Participating in Google Summer of Code


The Google Summer of Code (GSoc) coding period kicks off today after a month long community bonding period. As part of this initiative I’m mentoring a student working on a Pocket Code game project for Catrobat. It’s one of 12 projects Catrobat are focused on for GSoc this year.

In case you’re wondering what GSoC is, it’s a worldwide annual programme “in which Google awards stipends to students who successfully complete a free and open-source software coding project during the summer.” The program is open to university students aged 18 or over. Since 2005, over 15,000 students in 109 countries have worked with 686 open source organisations, & created 36,000,000+ lines of open source code.

It’s exciting to see how my mentee’s project is taking shape. I’ve acted as an informal mentor in the past, and I was also a mentor for Catrobat last year. But it’s the first time I’ve been a mentor formally on a 1-to-1 basis, & I’m really enjoying it. I was very happy to be asked to participate again. Being able to focus on supporting a student in developing their project by listening to their ideas, providing guidance & encouragement is a positive experience. It’s also made me realise that I know more than I thought I did! It’s also great learning experience for me.

I’m also curious to know what other people’s mentoring experiences have been like – whether that’s as a mentor or mentee for GSoC, or another profession or industry. Please add a comment below and share your thoughts.

Catrobat logo

Game Library Camp – #GameLibCamp17


Last weekend, along with Darren Edwards (Bournemouth Libraries), Sarah Cole (TIME/IMAGE) & Stella Wisdom (British Library),  I was involved in organising & running Game Library Camp at The British Library. On the day we had nearly 50 attendees from different sectors of the library community (public, academic, health, national, specialist) and outside of it. The discussions covered a range of topics, including:

  • running different types of games events
  • use of games for teaching and information literacy
  • the value of game activities in a library context
  • archiving games
  • virtual and augmented reality.

There was also a chance to play a few games during the afternoon too.

It was a great opportunity for people to meet up and discuss ideas with others who have similar passions. About 14 sessions were run in all, and to keep the conversations going after the event we have encouraged attendees to join up to the Games & GLAMs discussion group. This online group has a broader focus of games activities in Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums, but there are plenty of ideas being shared in the group that cut across these different sectors.

I led on 2 sessions on the day:

  1. Free & easy to use digital game making tools.
  2. Interactive fiction – what is it and why is it relevant to libraries?

My take on both making games & interactive fiction is that they fit perfectly into the core purpose of libraries as places to share stories (regardless of whether they are fictional or factual/biographical), and as places to support literacy/readers/writers. Games & interactive fiction can also be great ways to re-purpose existing collections held in libraries in new and exciting ways.

Free & easy game making tools

In this session I wanted to highlight that if you wanted to encourage people to make games in libraries starting out with game making tools that are free & easy to use reduces the entry level for game making as a starting point. The following tools were mentioned during the session by myself and others:

  • Inklewriter – create the digital equivalent of Choose Your Own Adventure
  • Twine – interactive fiction tool
  • Squiffy – interactive fiction tool
  • Bitsy – a retro looking game maker for creating story led games
  • Flickgame – make a game by draw pictures & linking them together
  • Scratch – used by Code Clubs. Build games by putting together blocks of code
  • Pocket Code – an Android equivalent of Scratch
  • Jigsaw Planet – upload a picture and turn it into a jigsaw that others can try to put together
  • H5P – this site provides a variety of web site plug ins, some of which allow you to create quizzes and memory games.

There are other free or low-cost game making tools available that allow you to create much more complex games, which are also worth exploring, but they are more complicated than the tools mentioned above. Here are some of the most popular ones.

Interactive fiction – what is it and why is it relevant to libraries?

My focus for interactive fiction in regard to libraries, is that most commonly stories in libraries exist within the pages of a printed book, but interactive fiction expands writers opportunities for sharing their stories in new digital ways. I’ve run workshops (using Inklewriter, Squiffy & Twine) on creating interactive fiction and target creative writers when promoting them. One thing I focus on is that interactive fiction fits nicely in with the core idea of libraries as places that develop literacy, reading, writing, and as places for sharing new ideas. Interactive fiction could be described as the digital equivalent of a choose your own adventure book and is the successor to computer text adventures that were most popular in the late 1970s and 1980s. I wanted to emphasise that interactive fiction doesn’t just have to be fiction – it can be factual and/or autobiographical. I’ve seen it used as a tool for creating empathy and sharing personal stories on subjects like mental health, cultural differences, and LGBT (much like the living library concept). It’s also a way that library services can re-purpose their collections. For example, making use of local history collections to create a digital story that brings a local area to life.

For inspiring examples of how collections can be re-purposed to create games and interactive fiction take a look at:

Even though all 3 are high-profile organisations, you don’t necessarily need to be high-profile to get involved in these sort of activities. For example, I’ve run online events that encouraged writers and game developers to get involved in making games with a literary twist – Alice Jam 150 (Alice in Wonderland); Bard Jam (Shakespeare); and Odyssey Jam (Homer’s epic tale).

I really enjoyed the event – it was a great opportunity to meet others with a similar passion, and to help develop the network of people with an interest in games in libraries.

And don’t forget to start planning for International Games Week @ Your Library (29th October – 4th November).

Free Game Library Camp – 12th August


I’m involved in organising a free 1/2 day game themed Library Camp at the British Library on 12th August.

If you’ve got any interest in the overlap between libraries and games (board, video, card, physical, games for learning, playing or making games etc etc etc) it’s well worth attending and will be a great opportunity to share ideas and discuss games in libraries with others passionate about these things.

Here’s the site for Game Library Camp with more details:


#Odysseyjam – an interactive fiction writing challenge


For Read Watch Play we’re running Odyssey Jam, an interactive fiction writing challenge focused on Homer’s The Odyssey. It’s open to all – whether you’re an experienced interactive fiction writer or not. The deadline for submissions is 27th March, and it’s been great following the #odysseyjam hashtag on Twitter – so many interesting interpretations of the theme being shared on there. If you want to get involved follow the link below. I’m really looking forward to trying out the entries one the deadline has passed.

More free #LibraryAtoZ greeting cards


The #LibraryAtoZ project has more free greeting  cards to distribute. So, at this time of year it would be a great opportunity to send them as an extra special festive greeting to your local library funders etc and remind them of why we love our libraries. Or maybe you’d like to use them in another way to spread the message about the value of public libraries. That’s fine too.

If you would like some sent to you for free please fill in the contact form on the Library A to Z site.


#Mozfest fun


I attended Mozfest last Sunday — what a great event. There was so many sessions covering a wide variety of tech related topics, but I actually only attended one session apart from the session I ran with Stella Wisdom. I spent an hour building circuits with copper wire, sticky LEDs, battery, paper and pens — at the end of which I had a dragon whose eyes glowed when you pressed its belly button.

Explore Mozillafestival’s photos on Flickr. Mozillafestival has uploaded 2082 photos to

This session was a great example of where creativity and technology overlapped, and its something that would be perfect for a library Makerspace session. In fact there were lots of sessions in the Youthzone and beyond that would be perfect for a makerspace session. Plenty of Raspberry Pi sessions too, quite a few being run by children and young people. Even though I didn’t attend many sessions I spent most of my time talking to other attendees about what they were doing there, sharing ideas and also about what we are doing in Surrey Libraries in relation to this sort of activity.

The session Stella and I ran went well — it was focused on introducing people to interactive fiction, and was a bit of a lighting fast approach. A short intro to interactive fiction (including examples and a quick read through of a handful of Choose your own adventure books), plus about 20 minutes hands-on with Twine and Squiffy — free software you can use to create interactive fiction with. The age range of the attendees was from about 7 to mid-30s, and we had positive feedback at the end of it. One of the interesting things for me was that attendees raised the potential of using the software for things like interactive video storyboarding and simple app development, as both Squiffy and Twine output stories as html and Javascript.

If anyone’s interested in how we organised the session and notes we used,here’s a link to the handouts, simple session plan and example stories created in both Squiffy and Twine.

Thanks to the YouthZone organisers, particularly Dorine Flies for encouraging me to get involved. It was well worth it.

(This was originally posted on Medium)

Running an interactive fiction session at #Mozfest #Youthzone


I’m heading to the Mozilla festival this weekend and am running an interactive fiction workshop with Stella Wisdom from The British Library in the Youth Zone.

I thought it was a great opportunity to show the sort of things that libraries are involved in away from the library space. There are also a handful of other library staff from around the country who’ll be running other fun/interesting sessions over the course of the weekend, and I’m sure I’ll come away with ideas from other sessions that touch on libraries core role/functions – plenty of ones on copyright, digital rights, and informal learning for example. Plenty of other sessions with a more techy and creative focus as well, including robots, virtual reality, performance, coding, making and crafting.

Here’s some more details about my session.

Mozfest looks like it’s going to be fun.

Multimedia PhDs – Digital Conversations at The British Library


I attended an interesting event last night at The British Library focused on PhDs that consisted of a variety of multimedia outputs and not just a standard 10,000 word thesis, and the issues this raised when submitting them as research.

All 3 PhDs discussed had very creative elements to them.

Craig Hamilton’s Harkive music focused on the experience of popular music.

Imogen Lesser covered the architectural make up and language of Gormenghast and other Mervyn Peake work.

Tara Copplestone focused on games as an output of archeological work.

Below are the live streams of the session.

One thing I thought of during the session was… even if the researchers can’t submit all the multimedia aspects of their research as part of their PhDs there’s still a huge opportunity to share these outputs with the wider population. All 3 of these research projects have such a wide popular fan base appeal – down to the nature of the subjects they are focused on – that it seems they could have a life beyond their original remit. For example, Imogen Lesser had already created an exhibition of her research including grand scale architect drawings and maps of Mervyn Peake’s world that fans of his work could enjoy too.

Can’t these outputs be made use of and spread the word about this research in a way that will get each of the thesis discovered by more than a handful of academics? I personally found each of these research projects so interesting and creative that they deserve a wider audience.

Cultural Creativity: Events and Ideas


Over the past few months I’ve had the opportunity to attend a few events focused on cultural creativity. The key ones were Creative Works London, Game Camp, and Guildford Games G3 Futures. All of them have touched on my day-to-day role as a librarian with an interest in the digital and the creative, and all of them gave me a buzz of inspiration.

Creative Works London Festival: “CWL is a London’s Knowledge Exchange Hub, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) over four years to bring London’s researchers, creative entrepreneurs and businesses together to explore the issues with an impact on the capital’s creative economy.” This was an event that showcased 143 projects that were recently funded as part of the CWL initiative. It crossed all of the arts, but the projects I was most interested in were ones with a heritage background. Projects such as Poetic Places and Lines in the Ice both partnered with the British Library, and made use of its collections in new and interesting ways. The Poetic Places project developed a free mobile phone app containing details of poetry and archive material of London on a digital map, with push notifications triggered by GPS. Lines in the Ice “focused on the 1845 expedition by John Franklin to discover the Northwest Passage”, and amongst other things resulted in the creation of a fictional hand bound diary, games and songs recorded and published on Soundcloud. The Play Your Place project focused on workshops that enabled communities to build their own platform game about issues that were personal to them eg their local area – attendees create the graphics and audio, and then build the game around them. So for example, Southend participants created platform games based on creating a bike friendly Southend; and Westminster participants created a game in response to Fire Station closures. I loved the way all 3 of these projects took original source material, looked at it from a new perspective and turned it into a new narrative.

Game Camp London: This was an informal unconference style event which brought together game players, developers, researchers, academics and anyone else who was interested in games. It was an opportunity to both discuss aspects of games and also play them. All of the sessions I attended were both fun and interesting. That included sessions about Twitter Adventure (a Twitter based Choose your adventure game); empathy for computer generated characters in games; mock games awards; a proposal for a game jam focused around space and Kennington; a discussion on useful game related books for game development courses. I also ran a session to get ideas about how to run more successful interactive fiction game jams in future. I had lots of useful suggestions, including…

  • Decide what your aim is – eg Is it to encourage writers to take up writing interactive fiction? or create new narratives from existing library/written material?  Show traditional readers that interactive fiction is worth exploring too.
  • Split the jam into 2 parts – 1st part creates the story. 2nd part creates the interactive fiction from that material.
  • Use different groups to create the 2 parts eg writers part 1. Game developers part 2. Target the places where they congregate online.
  • Giving a narrow focus to the theme. eg Something broad like Create an Epic Story isn’t a narrow enough focus. 2 or 3 keyword prompts are useful.
  • Give the creators some inspiration eg resources from the library.
  • A shorter game jam period helps people focus their efforts. eg 48 hours or 1 week.
  • Have a physical game jam as well as an online one.

G3 Futures Guildford Games conference: Unlike Game Camp, this was business focused and brought together local game developers and also the wider network of supporters. It was organised by The University of Surrey, UKIE (UK Interactive Entertainment trade body) and technology law specialist Charles Russell Speechlys. Guildford has an amazing amount of high profile and independent game development companies in the area and there’s a real push to raise the profile of Guildford in this respect. One of the key things I picked up on was the need for game developers to connect to their broader community in the local area and spread the message/joy about what they’re doing. I’d be more than happy to help them connect with the wider community. How about a ready made community and new audience in the centre of Guildford with a shared love of the enjoyment of stories – traditionally books, but I know many are going to love those stories in games too. It’s a community that has over 240,000 visitors a year – Guildford Library. One event I’ve been trying to pull together is a demo day for local game developers, and we’ve also run game days, interactive fiction workshops, Minecraft parties, so we know the appetite for games related events and activities in libraries is there.

From all of these events I got a strong sense of how libraries could play a role alongside creative communities, whether that’s making use of existing ideas in a library context, or supporting them to help develop these communities and the work they are doing.

Notes on running interactive fiction workshops


As I’ve run a few introduction to text-based interactive fiction workshops for the library service (both staff and the public), I thought it would be useful to share information about how I’ve organised them, if anyone was interested in running their own.

Each participant will need access to a computer with an internet connection to participate.

Each of the workshops were between 1.5 & 2 hours in length and followed this structure:

  • Introduce the group to the concept of interactive fiction (IF) as a form of writing for creative writers. (5 mins)
  • Introduce Inklewriter as a free online software tool that can enable them to produce IF quickly and easily, and show an example of IF created using Inklewriter. (5 mins)
  • Run through step-by-step notes on creating an Inklewriter IF, showing basic techniques (branching, images, re-using text passages) and overview of more complex techniques. (30 mins)
  • Give them time to create their own short piece of interactive fiction.
  • Wrap up the workshop (5 mins)

Here are a few handouts I used for various workshops:

It’s also useful to have some creative writing prompts just in case any participant is hit with a blank moment.

The majority of the workshops were aimed at adults, but I’ve also run one for teens, which used the cut-down notes instead of the full step-by-step information.

So, that’s how I’ve run sessions myself, but I’m also interested in hearing any suggestions from others about how I can improve these workshops.