SOMETHING NEW IN SUMMER READING 2010
At the end of summer 2009 NYPL set out to find ways that our online summer reading presence could give a bigger boost to our summer reading program. We conducted focus groups to see how we could capture the public’s interest online. Our users were clear about what they wanted. They wanted gaming and social networking elements. Logging-and-reviewing books was not enough. They wanted fun!
We needed a major redesign of summerreading.org to make the fun happen. Brooklyn Public and Queens Library, our partners in the project, were also in agreement. The fact that three separate large institutions agreed to cooperatively take a risk on a new and unproven idea was quite an accomplishment. NYPL took on the task of developing the new site in-house.
Adapting a social networking format for younger children presented special challenges. One element of more grown-up social networking sites like facebook and myspace is “friending” and messaging between individuals. These would probably not be appropriate elements for younger children. The site shouldn't become a personal popularity contest or encourage users to make personal comments directly to each other. It's a place for users to present their thoughts about books and media. The social networking aspect comes not so much from individual profile pages but through the book and badge pages where users can discover the media choices and badges that others are displaying.
The first thing most users want to do on the site is create an avatar for their profile page. These avatars enable children to maintain their anonymity while creating a fun, fictional identity. Browsing through the site users see hundreds of avatars on book and badge pages. Users can (and do) redesign their avatars over and over, choosing from multiple pages of hairstyles, skin colors, eyes, eyeglasses, beards, etc.
SUMMER READING & VIEWING & LISTENING & PLAYING
Children and teens do a lot more than read books over the summer and we wanted to channel their enthusiasm for all those other activities into summerreading.org. On summerreading.org 2010 users can log and review books, movies, music and videogames. Each media type counts equally towards the number of items logged on the public site. Behind-the-scenes the libraries do track the number of books read separately from the other media types. Librarians can also give badges to reward activities specific to reading – reading challenging books, reading in specific genres, reading aloud to others, etc.
Of course, not everything our users read is available in the database. Kids often can’t always spell the titles correctly or they read things that don’t fit standard library media formats like magazine articles, websites or comic books. We built the search function so that text that if a user’s text doesn’t match an item in the database it can still be entered in the user’s log by clicking “Add it to your log anyway”.
BOOK AND MEDIA PAGES
After selecting a book or media item from the search results users are shown the page for that item. It shows all of the reviews for the item and the avatars of everyone who has logged it. To encourage users to read and write reviews we placed a “LIKE THIS REVIEW” button so users can give a “thumbs up” to each other. Badges are awarded for both giving and receiving certain numbers of “Likes”. Users can then click through the avatars on the pages looking for book/media recommendations. Each book page shows all the other users who logged the same item. Hopefully, users will find others with similar tastes there and browse their profiles to discover new books and media they will enjoy.
While the number of books read is one measure of success, the amount of time spent reading is another. Summerreading.org tracks both.
We made the design of the site clean and simple. Our focus groups showed that there was little public interest in changing themes each year. Plain old “Summer Reading” by itself gets the point across and doesn’t require an annual redesign of the site. It’s just a summery blue-green and yellow. The absence of theme-related art on the website allows the participating NYC systems to make their own choices about creating theme materials for their individual libraries.
Online badges are very popular items for kids and teens on video game websites and even for adults on smart phone-based games like Foursquare.com. We didn’t have the ability to plan centrally for everything that would appeal to users in each neighborhood. We needed to enable local staff to create and award their own badges.
We stocked the site with an initial set of badges – program attendance, books logged, reviews written, site logins, favorite branches, etc. Then we opened the tools to the local staff. Their local programs are the ones that really connect with their local communities.
Some of the fun badges that came in from local staff are the “Zzzerrific Badge” (for readers of books with titles beginning with a Z), a “Pirate Book Badge”, a “Using Your Library Voice Badge”, a “What Would Bella Swan [of Twilight] Read Badge”, a “Read to a Dog Badge”, a “Louisa May Alcott Appreciation Society Badge”, a “Coretta Scott King Award Badge”, an “I visited the Bibliobús! Badge”, a “New York State of Mind Badge”, "Queens Teen Book Slam", "Bonsai Tree Badge for Understanding Martial Arts" and lots of badges for specific local programs, branches, and organizations.
These locally created badges are available to all users on the site. So a good idea at one branch can quickly spread across the city. We’ll be reviewing the best locally created elements and building them into the citywide program next year.
One creative way the site is being promoted in local branches is by printing out and hanging avatars of branch users in the children’s room. Some branches are inviting younger children, who might not be ready to login to the site, to draw or color their own avatars and hang them up with the printed ones.
Badges can be added in 3 ways. There are "trigger" badges that are awarded automatically every time a user accomplishes a certain number of actions - site logins, books reviewed, reviews liked, etc. There are "code" badges that can be won when a staff member announces the code and users type it on their profile badges. The code for a “Favorite Library Badge” can be placed on a sign at the library to encourage users to add it. Alternatively, the librarian can reward users directly by placing badges on their pages using their administrative tools.
Badge pages display the avatars of all the winners of the badge enabling users to see the profile pages of those with similar interests. The page on the left is for those who have given a “thumbs up” to reviews written by others.
Summerreading.org is built using the open source Drupal content management system. We’re interested in new opportunities for developing summerreading.org in the future. This could include collaborative development with other organizations. We might also consider using it for other things other than summer reading programs. The summer reading badges could be easily switched to other purposes. Possibilities might be using it as an academic incentive in a school environment, gaming tie-ins, museum-based programs, etc.
We’re very excited about the future of the site and we’d love to hear creative ideas or opportunities for developing it further. So far it’s a success. We’ve had nearly a million page views in the first three weeks.
Special thanks go to NYPL’s summer reading sponsors who helped pay the bills for this exciting new project:
Bank of America is the lead partner of The New York Public Library's Summer Reading Program, which is also funded by The Rona Jaffe Foundation; the New York Yankees Foundation; Target; May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, Inc.; a gift in memory of John R. Williams; Friends of Webster Library; American Girl; Scholastic and iVillage.