#BardJam – a literary game jam writing challenge for April


Following on from last year’s Alice Jam 150 (an Alice in Wonderland themed game jam) I was itching to run another online game jam. So, the Shakespeare themed Bard Jam has been set up and will run throughout April. As Read Watch Play online book discussion theme for April is #BardRead and because The British Library and Game City also have a theme of Shakespeare for their Off The Map competition I thought it would be a nice idea to tie a writing related jam into other related things running at the same time. The game jam this time is focused solely on text based games, and can include interactive fiction, text adventures and any other text based digital story. Full details of #BardJam can be found here.

Alice Game Jam EU CodeWeek



More fun storytelling/Alice themed game jam news! The team behind Pocket Code (an easy to use mobile programming tool based on Scratch) are running an Alice in Wonderland game jam between now and 18th October, as part of the E.U. Code Week. Full details can be found by following the link.

Readers Take an Active Role in Interactive Fiction


Readers Take an Active Role in Interactive Fiction

I wrote this post about interactive fiction for the Read, Watch, Play blog.

Reading fiction is generally seen as a passive activity, with the reader following a single path of the story that has been set out by the writer. However there are opportunities for readers to take a more active role in the development of a writer’s story. This is especially true in the case of interactive fiction.

In works of interactive fiction (IF) the writer presents a story, but gives the reader the option to deviate from the thread of the narrative, or direct it in a particular path at various points along the way….

Read, Watch, Play is an online reading group that focuses on a new theme every month and includes films, TV, games and music as well as books as part of the discussion.

The full post can be read here.

Links to public libraries ebook lending review report and responses

The independent report of ebook lending in English public libraries has now been published. The link below will take you to the report itself and the government’s response to it.
The key recommendations are:
  • The provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 that extend PLR to audio books and loans of on-site e-books should be enacted.
  • Further legislative changes should be made to allow PLR to take account of remote e-loans.
  • The overall PLR pot should be increased to recognise the increase in rights holders.
  • A number of pilots in 2013 using established literary events should be set up to test business models and user behaviours, and provide a transparent evidence base: all major publishers and aggregators should participate in these pilots.
  • Public libraries should offer both on-site and remote E-Lending service to their users, free at point of use.
  • The interests of publishers and booksellers must be protected by building in frictions that set 21st-century versions of the limits to supply which are inherent in the physical loans market (and where possible, opportunities for purchase should be encouraged).  These frictions include the lending of each digital copy to one reader at a time, that digital books could be securely removed after lending and that digital books would deteriorate after a number of loans.  The exact nature of these frictions should evolve over time to accommodate changes in technology and the market.
There have already been a number of responses to it from various individuals and  organisations (below), mostly welcoming the majority of the report’s recommendations.

I’m not going to comment on it here (please take at look at Voices for The Library response), but I did just want to highlight this section on the opportunities that could come from ebook lending:

For libraries, embracing a digital strategy could give them a better way of communication with their members, helping them to bring a larger footfall into their buildings for events and services.  For publishers, digital lending could bring them closer to the book-borrowing and book-buying public.  And for writers, the extension of PLR to the digital and audio world would allow for much more accurate financial recognition for the borrowing of their books.  If a digital sales platform is developed, as part of a library catalogue, through which local booksellers can be promoted, this may support the development and the sustainability of these retail outlets as part of the local high street.

Library Ebook Trends on Google


When discussing ebook use in libraries I was reminded by @ShedSue of Google Trends. This service allows you to enter keywords/search terms and presents you with statistics about how commonly those keywords are used in Google searches. Sue had already presented some stats on ebooks using it, but I put together a rough report of keywords that people might use when looking for ebooks in the UK, focusing on “ebooks”; “downloaded ebooks”; “free ebooks”; “library ebooks” searches. I really wanted to see how commonly the phrase “library ebooks” featured ie how often people searched for that phrase compared to the others – it didn’t do very well. In fact it came a distant last to all of the other keyword searches.

The Google Trends report for each of the keyword searches also provided a list of related keywords that people searched for as well as that keyword. eg When people searched for “ebooks” they also searched for the following:

  • ebooks free
  • ebooks download
  • ebook
  • ebooks kindle
  • kindle
  • ebooks for free
  • free books
  • amazon ebooks
  • ebooks uk
  • free ebook

Alongside these related keywords the report also featured “Rising searches” ie those related keyword searches that were increasing in popularity. eg For “ebooks” they were:

  • amazon ebooks
  • ebooks kindle
  • kindle
  • kindle ebooks free
  • ebooks for free
  • ebooks uk
  • pdf ebooks
  • ebooks download
  • ebook
  • free books

In all of the related keyword and rising search results for  “ebooks”; “downloaded ebooks” and “free ebooks”, the thing that struck me the most was that the keyword “library” didn’t appear once. “free” did, plenty of times. – but no sign of “library”.

Also, even though related and rising search results from the “library ebooks” search retrieved phrases containing the word “library” in them, there were still plenty of references to other non-library searches that highlighted people were also searching for similar keywords/phrases used in the other 3 searches. However, when searching in the other 3 ways (“ebooks”; “downloaded ebooks” and “free ebooks”) people didn’t automatically consider searching for the phrase “library ebooks”.

So, it appears that even though people in the UK are looking for ebooks via the internet, they’re not really considering libraries as a place to find them. If they were wouldn’t we see “library ebooks” appearing in the related keyword search lists?

If we are to develop ebook services in UK libraries shouldn’t we be aiming to push “library ebooks” higher up those related keyword search lists? The higher it is, the more likely our ebook library services will feature in Google search results and the more we will draw people to our library websites and to the many other library services we have on offer alongside our ebook services.

The report I pulled together can be found here.

Here’s a live link to the Google Trends page these searches generated.

Disclaimer: These are just initial thoughts off the top of my head and any further input on this would be appreciated.

Monoculture (The Archdruid Report)


I found this really interesting blog post, “The Twilight of Meaning“, about the impact of reading choices/options upon culture, society and economics. It was written by John Michael Greer, an American Archdruid… so having such a unique perspective on things really caught my attention. It’s a very detailed post, covering the impact upon American politics and America in general, but I wanted to highlight some specific points that hit me, that might also be of interest to other librarians.

The author talks about recently finding a copy of “The White Stag” (published in 1937) in the book sale section of his local library, which leads onto this train of thought…

  • When the author was younger “you could find books that old and much older, plenty of them, in small town public libraries all over the country.”
  • Nowadays, you are more likely to get “movie, toy, and video game tie-ins“. These are “all part of the feedback loop that endlessly recycles the clichés of current popular culture into minds that, in many cases, have never encountered anything else.
  • As a result of this “the threads of our collective memory are coming silently apart.
  • Without a sense of the past and its meaning, without narratives that weave the events of our daily lives into patterns that touch the principles that matter, we lack the essential raw materials of thought, and so our collective reasoning processes, such as they are, spit out the same rehashed nonsolutions over and over again.
  • … the awareness that the lessons of the past have something to teach the present—requires a kind of awareness that’s become very uncommon” and current ineffective solutions are based on “the feedback loop” and this leads to “a mental monoculture“.
  • The result is like taking a loaf of Wonder Bread and spreading something different on every slice, starting with Marmite and ending with motor oil; there are plenty of surface variations, but underneath it’s always the same bland paste.
  • To resolve the situation the author suggests people should “go looking among things that are older than you“. Even if it’s “the pablum of a different time, and will clash with mental habits tuned to the pablum of this time, with useful results.
So, if we don’t want society to make the same mistakes over and over again we need to ensure that these different perspectives remain available and accessible to all – whether it’s the narrative of a fictional work, the ideology of a non-fiction work, or any other work that causes us to think in a different way. They are all valuable in determining what could happen in the future.
I think the following quote from the post sums it up nicely.

The public library in Seattle, to my horror, once put up splashy ads asking, “What if everyone in Seattle read the same book?” Why, then we’d have even more of a mental monoculture than we’ve got already.

The full blog post is definitely worth taking the time to read.

Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy


The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has just published a “Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy.”

As literacy and libraries go hand in hand it is encouraging to see so much emphasis on the value of libraries within the report.

In defining the context of the inquiry it was indicated that “a poverty of trained librarians” was a factor contributing to low levels of literacy. At the same time you should also say that in the current climate, a lack of posts for trained librarians is also a factor. It’s no good having trained librarians if they are not employed in a role where their skills can be used.

Here are the main points made in the report regarding libraries.

“The right of citizens to visit a library and have access to a range of free reading material must be made overt and funding made available. Evidence shows that libraries both in schools and in the community have a positive effect on reading, yet many are disappearing because of financial constraints”

“The active encouragement of reading for pleasure should be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement because extensive reading and exposure to a wide range of texts make a huge contribution to students’ educational achievement. This is why libraries are so important to the development of a reading culture – both those in schools and those in the community.”

“Participants in the Inquiry praised the work of Sure Start Centres where parents and their children could come to improve parenting skills, address social issues and receive informal literacy help. The aims of these Sure Start programmes are to (1) increase the numbers of parents/carers reading with their children; (2) increase library membership amongst 0-4 year-olds and their parents/carers; (3) ensure that 100% of children have access to good quality play and learning; and (4) reduce the number of children who need specialist speech and language support by the time they start school.”

“Evaluations of Bookstart programmes in 2009 indicated that parents were strongly supportive of reading with babies and toddlers and generally read frequently with their children. Longitudinal evidence suggested marked improvement in book sharing frequency after receiving the packs for ‘less active’ reading families (those that reported having relatively few children’s books in the home and read with their child less than once a day). Three months after receiving a Bookstart pack these ‘less active’ reading families reported significantly increased reading frequency, stronger parental interest in reading with their child and higher levels of library membership. Early intervention initiatives such as Sure Start Centres and Bookstart should be guaranteed funding over a period of time.”

Theme 7 Specifically focused on protecting library provision…

“It was felt by all groups in this Inquiry that the lack of a coherent support for school libraries and their proven impact early in children’s education is a huge anomaly. Although it is clear that libraries are not the single answer to improving literacy, they are an important resource for supporting a school’s literacy teaching and learning.

The concern is that students without school libraries will not have access to a wide range of learning and reading resources to support their learning. A good library and, crucially, a good librarian, can be a real benefit to a school and attainment.

For example, the

School Library Commission Report, which surveyed 17,000 students, found that there was a very strong relationship between reading attainment and school library use. Young people who read below the expected level for their age were almost twice more likely to say that they are not a school library user. Conversely, those who read at or above the expected level were nearly three times more likely to say that they are school library users.”

“Many children have no books at home and such a culture will not encourage reading. Libraries are essential to provide free and open access to a wide variety of reading materials. Economic constraints are forcing some of these to close and for schools to limit their library facilities and this can only be a barrier to successful literacy for learners of all ages.”

“The Publishers Association reports that purchases of school library books have declined by 40% since 2002. The Secretary of State has said that children should be reading up to 50 books a year and that successful schools give a high profile to reading for pleasure, but current policy seems to operate against this.”

“Throughout the Inquiry, the School Library Association and several literacy associations highlighted the importance of books and reading materials of all kinds, including new technological developments.”

“Libraries must be central to literacy development, and must be appropriately resourced.”

There’s no need for me to comment on these points, but in summary I’ll just state the obvious for those local authorities who don’t understand the importance of decent library provision…

  • Funding must be made available for free reading material and access to it via both school and public libraries.
  • Both school and public libraries are important because they provide a broad range of reading materials, which improves literacy and this in turn improves educational achievement.
  • Surestart and Bookstart schemes have a positive impact on library use.
  • School library services supported by a good librarian have a positive impact on literacy levels.
  • The current ethos of reducing funding for school and public libraries clearly goes against the idea of improving literacy.

Hopefully this report, backed up by the opinions of experts in literacy and all Government parties, will help secure the future of library provision in the UK.