Mattituck library creates a digital copy of itself

07/08/2013 10:00 AM |

Did you know that there are two Mattituck-Laurel Libraries?

There’s one in the real world, but also an exact replica in the virtual world of Minecraft, an online video game that has grown tremendously in popularity over the last few years. On June 20, the library launched its own server for the game, on which an exact digital version of the building exists for the Minecraft world.

The idea was sparked by an article in the monthly magazine School Library Journal, said Karen Letteriello, the library’s co-manager of children’s services. The article encouraged libraries to start Minecraft clubs and use the game as a learning tool.

“I read the article and thought, ‘Wow, a virtual 3-D world that’s similar to Legos. We have to have it.’ ”

Still, Ms. Letteriello wanted to ensure that game was a viable learning tool. As she researched Minecraft, she came across the studies of Dr. Susan Ambrose, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence.

Dr. Ambrose found that game-based learning in virtual environments makes learning more fun for kids, motivates them, immerses them in material so they learn more effectively and encourages them to learn from their mistakes.

The library then enlisted the help of Elizabeth Grohoski, who processes all materials for its children’s room collection, to bring the Minecraft library world to life.

Ms. Grohoski, an avid player of the game since it launched in 2009, painstakingly photographed every part of the library to create the virtual version online.

Players enter through the library doors, which look just as they do in real life, and “walk” up to the circulation desk. They can turn right to go into the children’s room or left to go downstairs. Everything appears exactly as it does outside the game.

Ms. Grohoski has created scavenger hunts and quests throughout the virtual library that introduce young players to literature without their even realizing it.

Throughout the virtual library, she placed “treasure chests” full of books — the same books found in the library’s real collections. One of the books in each chest holds a clue to the location of the next chest.

“It’s cool looking through all of the books,” 13-year-old Minecraft fan Collin Kaminsky said while gaming. “It still has descriptions of all of the real books in the library even if you don’t need them for the quest.”

Library director Kay Zegel said the digital library is the first of its kind. Although other players have created general libraries in the game, this is the first representation of an actual public library designed exactly like the real thing.

The library did a test round to see how children played and the response was said to be overwhelming. During one of the test rounds, four boys with their faces glued to their computer screens were asked what they thought about the game and the virtual library.

“Awesome!” they all screamed.

“I’m just glad they enjoy it,” Ms. Grohoski said. “I was rather surprised by the amount of enthusiasm. I was not expecting that intensity.”

Children who already own the online game (Minecraft costs $26.95) can download the library world and play at home. Those who don’t own it are welcome to play for free at the library, which has four gaming computers and an iPad.

Every Friday throughout the summer there will be four one-hour gaming sessions — but be sure to call and reserve a spot; the computers fill up fast.

“The librarians are always on the cutting-edge of resources and they’ve done a great job of bringing them to the kids,” said Lori Connolly, whose son, Ian, is a big fan of Minecraft and plays at the library.

“My son loves it,” she said, “and I’m told it’s a great teaching tool as well, even though it might not appear to be. I’d love for the library to have a ‘Minecraft for Parents’ seminar now.”

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