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Libraries as Happiness Engines

Is your library in the happiness business? Liz Lawley, director of the Lab for Social Computing at Rochester Institute of Technology, says that libraries are more than just a place—they act as the emotional centers of their communities and places where people can feel happy. In her keynote address on Wednesday, she stressed the fun and motivational side of games and how libraries can use this to everyone’s advantage. (She looks pretty happy in this pre-presentation photo with Jane Dysart.)

People are really getting interested in functionality and fun – “productive play” is a wonderful term. (Think of the Mary Poppins song where “the task is not a grind.”) Instead of assigning a library research project, make it a game—like “Super Sleuth” Here’s an example of a summer reading program—Get a Clue @ your Library. It’s a powerful motivator that we don’t use often enough, she says.

She described a game called Social Genius that she developed while working at Microsoft. It encourages the recognition of colleagues within an organization—users get points for updating their bios and photos and for the more people they can correctly identify within their organization.

For many people, virtuality is beating reality. People think they’re not good at life, so they escape to gaming and virtual worlds. But, real world colleagues can be online playmates and the online world is becoming connected to the real world. Games can serve as “gateway drugs.” For example, Guitar Hero has encouraged people to learn real guitar (it takes advantage of the longing for the tangible).

“Virtual is not making the tangible go away,” she says, and this is important for libraries. How does your library make people feel happy, playful, and real? Make tangible connections. Make your library a space that connects the virtual and the real.

Liz’s presentation will be linked from her blog within a few days at

Paula J. Hane
News Bureau Chief, ITI

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