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Real-life librarians hit the Ironforge stacks


For so many World of Warcraft players, the game is all about connections. It was connections (a glowing recommendation from gaming industry insider, WoW player, and previous interviewee Liz Danforth) that led us to contact Australian librarian Ellen Forsyth for an interview (not coincidentally connecting even more dots, WoW-playing educators and innovators Peggy Sheehy and Lucas Gillispie, in the process). And it's connections that Forsyth draws for a living in her work as a professional librarian who both studies and advocates for gaming in the public libraries -- that's right, gaming for the people!

"Libraries, games, reading, content creation, stories and a few other things as well" -- that's how Forsyth's Twitter profile characterizes her interests, a fairly delectable concoction for the typical WoW Insider reader. We played the WoW card to tempt Forsyth into chatting with us about the regular academic symposia she moderates in Azeroth (the Ironforge library, to be exact), the growing influence of games as a public library resource, and the sweeping imaginative and technological vistas opening up as more and more readers discover the parallel worlds of gaming -- and of course, World of Warcraft.

Flight of the librarianCharacters Franticread, Where is the Library?; Treeseeker, Knights of Galbala
Realm Saurfang (US)

WoW Insider: How did you come to play World of Warcraft, Ellen? Did you arrive in Azeroth from a professional angle, or was it a personal interest in fantasy, stories and gaming that drew you in?

Ellen Forsyth: I started playing World of Warcraft because I wanted to explore games more from a work perspective, and realised that I had not been playing many games for a while, so I decided to pick a big one to play because of the complexity of the world and the possibilities. I really had no ideas what I was getting into, as I had no idea how much fun I was going to have.

This had led me on to playing more games in a range of formats. I really enjoy the different stories in the games as the quests are smaller stories within the bigger story of all the amazing things going on in the game. I also enjoy some of the humour in the game, while other parts of the story really are sad, and some parts of the world are disturbing to play in. I really like that all this complexity can be created, and enjoyed.

How would you describe the way that MMOs such as World of Warcraft figure into your work and research? In a nutshell, what's the link between gaming and reading?

Games are one part of my work, and I am looking for ways to help public libraries with their use of games, and with thinking creatively about how they can use games as part of their library services. It is also important for libraries to see how many of their members are probably playing games as well as this may influence other services and behaviours within a library.

One lot of research I did, surveying people who play games and who read showed that most people (and the correlation was very high) play games for very similar reasons to why they read. If people read for the story element, then that will be the part which dominates in their game play (and it may be the ingame story, or the stories of the people they play with). If people read mainly because of wanting to find out about characters, then it will be the character elements in the game which dominate for them, and this will include the characters (people) whom they play with. There is a strong link. People have different balances in their reading and game play, but the enjoyment elements are often very similar.

Let's talk about the Where is the Library? guild. It serves as an informal, in-game meeting spot for real-life librarians, is that right? What's the motivation to come together within Azeroth?

Where is the library? came out of an idea to run an in game seminar about libraries and games as I thought that holding a seminar in a games environment would help people think about possibilities, and also, I wanted to see if would work.

The guild is informal and there are meetings about every six to eight weeks with different people talking about how they are using games in libraries, and there have been some researchers talking about their research in game environments, often World of Warcraft. The researchers (mainly academics or Ph.D. students) are to help library folk see the broad perspective of games and to help trigger some ideas for library programs (like inviting local games researchers to talk at the library, or having one of the people they saw online present via Skype). There have been a couple of other presenters as well. Matt Forbeck with his background in games design and in writing stories based on games was very interesting.

Librarians discuss gaming
The idea of coming to Azeroth for the discussions meant that physical location was not an issue, and as I work with libraries across New South Wales this was important. It has meant that other people can participate too, and various IT and web people have been coming along as well. The in-game environment has proved interesting as people seem much more willing to ask questions than sometimes happens in face to face talks.

The transcripts from past Where is the Library? meetings seem to show that most of those who attend have at least some level of fluency with World of Warcraft itself -- not always the case with academic researchers, who often play at only the most casual levels or interject themselves into raiding guilds as relatively impartial observers over a limited period of time.

I wonder if you've seen any shift in gaming research as a direct result of more and deeper researcher involvement in the game as players themselves?

Some of the recent speakers, for example Mark Chen, Moses Wolfenstein and John Carter McKnight, all seem to be long-term players of games. The games they play over time may change, but games are a critical part of their lives, and they appeared to choose their research paths because of their playing, and not simply as an anthropological environment. This playing before starting research would seem to produce a deeper understanding as the researchers can avoid some of the basic mistakes made by some of the other researchers who did not realise the complexity of the discussions which were taking place outside the game.

Do you see differences in attitude toward gaming and its relevance to readers among library professionals in Australia, Europe and the United States?

The variation is not so much by country as a variation in focus. The library role varies dramatically. Some libraries in all of these places are very active in their use of games, and this may be linked to reading or linked to inclusion, connecting people within the community. For some, games are still not on the radar.

Possibly the most interesting library game at present is the Ann Arbor District Library summer game which they run instead of a summer reading program and Orange Country Library System is also a leader. Brian Meyer and Christopher Harris are doing amazing things in school libraries and DOK in the Netherlands is a European leader. Many libraries are not linking the reading and playing (which is a lost opportunity), and I am still waiting to see local studies games to help people explore the past in their area. Libraries may have board games which can be played in the library and this is a way of connecting different people together.

Librarians in Azeroth
So how are games and web 2.0 resources changing the way the public uses library resources? Or perhaps we should ask how libraries are changing the way they interact with these media to provide resources to the public?

This is tough to answer for games as it is still an area with many opportunities which are not being followed. I am not sure why, but it still seems a tough area for some libraries to consider. There have been some fun links with Dungeons & Dragons (which a small number of libraries are running, often with GMs from the community) and board games. For example tying in the Twilight board game with other programming about Twilight.

Web 2.0 resources can open up how libraries can interact with their community, by being online in the same spaces, and by making it easy for a local library to be part of people's information streams, and part of people's daily lives. A visit to the library can be a visit to anyone of the online environments the library is in, or it could be going to an actual building as well. You should be able to have a great library experience from wherever you are and it may not be in a library building. That kind of links to the idea of calling the guild Where is the library? because it asks the question. "Where is the library?" -- is it the building, or is it where ever someone can access library resources, services and programs from?

An example of web 2.0 use by libraries is the Twitter reading group, which is run by a state wide Readers Advisory group I work with. The program can be promoted by any library (as if they had done all the work) to their readers (and libraries are using a mix of Twitter, blogs, Facebook and in-library promotion), and then the discussion is supported nationally.

Next year, it is looking like there will be some libraries in other countries who will be participating as well. We will be adding in additional time zone information so people know when the discussions are on. Some libraries are using the themes for face-to-face reading groups and story times, which is exciting to see. The online discussions involve reading, but people also bring watching and playing into the mix as various games fit well with the themes being discussed each month.

Some libraries have found that Facebook works very well for promoting programs, and for taking bookings for these programs. Other libraries are using Twitter well. Flickr has long been popular too. There are a while lot more tools which some libraries are using to connect to their communities (the Orkney Library and Archive use of Google+, for example). It is about finding out which web 2.0 tools are used by your community and seeing how they respond to library involvement.

It can also be about teaching your community about these tools too. There have been some crowdsourced involvement such as the Trove (National Library of Australia) example where people are asked to correct the optical character-recognition scanned text. They have have a hall of fame board for this showing the top text correctors each month, which looks like a games leader board to me.

For some libraries, there are restrictions on their use of web 2.0 tools. These restrictions come from their local authorities/councils.

Library professionals converge in Ironforge library to talk gaming THURS
Has playing World of Warcraft affected how you interact with other players or other professionals or even types of media?

I think that playing World of Warcraft has made a lot of things possible which may not have otherwise happened. I have been able to hear (via chat) from amazing researchers, writers and librarians about how they are using games. I continue to look for different ways people are thinking about games with an eye to how libraries can use them. I enjoy Kickstarter with the different games available for backing and Wil Wheaton's Tabletop are two places that I check out. I have added a lot of games feeds to my RSS and to who I follow on Twitter as well as my Twitter lists. It has increased the information I am reading/watching in this area. I also play more games.

I am deliberately reading more books with games elements (because I enjoy them), for example, Ready player one by Ernest Cline, Fun Inc by Tom Chatfield (who also plays World of Warcraft), Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw, as well as various titles by Matt Forbeck.

Explore more perspectives from Forsyth's reading list, above, or review her paper on gaming (search on Ellen Forsyth) as well as this report. Or look through the wiki with the World of Warcraft talks, and read this paper written for a targeted audience on games and reading.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with Game of Thrones' Hodor (Kristian Nairn) ... a blind ex-serviceman and the guildmates who keep him raiding as a regular ... and a 70-year-old grandma who tops her raid's DPS charts as its legendary-wielding GM. Send your nominations to

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