Thursday, April 18, 2019

Teach Yourself Twine: How to Create a Catalog Search and LC Call Number Review Game, by Jillian Sandy

My problem was this: after depending on a shelving tutorial borrowed from another institution for training purposes, suddenly the URL changed or the site no longer hosted this excellent (and free) resource. I thought I’d never have the time or the coding skills to make my tutorial. I was so wrong. I ended up creating a fun, low-stakes game that helped student employees a way to practice catalog searches and using the Library of Congress system, and I want to share with you!

The game additionally allows student employees to further explore catalog searching and to nudge them toward using the catalog to search for books--I created this game at the University of Dayton, where the default search option is UDiscover (OneSearch at many institutions), a tool we do not recommend for looking up books.

If you’d like to do something similar, here’s how: you will need to choose a free, relatively easy-to-use platform. I recommend Twine, open-source software created to build interactive stories. Though you can use this in-browser, I would recommend downloading the program for Windows, Mac, or Linux. You’ll have a lot more storage space for your game this way--important if you’d like to include adorable pictures of cats, gifs, or video to add some visual appeal.

Twine very easily lets you create a beginning and end to your game. You can also link pages to each other--for example, the pages student employees will see when they answer a question correctly or incorrectly, as well as links to the next question on their adventure.

Now for that pesky coding part of the process. You will need to do some coding to change font and image sizes, and perhaps to add images or create links (for example, when giving attribution for images). The good news: you can Google all of these things! I have very little experience with coding and managed to create this game--you can too!

One additional consideration with Twine is the use of images; first, you will need to find images that are out of the public domain, licensed by Creative Commons, or otherwise unencumbered by copyright restrictions. I found many images requiring attribution only at Vecteezy and Pixabay. I also like Unsplash for this kind of thing.

Unlike a blog or another site where you can upload images, images in Twine will need to be encoded. Again, you’re in luck--there are many sites where you can encode images for free! ou will need to turn your image into a rather lengthy line of code. I used a site called Base 64, which allows you to drag and drop images to transform into code. Below is an example of an image and the beginning of its code.

Another option in lieu of images are gifs. On sites like Giphy, the embed code is provided! All you need to do is copy and paste the embed code and the whole ordeal of encoding images can be avoided. 

When you have completed your game, you can export the file as an HTML file. This will lead to another consideration: hosting. Luckily, there are several places where you can host your Twine creation with no cost. I use, which does require a Twitter account to sign up. If you do have an account, you will simply upload the HTML file you have created. No need to worry about the URL changing or the content suddenly disappearing! Be aware that you cannot change your game once you’ve uploaded it; if you need to make changes, you will need to edit the HTML in Twine and then re-upload as a new game (with a new URL). 

The game I created is pretty low key, requiring student employees only to complete the game and print or screenshot their “Purr-tificate of Completion.” However, the Twine Cookbook does outline the process of adding or subtracting points based on student responses (and provides some other helpful codes). Using a points system does provide an assessment tool for the game, though may feel more like a test to students than the interactive practice game I set out to make. 

In addition to training for student employees, I see the potential of this activity to be used as pre-work for library instruction sessions. Covering some search strategies ahead of time could give librarians more time to dive into information literacy concepts during class. 

If you’re feeling adventurous, play the game here: You may need to search the UD Catalog to avoid any negative consequences from the game’s disgruntled cats: (I've had some problems with Twine going down temporarily every now and then...but since it's free I have made do.I also have it hosted on Text Adventures here: 

Jillian Sandy is a Visiting Research & Instruction Librarian at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She can be reached at jssandy at smcm dot edu. Find many pictures of her cat on Instagram as jsheilas.

No comments:

Post a Comment