Ready, Set, Play: Evaluation of the UC San Diego Libraries SCVNGR Pilot

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 10:45 AM

By: Karen Heskett, Gayatri Singh, and Marlo Young

SCVNGR, a social location-based gaming platform for mobile devices, was utilized Fall Quarter 2011 to create and offer a virtual orientation to the UC San Diego Libraries and its core services.


SCVNGR is a gaming platform that is utilized by enterprises as well as educational institutions. Using a mobile device, a player can go to a physical location, check-in, do challenges, earn rewards, and connect with others. It is estimated that SCVNGR currently has 1-2 million users. The SCVNGR pilot was an opportunity to experiment with technology to engage students and extend the reach of the library.

A representative from the company provided a demonstration to UCSD’s Marketing Council last year.This is how the Libraries first became aware of campus interest in SCVNGR. With endorsement from the Libraries’ Instruction & Outreach Committee and Director of Communications, a free pilot account was established and a small IOC workgroup was then formed.


The Libraries’ SCVNGR “trek” included 15 “challenges” across all five libraries (Arts, Biomedical, Mandeville Special Collections, Science & Engineering, Social Sciences & Humanities) and included two general “Geisel Library” challenges ( ). Challenges were designed to highlight resources and services specifically for students, as well as help them understand the naming of library buildings, individual libraries and their locations. A paper-based, self-guided orientation, which mirrored the Libraries’ SCVNGR “trek” was also created. Because SCVNGR is designed for a mobile device, the paper-based orientation enabled the pilot to ensure that a student without a device could still “play” and conduct a library orientation. It also allowed the pilot to evaluate new students’ orientation medium preference (digital vs. paper).

During Welcome Week, a total of 42 “players” visited the Libraries’ via SCVNGR while 35 completed the paper orientation. At the end of Fall Quarter, a total of 69 players visited the UC San Diego Libraries’“trek” in SCVNGR. 139 activity challenges were completed at various library locations. An additional 91 location-based social activities were completed by players upon being exposed to the Libraries’ “trek” (i.e. a social check-in) for a grand total of 230 library activities completed by players exploring the SCVNGR app and our “trek”. There was also a total of 222 hits on the supporting lib guide created to getstudents started with SCVNGR (

The total number of students reached via SCVNGR and the paper-based orientation is less than one percent. However, based on this pilot experience, it is clear that the SCVNGR orientation could be promoted as an event challenge with a start and end time (similar to the Great Campus Race) and integrated into the undergraduate colleges’ new student orientation programs with outreach in order to increase usage exponentially.

Some players opted for the text messaging version of SCVNGR, but we found the texting experience to be a substantially less engaging orientation experience for the end user. A total of 14 individuals played via text message.

The Libraries’ pilot experience with SCVNGR was, overall, a positive experience for a several reasons:

• Created a digital orientation experience for the first time, and minimal human resources were involved.

• Made virtual connections between the different libraries, including Biomed, to create a single library orientation experience.

• Enabled the Libraries’ to establish and manage its brand in SCVNGR.

• Served as a model for other interested campus departments and UC libraries.

Issues identified in this pilot include:

• SCVNGR is not a free technology. A departmental license for the library with 15 challenges costs approximately $1,100 annually.

• Social media requires on-going maintenance and oversight; essential to have a project coordinator associated with any new service.

• The ideal fit for a virtual orientation experience vis-à-vis SCVNGR is integrated into new student orientation programs; requires outreach to the colleges and coordination.


In piloting SCVNGR, much was learned about how to best create an online orientation using this medium and how best to target incoming students. The Libraries are the first unit on campus experimenting with SCVNGR, but there is increasing departmental interest. In the UC system, UC Santa Barbara’s Admissions has currently licensed SCVNGR, and the UC Merced Library is investigating SCVNGR at this time.

Recommendations for next steps include:

• Extend pilot and target the colleges’ new student orientation programs in 2012.

• Designate a project coordinator and workgroup for phase two of the pilot.

• Refine content and promotional materials to promote SCVNGR as an orientation event.

• Monitor departmental interest on campus and within the UCs; includes sharing pilot experience information across departments and UCs where appropriate.

During our pilot, Facebook integrated SCVNGR via its Community Page feature, while smart phone adoption rates among college students continue to increase. There is a high level of potential for thefuture of SCVNGR within university environments as well as among business enterprises. Along with its funding from Google, it seems evident that SCVNGR will only continue to expand its user base. The pilot with SCVNGR presented the opportunity to evolve the delivery of library orientations beyond the traditional in-person orientation tours which require an intensive staffing effort. SCVNGR presents the opportunity to offer an active, social, and innovative virtual orientation. It also gives us the capacity to integrate into all six colleges new student orientation programs with scalability. As an early adopter, the Libraries are in a unique position to continue to assess the value and usefulness of this emergent technology.

Categories: Library

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Reply Ray Bucko, S.J.
4:11 PM on March 15, 2012 
I was not able to see your questions --- can ypu send me a copy? Also I really appreciated your write up and will share it with the librarians on this campus. Thanks
Reply Jess Byrne
10:49 AM on March 16, 2012 
Hi Ray, Thanks for your comment! We actually posted this on behalf of Marlo Young. If you wanted a copy of their questions, I would suggest making that request by emailing her at Take care!

Ray Bucko, S.J. says...
I was not able to see your questions --- can ypu send me a copy? Also I really appreciated your write up and will share it with the librarians on this campus. Thanks

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