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Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Launches Games to Improve Access to Biodiversity Heritage Library Content

Smorball and Beanstalk Allow Players to Transcribe Texts through Play

Today, Dartmouth College's Tiltfactor, an interdisciplinary studio that designs and studies games for social impact, announced the launch of two new crowdsourcing games, Smorball (smorballgame.org) and Beanstalk (beanstalkgame.org). The games have been created to improve access to books and journals online in the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) collection by verifying the accuracy of text previously encoded by optical character recognition software.
 
“Cultural heritage institutions are increasingly benefiting from human computation approaches that have been used in revolutionary ways by scientific researchers. Engaging citizens to work together as decoders of our heritage is a natural progression, as preserving these records directly benefits the public,” says Mary Flanagan, founding director of Tiltfactor and the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Digital Humanities at Dartmouth. “Integrating the task of transcription with the engagement of computer games gives an extra layer of incentive to motivate the public to contribute.”
 
Smorball and Beanstalk are part of the “Purposeful Gaming and BHL Project,” which is exploring how digital games can make scanned content more accessible and searchable for cultural institutions. Based at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Missouri, “Purposeful Gaming” was established in 2013 through an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant and includes partners from Harvard University, Cornell University and the New York Botanical Garden.
 
This project tackles a major challenge for digital libraries: full-text searching of digitized material is significantly hampered by poor output from optical character recognition (OCR) software. When first scanned, the pages of digitized books and journals are merely image files, making the pages unsearchable and virtually unusable. While OCR converts page images to searchable, machine encoded text, historic literature, like that found in the Biodiversity Heritage Library, is difficult for OCR to accurately render because of its tendency to have varying fonts, typesetting, and layouts.
 
Smorball and Beanstalk, both quick and easy browser games, present players with phrases from scanned pages in BHL. After much verification, the words players type are sent to the libraries that store the corresponding pages, allowing those pages to be searched and data mined and ultimately making historic literature more usable for institutions, scholars, educators, and the public.
 
“The games provide a fun and engaging way for volunteers to help us with a task that we don’t have the staff to do ourselves,” explains Trish Rose-Sandler, principal investigator for “Purposeful Gaming.” “BHL benefits by having improved discoverability of its books and journals on plant and animal life. More importantly, benefits from the results of the project would extend to the broader digital library community. Any institution managing large text collections can learn from novel and more cost-effective approaches to generating searchable texts.”
 
About Smorball -  http://smorballgame.org
Players of the more challenging Smorball game are asked to type the words they see as quickly and accurately as possible to help coach their team, the Eugene Melonballers, to victory to win the coveted Dalahäst Trophy in the fictional sport of Smorball.  Each word typed correctly defeats an opposing smorbot and brings the Melonballers closer to the championships.

About Beanstalk -  http://beanstalkgame.org
Players of the more relaxed Beanstalk game must type the words presented to them correctly in order to grow their beanstalk from a tiny tendril to a massive cloudscraper. The more words they type correctly, the faster the beanstalk grows. Players who accurately transcribe the most words will ascend to the top of the leaderboard as a result of their valuable contributions.

About Tiltfactor
Tiltfactor Laboratory (http://www.tiltfactor.org), a design studio based at Dartmouth College, is dedicated to understanding how games can be used to generate new knowledge. Tiltfactor designs, studies, and launches games, across a variety of platforms, that use core psychological principles and strategies to promote learning and impact players’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Founded and led by Dr. Mary Flanagan, Tiltfactor uses its unique design methodology, Critical Play, to incorporate fundamental human values and psychological principles to promote pro-social values such as cooperation, perspective taking, empathy, and civic engagement. Follow the lab @tiltfactor on Twitter.
 
About the Biodiversity Heritage Library
BHL is a consortium of major natural history, botanical and research libraries that seek to contribute to the global “biodiversity commons” by digitizing and aggregating the resources housed within each of the participating institutions, providing free and open access to the legacy literature that underpins the work of the natural science community. For more information, visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library website. Follow @BioDivLibrary on Twitter.
 
About the Missouri Botanical Garden
Founded in 1859, the Missouri Botanical Garden is the nation's oldest botanical garden in continuous operation and a National Historic Landmark. The Garden is a center for botanical research and science education, as well as an oasis in the city of St. Louis. The Garden offers 79 acres of beautiful horticultural display, including a 14-acre Japanese strolling garden, Henry Shaw's original 1850 estate home, and one of the world's largest collections of rare and endangered orchids. Follow @mobotgarden on Twitter.
 
About IMLS
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow @US_IMLS on Twitter.

Last Updated: 9/9/15