Testing a Scavenger Hunt

Today, I tested a scavenger hunt across Columbia’s libraries.

Have I mentioned that this is the best internship ever?

Elizabeth asked me whether I’d be interested in testing a scavenger hunt she’d designed to help incoming UTS graduate students get acquainted with Columbia libraries. Some of the tasks on the hunt meant physically exploring library spaces, others involved navigating websites. I love the idea of using a scavenger hunt to orient them to the libraries locations and what they have to offer!

“I’d love to!!!!” I told her. I’m pretty sure she heard the italics, and the exclamation points in my reply.

I have been working so closely in the archives, and I’m only vaguely familiar with the rest of Columbia’s library holdings. Also, my sense of direction is, shall we say, less than stellar. So, chances are, I made a terrific test subject. If I could find my way through the hunt, the new students would be just fine.

The hunt was designed to be accessible through a web link that students could access from their phones. Taking pictures along the way would help them prove they’d found each item on the hunt.

So, armed with my phone and a map of Columbia Libraries (did I mention my useless sense of direction?), I made note of the time and set off, on a sunny afternoon. My job was to work my way through the hunt and see how long the tasks took, whether the directions were clear enough, and in general, do a user test of the scavenger hunt.

Let me say that again: I did a user test of a scavenger hunt. Best. Internship. Ever.

Last semester, I took a terrific class in Usability Theory and Practice at Pratt (and I highly recommend learning about UX to anyone studying library and information science). So, as I went through the hunt, I was working with some of that mindset: are the directions for each task clear? Are the things I’m supposed to find clearly labeled and easy to see? Does the language of each question match or echo the language I see on signs, maps, and websites?

Working with that mindset made me take notes of a few places where questions needed to be worded differently.

If I had been doing the scavenger hunt as a timed contest against other grad students, I would have run into trouble in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Library. The hunt task said to find out what the current exhibit was called…. and I couldn’t resist lingering a while, to stare at the exhibits on display, and read the descriptions! Such fun! After I finished the hunt, and typed up my notes, I came back!

I also hit a snag getting to Avery Library. Feeling very pleased with the sunny day and the fun of testing a scavenger hunt, I decided to cut across campus, and enjoy the storied architecture of the academic buildings surrounding me. Never mind the small bit of construction in my way.

This turned out to be a mistake.

Pro tip for Burke students trying to get to Avery: Leave the campus entirely and walk around on Amsterdam Avenue. You will get much less lost than I did.

After I finished the hunt, I put together my notes for Elizabeth, taking it task by task, and making note of where I had encountered problems.

I can’t wait to hear back from her about how the actual students did on the hunt. I assume that they’ll beat my time of about two hours (like I said, I got distracted by lovely rare book exhibits, and then fabulously lost). And I’m sure they’ll have fun.

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