What if, as academic library organizations, we radically empowered our employees? What if, instead of leading our organizations through individuals or select groups, we lead through the collective energy of our staff? What if we created spaces for the free flow of information where the best of ideas could quickly take shape and immediately be integrated into our service models?

These were some of the questions I asked while watching the video above by Gabe Zichermann, author, consultant, and creator in gamification studies.

I’ve been thinking more and more about ways to use technology to improve large academic library systems that, in short, allow them to function more like small libraries: to be nimble, open, and innovative (rather than sluggish, exclusive, and obstructive). Here are some of the points from Gabe’s talk that speak to that:

  1. Games and game-like systems provide a constrained system for expressing creativity, which has been shown to inspire more creativity than unconstrained systems
  2. Gamification is about creating a process and not about badges or simply turning work into a game.
  3. Feedback. Feedback should be systematic and immediate. See Gabe’s comments on improving annual reviews (15 minutes in).
  4. Friends. Adults love social activities just as much as children. See Gabe’s comments on the company gym (20 minutes in). Also, teams must be authentic to work.
  5. Fun. People will work for free (and enjoy it) given the right motivations and circumstances. Cf. the “creds” system on StackOverflow. (Me: As academics, the idea of “creds” should appeal to us!)
  6. Don’t ignore the potential for hidden creators. Cf. the tutorials developed by Codecademy users (19 minutes in)
  7. You cannot legislate game-play or simply hire people who have game-play potential. It must be inspired from the ground up.

Most importantly, the things that motivate people are:

  1. Status
  2. Access
  3. Power
  4. Stuff

… in order from most meaningful to least meaningful. Also, from least expensive to most expensive interestingly.

As organizations, we often focus our creative energies on ways to improve the library experience for our users and ultimately this is our goal. But what if we took more time to reflect upon how we run our organizations and how we can both inspire our employees to do more (and better) and how we can create spaces where that inspiration is nurtured and encouraged? My prediction is that by creating these spaces and processes, we will ultimately need to spend less time seeking out ways to improve our services, since many of the solutions will naturally present themselves through new ways of communicating and work.

I would love to hear from you, dear reader, about any libraries academic or otherwise that have used gamification models to improve professional development, communication, and/or problem solving.