best practices. Reference Services Review, 40(1), 75-89. doi:10.1108/00907321211203649

Danforth, L. (2011). Gamification and Libraries. Library Journal, 136(3), 84.

Finley, P., MacMillan, M., & Skarl, S. (2008). LOEX-of-the-West 2008: Hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 343-346. doi:10.1108/00907320810920315

Gee, J.P (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gumulak, S., & Webber, S. (2011). Playing video games: learning and information literacy. Aslib Proceedings, 63(2/3), 241-255. doi:10.1108/00012531111135682

Hofer, A.R., & Hanson, M. (2010). Upstairs-downstairs: Working with a campus assessment coordinator and other allies for effective information literacy assessment. In 2010 CARL Conference Proceedings. Available from

Hood, D. (2008, June 6). The library arcade. Paper presented at the LOEX-of-the-West conference, Las Vegas, NV. Slides available from 

Kickmeier-Rust, M.D., Peirce, N., Conlan, O., Schwarz, D., Verpoorten, D., & Albert, D. (2007). Immersive digital games: the interfaces for next-generation e-learning? In Proceedings of the 4th international conference on Universal access in human-computer interaction: Applications and services. Available from

Kim, B. (2012). Harnessing the power of game dynamics: Why, how to, and how not to gamify the library experience. College & Research Libraries News, 73(8), 465-469. Available from

Leeder, C., Markey, K., & Rieh, S.Y. (2010, October 8). College student perceptions of learning academic research skills through an online game. Paper presented at the Library Research Seminar-V, Hyattsville, MD. Available from

Markey, K. (2012). Building the games students want to play: BiblioBouts final performance review. Retrieved from University of Michigan website:

Markey, K., Leeder, C., & Hofer, A.R. (2011). BiblioBouts: What’s in the game? College & Research Libraries News, 72(11), 632-645. Available from

Markey, K., Leeder, C., & Rieh, S.Y. (2012). Through a game darkly: Student experiences with the technology of the library research process. Library Hi Tech, 30(1), 12-34. doi:10.1108/07378831211213193

Markey, K., Leeder, C., & St. Jean, B. (2011). Students’ behaviour playing an online information literacy game. Journal of Information Literacy, 5(2), 46-65. Available from

Markey, K., Leeder, C., & Taylor, C.L. (2012). Playing games to improve the quality of the sources students cite in their papers. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 52(2), 123-135.

Markey, K., Swanson, F., Jenkins, A., Jennings, B., St. Jean, B., Rosenberg, V., Yao, X., & Frost, R. (2009). Will undergraduate students play games to learn how to conduct library research? The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(4), 303-313. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2009.04.001

Markey, K., Swanson, F., Leeder, C., Peters, G.R., Jennings, B.J., St. Jean, B., Rosenberg, V., Rieh, S.Y., Carter, G.V., Packard, A., Frost, R.L., Mbabu, L., & Calvetti, A. (2010). The benefits of integrating an information literacy skills game into academic coursework: A preliminary evaluation. D-Lib Magazine, 16(7/8). Available from

McDevitt, T.R. (Ed.). (2011). Let the games begin! Engaging students with field-tested interactive information literacy instruction. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc.

McMunn-Tetangco, E. (2013). If you build it…? One campus’ firsthand account of gamification in the academic library. College & Research Libraries News, 74(4), 208-210. Available from

Robertson, M. (2010, October 6). Can’t play, won’t play [Web log post]. Hide & Seek: Inventing new kinds of play. Available from

Schiller, N. (2008). A portal to student learning: What instruction librarians can learn from video game design. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 351-365. doi:10.1108/00907320810920315

Townsend, L., Brunetti, K., & Hofer, A. R. (2011). Threshold concepts and information literacy. portal: Libraries And The Academy, 11(3), 853-869. Available from

Waelchli, P. (2008). Librarians’ sport of choice: Teaching information literacy through fantasy football. College & Research Libraries News, 69(1), 10-15. Available from

Waelchli, P. (2010). Playing with Process: Video Game Choice as a Model of Behavior. Public Services Quarterly, 6(4), 380-388. doi:10.1080/15228959.2010.521091