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browzine magazine shelfWe’ve started using BrowZine ( as a different way of offering access to online journals.  Up until recently there were iOS and Android app versions but they have now been joined by a desktop version.

BrowZine’s interesting as it tries to replicate the experience of browsing recent copies of journals in a physical library.  It links into the library authentication system and is fed with a list of library holdings.  There are also some open access materials in the system.

You can browse for journals by subject or search for specific journals and then view the table of contents for each journal issue and link straight through to the full-text of the articles in the journals.  In the app versions you can add journal titles to your personal bookshelf (a feature promised for the desktop version later this year) and also see when new articles have been added to your chosen journals (shown with the standard red circle against the journal on the iOS version).

A useful tool if there are a selection of journals that you need to keep up to date with.  Certainly the ease with which you can connect with the full-text contrasts markedly with some of the hoops that we seem to expect users to cope with in some other library systems.

OpenTree sample badgeOne of the interesting features of our new library game OpenTree for me is that it is possible to engage with it in a few different ways.  Although at one level it’s about a game, with points and badges for interacting with the game and with library content, resources and webpages.  It’s social so you can connect with other people and review and share resources.

But, as a user you can choose the extent that you want to share.  So you can choose to share your activity with all users in OpenTree, or restrict it so only your friends can see your activity, or choose to keep your activity private.  You can also choose whether or not things you highlight are made public.

So you’d wonder what value you’d get in using it if you make your activity entirely private.  But you can use it as a way of tracking which library resources you are using.  And you can organise them by tagging them and writing notes about them so you’ve got a record of the resources you used for a particular assignment.  You might want to keep your activity private if you’re writing a paper and don’t want to share your sources or if you aren’t so keen on social aspects.

If you share your activities with friends and maybe connect with people studying the same module as you, then you could see some value in sharing useful resources with fellow students you might not meet otherwise.  In a distance-learning institution with potentially hundreds of students studying your module, students might meet a few students in local tutorials or on module forums but might never connect with most people following the same pathway as themselves.

And some people will be happy to share, will want to get engaged with all the social aspects and the gaming aspects of OpenTree.  It will be really interesting to see how users get to grips with OpenTree and what they make of it and to hear how people are using it.

It will particularly be interesting to see how our users engagement with it might differ from versions at bricks-and-mortar Universities at Huddersfield, Glasgow and Manchester.  OpenTree’s focus is online and digital so doesn’t include loans and library visits, and our users are often older, studying part-time and not campus-based.

Subject leaderboard screenshotIn early feedback, we’re already seeing a sense that some of the game aspects, such as the Subject leaderboard is of less interest than expected.  Maybe that reflects students being focused around outcomes much more, although research seems to suggest (Tomlinson 2014 ‘Exploring the impact of policy changes on students’ attitudes and approaches to learning in higher education’ HEA) that this isn’t just a factor for part-time and distance-learning students as a result of increased university fees and student loans.  It might also be that because we haven’t gone for an individual leaderboard that there’s less personal investment, or just that users aren’t so sure what it represents.



OpenTree badge examplesOne of the projects that we’ve been working on as part of our Library Futures programme has been a product called OpenTree.  OpenTree is based on the Librarygame software from a small development team at ‘Running in the Halls’.  Librarygame adds gaming and social aspects to student engagement with library services.

Librarygame was developed originally as Lemontree for Huddersfield University ( and then updated and adopted as librarytree and BookedIn for Glasgow and Manchester Universities respectively ( and

Being originally based around engagement with physcial libraries and taking data from library loans from the library management system, or from physical library visits, via building access logs, the basic game model had to change a bit for a distance-learning University where students don’t visit the University library or borrow books.

OuOpenTree screenshotr main engagement with students is their use of online library resources and library websites.  Fortunately most of our resource access goes through EZProxy so we were able to find a way of allowing users who sign-up to the game to get points for the resources they access.  We’ve also been able to add javascript tracking onto a couple of our websites to give students points for accessing those sites.

OpenTree gives users points for accessing resources and points build up into levels in the game.  Activities such as making friends, reviewing, tagging and sharing resources also get you badges in the game.  We’ve also added in a Challenges section to highlight activities to encourage users to try out different things, trying Being Digital, for example.

Because it lists library resources you’ve been accessing I’ve already been finding it useful as a way of organising and remembering library resources I’ve been using, so we’re hopeful that students will also find it useful and really get into the social aspects.

OpenTree launches to students in the autumn but is up-and-running in beta now.  A video introducing OpenTree is on YouTube at:

We’re really looking forward to seeing how students get on with OpenTree and already have a few thoughts about enhancements and developments, and no doubt other ideas will come up once more people start using it.






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August 2015
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