School Librarians: Learn To Be Playful

Sarah Pavey's new book Playing Games in the School Library considers the concept of game-based learning and gamification for school librarians. Here, she tells us more about the process of writing it, gathering together case studies, and how any school library and librarian can get involved.

After nearly two years of closure and lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, school libraries are beginning to emerge from the dark days and open-up again to the wider education community. But are we simply returning to the 'same old' or is this the springboard to a new approach to teaching and learning and promotion of our services?

Certainly, I pondered on this opportunity over the months of enforced isolation and the result was my book Playing Games in the School Library: Developing Game-Based Lessons and Using Gamification Concepts.

Do we really need another book on playful learning?

I was aware that this topic was already covered by many publications explaining in depth how to use playful approaches in the classroom or at university level, but I wanted to produce a text focused on school library use.

I felt that there was a need to explain the pedagogical basis on which games were founded; not just a description of how to play them, but why we should play and how to select what would be most fit for purpose in a given situation. The idea was to inspire readers to consider international sources and case studies to create their own games based upon the principles of design and delivery explained in the book.

Inspiration from around the world

The most joyous part of the book was indeed collection of the case studies. Respondents were truly global. School librarians from primary, junior and secondary schools from around the world gave me insights into the playful approaches their services included. There was such a range, from games requiring little more than pen and paper or interaction between students, to the most sophisticated use of apps and technology. My favourite still has to be 'Toy Night in the Library':

“Each child brings their favourite toy from home and leaves it for one night (Toy Night!) in the library. In the morning, the whole class come to the library and reclaim their toy. Then in turn, each child with their toy tells the class the story about the night in the library that the toy has told them. The rest of the class write down the stories." 

Primary school, Lithuania, 7–10 year olds

A librarian colleague told me recently that she had been moved to try the game with sixth formers at her school, who just loved it and found it helped them understand their own creative writing process. Although, I suspect the content of the stories might have differed a tad from the primary version! 

Yes, but does it work in practice?

Game-based learning and gamification does involve stepping outside the conventional approach to teaching and learning, and any risks we take can be scary. However, my book helps to address these concerns through the use of considered game design, when and where this type of pedagogy has impact, and examples of how games can be delivered with illustrations of successful learning outcomes.

Chapters cover many different types of games, address the use of game-based learning and gamification to promote our library services, and promote collaboration with members of our wider education community. Yes, playful learning is not always the solution and can be detrimental in some instances. My book looks at these aspects too, asking questions like: how can a game be tailored to individual student needs to ensure benefits? In particular, the theories behind how games impact upon motivation both positively and negatively are explored in depth. 

Take a leap and learn

Writing this book opened my eyes to the plethora of possibilities for both designing learning tools for students and promotional campaigns for the library. So, when the launch date was drawing near, I thought, 'I need to be mindful of my international contributors'. I believed I should do something playful, fun and informative and accessible. The idea of my virtual launch party on Kumospace was to give attendees ideas for designing their own library online incorporating games and an exploratory experience – perhaps as part of a school training day for staff and students. You too can participate,  but be aware that unless you take a friend you will be talking to yourself!

Convince me this is an approach to invest in

Game-based learning and gamification:

  • often takes no longer to plan than a conventional lesson
  • can be inspiring, motivational and trigger curiosity and innovation
  • can attract engagement in a task or a service
  • can be adapted for participants whatever their age, ability or special needs
  • can make a complex concept or topic easier to understand
  • gives a fun element to learning that does not detract from intended outcomes
  • gives an opportunity to practise skills and allows for graceful failure
  • does not have to involve extra expense

As a school librarian it will allow you to showcase your creative talents and draw in members of your wider school community, raising your self esteem and profile within the school.

What’s not to like? Go forth, create and play!

Playing Games in the School Library: Developing Game-Based Lessons and Using Gamification Concepts by Sarah Pavey is available now. 

About the Author

Sarah Pavey MSc FCLIP FRSA has over 20 years’ experience as a school librarian and is founder of educational training and consultancy SP4IL ( ). She is an established author and regular speaker at conferences on school library and wider educational issues. Her training courses are available both in the UK and abroad, virtual and face-to-face, on a range of topics including playful learning, and are practical and acclaimed for being rooted in theory.

To contact the author directly email, or contact her on Twitter @Sarahinthelib, on Linkedin, on FaceBook or on Instagram sarahpavey