They were sitting in rows in a room at the heart of the Guardian‘s Education Centre in London: teachers, librarians, educators, gathered for a day to explore reading for pleasure and attending to diverse voices in literature. They were happily caffeinated, ready to learn, excited for the day ahead of them.
About a third of them wore a name tag with the chilling legend: ZOMBIE.
The event organisers had invited me to run an hour-long taster session for Library Island and some of the other participatory activities I’ve been devising lately, such as Michigan’s Wondrous Strange.
Library Island is the most sophisticated of these: an immersive, unpredictable game designed to address community tensions and conflict through playful means. Library Island also explores questions of inclusion, identity, oppression, and colonialism by incorporating characters representing Indigenous and newly arrived migrant communities.
As today’s session also featured other games, including the infamous New South Wales zombie sieges, the session was called “Zombies, Turkeys, and Time-Travel Detectives”…which is why event attendees who were going to my session found themselves wearing nametags labelled “ZOMBIE”.
Thankfully, nobody’s brains got eaten and everyone made it out of the session in one piece.
As always with Library Island, there were surprises and happy accidents.
In New Zealand, a conservative tycoon had managed to carry out a coup on the Island and imprison dissidents until the librarians mounted a resistance; in Tennessee, conservative protestors and Indigenous activists clashed while staging a sit-in at the “Ministry of Shelves”, and in today’s Guardian event, the Indigenous community of Library Island lobbied the Ministry for recognition by bombarding them with social media posts.
(As we hadn’t been able to set up a fake social network for the game, the Indigenous players had carried this out by handwriting tweets onto scraps of paper and physically pelting the Ministry with them).
This kind of unpredictable, imaginative problem-solving goes to the heart of what Library Island is all about: a chance to explore challenging issues and negotiate conflict within the relative safety of make-believe.
When we play Library Island with health workers, scholars, educators, and – yes – librarians, it creates an opportunity for us to imaginatively address the opportunities and challenges which await us in the future.
Library Island is one of the few professional development activities where participants can freely explore questions of:
- civil disobedience, free speech, and protest,
- the use of volunteers in professional roles,
- private sponsorship,
- ill-will from institutional actors, and
- how to apply or adapt professional values in turbulent political times.
Would you like to play Library Island and explore the future of your community or institution? Drop me a line or read more about the game:
- An article on Library Island for New Zealand’s Library Life magazine.
- Materials from the Library Island session at Australia’s 2017 New Librarians Symposium.
- Twitter Moment capturing highlights from Library Island at the 2018 Collective conference in Knoxville, TN.
- Report from a 2017 library training session incorporating Library Island – “You get a real feel for each different role you play and understand their motives and the difficulties that affect them. The great thing about Library Island is that there are very few rules, therefore the outcomes and experiences are always different.”