“Nothing’s impossible in Minecraft,” says Elizabeth Grohoski. She would know. Grohoski recently spent three months using the online game to create a virtual replica of the Mattituck-Laurel Library in Mattituck, NY, complete with a model of the working piano in the library basement (http://ow.ly/nQwCN).
Why? Because Karen Letteriello, comanager of the parents’ and children’s department at Mattituck-Laurel, where Grohoski works as a technical processor, thought the virtual Minecraft library would help attract young patrons. It has.
The project started when Letteriello read a School Library Journal feature story by librarian Sarah Ludwig about a highly successful Minecraft library club at the Connecticut school where she worked. Letteriello wanted a similar program in her library and asked Grohoski, a gamer since the age of six, to create it.
An immensely popular game launched widely in 2011, Minecraft allows users to build in a 3-D virtual world with cubes similar to Legos—but without any of the proscriptive kits and manuals. There are few limits to what a user can create in Minecraft. It’s all about gamers using their imaginations.
After creating a beta version of the project, Letteriello launched the finished site on June 20. The reaction has been a “tornado,” she says, with children clamoring to sign up and play.
Letteriello and Grohoski’s vision of the game features an appealing library-centric scavenger hunt. Each room of the Minecraft library offers a clue inside treasure chests tucked into the virtual shelves. Clues provide students with a summary of the plot, title, author, and call letters—so children can locate the books inside the physical library.
There are other activities as well—a maze, mini-games in which children can locate objects like sheep wool in multiple colors, and eventually a racetrack, which Grohoski hopes to build. Children can play a few notes on the virtual piano or ride up and down the virtual elevator—just like the one inside the real branch. And for those looking to explore outside the building, Grohoski shifted existing Minecraft destinations closer to the virtual library. These include a desert temple, village, ravine, and stronghold.
Students with their own Minecraft accounts can log on from home, or they can play at the library free of charge. The library offers five laptops with video cards, which play the full version of the online game, plus six iPads loaded with Minecraft’s pocket edition.
Letteriello is planning future educational projects using Minecraft and other digital tools. One possibility: a virtual opportunity to explore Ancient Greece and Rome. Her goal is that students will find their library experience as seamless as exercising their curiosity.
“I want them to use [the library presence in Minecraft] the same as they would the actual library, take a book home and teleport into another world,” she says. “I want them to feel the gaming world is just another part of the library.”
Mattituck resident Pam Kaminsky’s 13-year-old son, Collin, is “obsessed” with the Minecraft library, she says. He and his 16-year-old brother, Owen, are also impressed with Grohoski’s expertise with the game. “[Collin] says, ‘The librarian is talking to me about my program? Wow,’” says Kaminsky. “It’s like he has a new connection with the librarians.”
“Now the kids walk in and ask if Elizabeth is here,” says Letteriello. “She has a cult following.”
Children sign up to play on Fridays, when they can interact with others in the virtual branch. “We have waiting lists that you can’t imagine,” says Letteriello. “And Elizabeth continues to build. It’s taking on a life of its own.”