FAQ for Libraries on the IMLS Project

Here are some of the most common questions. Most of this only applies to our IMLS Project for libraries in 20+ cities, towns and tribal libraries around the US, 2022-2024.

Q: What will we learn?

Our program is about building capacity, perhaps even more than building new games and interactive stories. Those who complete it will gain confidence in the art of engage residents beyond the walls of the library — and in storytelling that is interactive, such as giving choices to participants, offering branching narratives, and using a protagonist to convey historical content.

Q: Do I need to have a certain level of prior technical skill to understand this or run these workshops?

A: Absolutely not! Just like Hive Mechanic, these workshops are meant to be easy to deliver. We do not require prior technical knowledge or expertise to apply or participate. The small amount of technical knowledge that is not required, but helpful for running workshops will be imparted during the training workshops that you would participate in, prior to running your own workshops. Additionally, the EBOW technical staff are on-hand to help you with any technical issues that arise and are outside of your comfort zone. We are here to support you!

Q: What about the $300 in materials per library?

A: For selected libraries, $300 is available. This is for prepaid text messaging and materials, including optional hardware. The idea is to support experimentation by offering $300 in materials to the participating libraries. Some of this funding will cover the costs to prepay for local SMS messaging and phone number rentals (typically a penny per text message, or 60 cents for an hour of phone audio, and $1/phone line per month). For some games, outdoor signage is essential; in this case, libraries may choose to print laminated posters from FedEx (or postcards with QR codes, etc.). Other libraries with an interest in coding or with a makerspace may choose to purchase hardware for outdoor “storytelling boxes.” Possible hardware might include $75 for a Raspberry Pi, $50 for a Makey Makey, and $20 for arcade buttons. The exact allocation will be up to each library, and will be discussed in the training. Rather than reimbursement, our default approach is to purchase requested materials online and ship them directly to your library.

Q: Honorarium/stipend for training ($150 for each location, optional)?

A: For equity and access, we are committed to offering a modest $150 honoraria (stipend) for one person at selected libraries. Not all library staff will be allowed by their institution to accept such honoraria, so it will be offered as an opt-in. We feel it is symbolically important to recognize the contributions of time — especially in under-resourced libraries, and from historically marginalized groups. If a volunteer for the community is the primary organizer of the workshop or commits exceptional time supporting other community members in making their games, we are also happy to allow the library to nominate a community member for the honoraria in their stead. Note that some paperwork is involved, as will be explained by American University staff.

Q: Can this be combined with an existing gaming program at a library?

A: Possibly, especially if your game program focuses on creative writing, or you are proposing a clear model like making an escape room or a choose-your-own-adventure. What you want to avoid is to mislead people who love videogame culture that our program is about making videogames — because these do not look like gamer culture, and they will be disappointed. Our system is more like telling stories with still images and audio; there are no avatars and this does not require any hand-eye coordination. It may be a better fit for a program in creative writing, youth empowerment, or community building. With an escape room, the group could gather to plan it together and they can clearly picture in advance how an escape room is different from a videogame.

Q: What if our library has several possible projects, such as multiple interesting archives and diverging audiences?

A: First, congrats on having options. That said, we highly recommend picking one design goal at the beginning so that you don’t spend the whole program trying to figure out what you want to do. It’s better to pick a specific audience that you will be happy to reach than multiple (and that specific audience can be one that is traditionally hard to reach or engage!).

Q: What terms and conditions apply to games or activities — and to those participating in them?

A: Live activities are typically the responsibility of the local library that is hosting it. Participants retain their intellectual property. There are some additional terms and conditions around using Hive Mechanic as software.

Q: What about my privacy and what you do with my phone number?

A: See our Privacy FAQ.

Q: How do I avoid copyright violations?

Do I have to own the Intellectual Property? A: As a general rule, think of what permissions you’d need to put an image or media file on the public internet. If you own the image/video (or other Intellectual Property), then of course you are allowed to send it using Hive Mechanic as long as it is not hate speech, pornography, etc. If you want to use someone else’s images or other IP, it might be ok to use the image if it was licensed for sharing (such as many Creative Commons licenses), or if you have obtained explicit permission. Again, it’s a lot like putting an image on your website. For an example of a major cultural institution sending images by text message, see SFMOMA’s project. For any additional information please see our Content Guidelines for Authors.

Q: How many people could a game or activity reach?

Our system is theoretically designed to be able to handle dozens or even hundreds of people at one time. We often find that public events like concerts or street festivals are a good way to reach larger audiences. Your project might also build its own word-of-mouth momentum, or tap into the networks of a local news outlet or nonprofit organization. Our $300 materials budget is most likely for hundreds of core participants (after reaching thousands through signage, etc.), rather than tens of thousands of core players (which might require additional fundraising, but might still be on the range of hundreds of dollars to operate). Typically the time invested in design far outpaces the technology costs.

Q: Will we be able to count the number of participants?

We are developing a list of core metrics like this that we can report, since many libraries seem to deeply value such counts. For privacy reasons we do not make the phone numbers of participants available to be seen, but we do have tracking statistics to inform you of the number of participant sessions, and are creating a dashboard for key metrics like this.

Q: What about a park that we don’t have permission to install signs in?

This is an important question for democracy, where deliberation and assembly happen in shared spaces. We will address both traditional ways of asking for formal privileges, activist techniques like tactical urbanism for asking for forgiveness rather than permission, and the benefits of tapping into existing partners for street-facing windows and lawn space.

Q: What hardware is included in a storytelling box?

It’s up to you, if you choose this higher-tech option. We make some recommendations like a homemade wooden box, a small digital screen, a Raspberry Pi computer, arcade buttons, a Makey-makey and sometimes a phone handset for audio purposes. 

Q: Will the editor be available to the public at large without participating in the Beyond Our Walls program?

The code for Hive Mechanic is open source, but you need the technical expertise to install this on your own servers; we do not yet have a pay-per-use service to ease this process. 

Q: Will we need to install any software or programs onto our library computer system?

Hive Mechanic is a web based editor, so there is no need to download or install any computer software to use it. The activities created using Hive Mechanic do require a cell phone signal as the system primarily uses text messages as the interaction for activities, so patrons will likely need a cell phone to try the activities you make — but we have also seen some creative ways to provide access, like loaning them an iPad that can send text messages or volunteers sharing their phones. For our national pilot project, we install the Hive Mechanic software on our servers, so libraries do not need to provide any server space.

Q: Can the Hive Mechanic editor support more than one activity or team?

A: Yes! The Hive Mechanic editor can host and store a theoretically unlimited number of activities you and your team creates. You may also add as many people as you would like to the Hive Mechanic editor so multiple teams can work on multiple activities at the same time.

Q: What tips for success do you have for those just starting the training?

A: Here are a couple: tease out your idea rather than locking it in too early (since there are some things our tool does better than others, and you will want to learn what those are as you go). Be willing to take risks and be a little creative or even weird – it can be what people are looking for with engagement. Try to have a friend or co-worker that you schedule time weekly to tell about your project: it helps to have some social accountability to keep you going, or even a deadline like trying to launch in time for a community day.

Q: Does this work for older residents and the elderly?

A: Yes, it seems to, assuming they already send text messages with someone in their lives. We have found it helps if a staff member gets the person started on their own phone… and then they’re off to the races. There are some additional tips we have learned along the way. For example, some residents didn’t realize they have to hit ‘send’ on their first text message (the QR code pre-fills the first text message), so we started including a nudge in the text that told them to press send when they’re ready. We do not have hard data on success rates by age, but it seems to work widely. Let us know what you discover!

Q: Does this work for a rural setting, and how might we keep it fresh?

A: The technology we use turns out to be especially well suited for rural settings, where texting is better than assuming data plans. We are also very eager to see how the content can be refreshed and kept engaging, based on similar questions we’ve been thinking about for some of our longer-running projects like our “text with a sculpture” in Reston, VA, where the folks on the ground continue to bring new artists’ work into the system and tell residents to try it for something new. Sometimes an email strategy may be needed to accompany content changes in the interactive story. Let us know what you discover!

Q: How long can current participants keep using their phone number?

A: If your number is in active use and you haven’t exhausted your allocated budget, then you can keep using your number through July of 2024 (when our IMLS grant ends). Upon request to our team, active projects that have been released to the public can keep using their number and Hive account through the end of 2024. We are not yet confident that we will be able to support any numbers in 2025; we plan to decide circa October of 2024. Some projects can be rebuilt using alternate tools (like Twilio studio), and use the same phone number once you start paying for it directly (this involves a fairly lengthy registration process with Twilio). The skills learned to use Hive are somewhat transferrable to Twilio Studio, but not entirely. If you’re interested in these longer-term possibilities, please email us for advice.

More to come!