The Publishing Trap goes to Cambridge

Claire Sewell is an academic librarian at Cambridge University where she works in the Office of Scholarly Communication. In her role as Research Support Skills Coordinator she oversees the professional development of library staff in the area of scholarly communication and develops training initiatives in order to ensure that library staff are best placed to support the research community. Recently this training included a session of The Publishing Trap run for staff from across Cambridge libraries.

Katie Hughes is Open Access Research Advisor at the Office of Scholarly Communication based in Cambridge University Library. After completing a BA in International Relations and an MLitt in Central and Eastern European Studies, she trained as a librarian at the University of British Colombia. Her career as a user services and user experience librarian has taken her from the School of Slavonic and East European Studies at UCL to the Judge Business School in Cambridge. Her current role involves advising academics on open access publishing, and providing information literacy training to PhD students in the humanities and social sciences. Claire and Katie invited us to Cambridge to play the Publishing Trap with staff. We were delighted to go along as the team had been really helpful providing input into an earlier version of the game. Claire and Katie tell us about the experience….. 

A few weeks ago a group of librarians from across Cambridge libraries came together to play the Publishing Trap under the guidance of its developers, Jane Secker and Chris Morrison. There were sixteen of us in total which proved to be a perfect number to divide up into teams and take on the personas of the game.

The session was administered by the Office of Scholarly Communication (OSC) which oversees the training provided to Cambridge library staff in the area of research support. The OSC was established in 2015 and has spent the last few years working to upskill staff knowledge on a range of research support areas such as copyright and Open Access. This has been a great success and the time was right for something that helped staff to put all of this knowledge in context. It’s one thing to advise on these areas in isolation but how does it all fit together for the researchers we support? The Publishing Trap came at exactly the right time for us and we were delighted that Chris and Jane were able to come and run it for us.

Playing the game

The session started with a quick overview of the game and an introduction to the characters players would inhabit. Everyone divided into teams and became a character, although initially there was some confusion over whether the players would be making decisions as themselves or as the character. Once this was cleared up (they were playing as the character) everyone got quite into their personas and the individual touches such as Mary Mercurial owning a motorbike and Brian Bellamy finding solace in his allotment really helped to make the characters more real.

We worked in a break about halfway through the session (comparisons to a mid-life crisis are entirely coincidental!) which gave players a chance to chat about the game so far and munch on cake with cake toppers featuring the characters which was a great motivator.

Once we returned from the break it was on to the second section of the game where earlier decisions came back to influence the choices that were available to players. Many players began the session with a high level of confidence but as they moved through playing the game it became clear that they didn’t know all the answers. It was also obvious that not all of the decisions they were being asked to make were as black and white as they seemed to be. There were lots of different things that players needed to think about in the context of their characters and there was often room for interpretation in the choices on offer. This resulted in many lively discussions amongst participants!

Differences running it for librarians

There were two parallel goals to running the sessions for librarians. The first was that it enabled the participants to actually play the game and put their previous learning into the context of a typical academic journey. How do the decisions they make during their career influence their impact? Librarians are used to offering this advice but don’t always get to experience the outcome and the Publishing Trap offers a taste of that. Secondly it offered librarians a chance to learn how to run the game themselves as a train the trainer type session. There was a lot of interest in this second strand as using gamification is a great way to attract more users to sessions. With the creators of the game present for questions and guidance this was too good of an opportunity to pass up.

One element for the game which participants really responded to was the wildcard element. At certain points during the game players have to draw a card which outlines a scenario and two possible outcomes. The chosen outcome depends on a roll of the dice which leaves the final decision to chance. There were many comments that these cards were a really good addition as they helped to mimic the random parts of life that crop up during a career. I think as librarians we tend to advise our researchers on what they should be doing at any given moment in the research process and we don’t always acknowledge that real life intrudes. Using the wildcards was a fun distraction which had a serious side in reminding us that life gets in the way sometimes.

I’m not sure if the fact that we were playing it with librarians made it more competitive but I can say that the bragging rights were hotly contested. In the end there were only really two teams in contention for the prize with Brian Bellamy being the eventual winner (all of that time on the allotment must have done him good!). At least the winners tried not to look too smug in front of their colleagues…

The future

So now that we’ve experienced the Publishing Trap what’s next? There was a lot of excitement amongst the participants who were all busy making plans to run it for their students and the first session for Cambridge PhDs is already scheduled. My colleague Katie Hughes took part in the game and will be leading the PhD session and she includes her thoughts below:

The Publishing Trap – A Player’s Perspective

I was really excited to play The Publishing Trap especially when I found out the creators of the game would be there to lead it. It was a great opportunity to understand the decision-making process behind the creation of the game. Creating a new board game is really hard! As a librarian who trains PhDs in Open Access, RDM, and copyright I am constantly looking for ways to make the training sessions more interactive. We have used Creative Commons card games and Lego in some of our sessions, but it is difficult to ignite debate among students when you are up against a clock. There is nothing worse than seeing people start to drop off when you start saying ‘but the world would be a better place if…’

The Publishing Trap provides a fantastic tool to help start the debate. There are many pieces in the game, but once you understand what they are for it all makes sense. When we received our personality, we really tried to stick to (in our case) her ‘persona’ and think about where her research, discipline, and personality would lead. We didn’t really know what to expect during the first round, but we slowly started to realize the aim of the game as it progressed. What I enjoyed most were the conversations that we had among ourselves considering we are all pretty tuned into the debate around Open Research. Now that I have played with librarians, I am really interested to see what kind of conversations the game sparks among research students.

Although we tried hard to maintain the “personality” of our characters, our knowledge and previous experience crept into our decision making. The game takes roughly two hours to play and there were moments when I thought “well this isn’t real life” (spoken like someone not on the winning team). However, I don’t think that the aim of the game is real life, the aim is to make you question your choices and really think about why you are doing something and the implications of that decision further down the line.

If you have played the Publishing Trap, why not submit a review to us? We’d love to hear more of your experiences!


1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.