Workshops at Libraries (IMLS Project)

Thanks to a grant from IMLS, this project will establish a new role for public libraries as hubs for making neighborhood games and interactive stories. Our goal is to increase the voice of residents in telling interactive stories, especially tied to local history and the public good.

What can your neighborhood make?

We extend what libraries are already doing — including outdoor “story walks” that surged in popularity at libraries and public history projects with digital media. Our three leading examples are:

Our demos and success stories illustrate the range of what we support for libraries. One demonstration we created with the support of the Smithsonian, another features a 50-foot sculpture in collaboration with a Virginia artist (with additional funding for local artists to contribute), and a third is for libraries with makerspaces to create their own storytelling boxes.

Bringing our stories into public space

In many communities, the need has never been greater to tell our own stories — including with accessible technology. This project offers a new pathway to highlight resident voices and engage new audiences in public space. Neighborhoods facing gentrification and racial tensions (on top of COVID-19) may especially feel the need. Libraries are frequently the only neighborhood institution to provide access to local history, promote digital inclusion, and carve out space for marginalized voices.

New tools to engage “beyond our walls”

We have created an authoring tool called Hive Mechanic to help neighborhoods to create their own games and interactive stories. Libraries in particular may need new tools to help tell stories outdoors and away from screens, including at murals and in public space, but with low-cost and accessible technologies.

Hive Mechanic requires no technical skills (it uses drop-downs rather than code) and comes with templates to make it easy to try/modify/create. The editor is online, so you just need a web browser. The resulting activities can involve text messaging, audio phone calls, and multimedia messaging; the kiosks can do even more, including with arcade buttons and RFID tags. If you’re curious, see screenshots of the editor in action. 

If selected, your library will get…

  • $300 for supplies – including materials, text messaging access, etc.
  • $150 stipend for training – one person at each library (or a motivated patron) can receive this stipend for their time spent in more in-depth training (optional)
  • Turn-key templates to tell your local stories in just 30 minutes. Patrons can publish 1-10+ games or stories. We host all technology for you.
  • Built-in workshops and experiences for your patrons, led by the pioneering Game Center of American University.
  • Participate in our peer innovators network of 25 leading library innovators.

See our national call for 25+ libraries nation-wide.

Workshops that match your library

Participating libraries will host a workshop for residents to make games or interactive stories in 1-2 hours. The workshops will typically be led by game designers from the Game Center at American University. Each workshop will empower a group of residents to create their own games for public use, especially around a key local mural or cultural asset. Some teams will be inspired to add more local history or cultural content afterward from home or using library computers (e.g., archival material on a neighborhood landmark, original artwork, or audio clips from prominent elders). For each library we anticipate at least one team will launch a public game seeking a larger public audience.

  • Our curricular approach for workshops is “use/modify/create” — so everyone will try a working example within the first 15 minutes. Small teams will often prototype their story on paper index cards before making the interactive version with Hive Mechanic.
  • Low-tech for most (and high-tech for a few). Most libraries will choose the “low/no tech” approach. We provide full support of our tool for all program participants, including by Zoom and optional weekly office hours. Note that if you want to create a kiosk or “storytelling box” then you will need to find a staffer or volunteer with intermediate technology skill.
  • Play as a strategy. Play is not about technology or for kids — it’s part of human culture! We will offer five minutes on the principles of play for community engagement, based on research at the Playful Cities Lab and our recent book. For engagement professionals, this is often a favorite part.

How to participate (and hear more)

1. Curious to learn more? Get notified about our next informational Zoom, major project announcements and calls for libraries to apply. See also our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for libraries.

2. Apply to participate in early 2023 for round 2, using the form on our call for applications. In return, selected libraries will receive access to funds, training, and optional technology shipped to your library. We offer $300 in materials costs and $150 as a stipend for one person to attend an hour of training. Again, see our FAQ if you have questions.

Program timeline (longer-term)

We are reaching national scale through three workshop cycles. In 2021, five “exemplar libraries” in the Mid-Atlantic region (including rural and small libraries) began hosting workshops in their own libraries and launching stories with Hive Mechanic. In June of 2022, we opened the first of two national recruiting calls. The second call will be in 2023. Each call will yield ten cities/towns/tribal regions. (Do it yourself option: Since our software is free and open-source, any library with the technical skills can also install and operate our software on their own servers; let us know if you’re interested.)