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Puzzle Me This: Connecting User Communities With Libraries Through Puzzles Mathew Willmott, MIT Science Library

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Puzzle Me This: Connecting User Communities With Libraries Through Puzzles Mathew Willmott, MIT Science Library The MIT Libraries Puzzle Challenge

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Puzzle Me This:

Connecting User Communities With Libraries Through Puzzles

Mathew Willmott, MIT Science Library

  • The MIT Libraries Puzzle Challenge
  • In October of 2007, the MIT Libraries embarked on a new type of marketing campaign, and released the first of a series of puzzles to the MIT Community. Five more puzzles were published throughout the course of the 2007-08 academic year. Each puzzle required the use of at least one library resource to find the solution, and students who correctly solved a puzzle during the given time period were entered into a drawing to receive an iPod Nano.
  • Goals of the campaign
  • Survey data showed us that advertising should be more engaging; thus we designed puzzles that would:
  • Be fun for students to solve
    • Made puzzles challenging but not impossible
    • Modeled puzzles after MIT Mystery Hunt
  • Introduce students to new resources
    • Citation searching in Web of Science
    • Paper reviews in MathSciNet
    • Urban planning history in Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps
    • Advisory database for business, management, and economics
  • Marketing strategies and locations
  • Each puzzle had a solving period of about two weeks, during which we tried to use pointed marketing strategies in various locations to advertise to students who would be interested in solving them.
  • Most successful locations:
    • Lobby 7, MIT’s main lobby
    • Puzzle page in The Tech, MIT’s twice-weekly campus newspaper
    • Spotlight on MIT’s home page
  • Other locations, with mixed success:
    • Facebook
    • MIT Libraries News Blog
    • Slides before on-campus movies
    • Fliers at library desks
  • These advertisements were designed to focus on the puzzle; solutions were submitted through an online form.
  • What did we learn?
  • Get to know the audience you’re advertising to:
    • MIT students are problem-solvers, and so puzzles were effective
  • Engage people with a fun activity:
    • Solvers actually used the resources rather than just hearing about them
  • Consider your target audience when choosing advertising locations:
    • TheTech’s puzzle page got the most attention.
  • Next Steps
  • Currently conducting a survey of solvers:
    • What they liked about the campaign
    • Whether they learned anything about library resources
    • What they think about advertising locations
  • Considering conducting a focus group to get more detailed feedback

For more information:

Contact me at [email protected] or visit the MIT Libraries’ puzzle page at


Puzzle Construction: An In-Depth Example

The main goal in the construction of these puzzles was to guide the users to a resource and show them some way in which it could be useful to them in the future.

Other Puzzle Examples

  • Compendex
  • Column 1: ISSN numbers
  • Column 2: Compendex reference numbers
  • Not solvable with Google alone
  • First puzzle released
  • 38 correct solutions received
  • Puzzle highlights the Dewey Research Advisor (DRA):
    • New, lesser-known resource
    • Patrons could find it useful
  • Solvers are directed to the DRA by the letters in bold italics scattered throughout the lower half
  • Solvers use the DRA to find the answers to the questions with the appropriate number of letters
  • Answers can be entered into the grid so that the elongated boxes contain a single letter:
  • MathSciNet
  • Highlights peer reviews
  • Grayed lines refer to MathSciNet MR numbers
  • 32 correct solutions received
  • Inventions of Note sheet music collection
  • (created at MIT)
  • Word search in which the unused letters are the important piece
  • 67 correct solutions received
  • The completed grid reads “Answer is Milton Friedman” in the grayed boxes
  • 109 students submitted a correct solution to this puzzle

Now it’s your turn!

Solve this puzzle to get an MIT Libraries keychain!

 (attach sample puzzle here)

  • Sanborn fire insurance maps
  • Pictures are counties in Massachusetts, solvers need to identify the highlighted town
  • Numbers below each picture tell the solver which Sanborn map of that town to use.
  • 56 correct solutions received
Statistical Results
  • Dewey Research Advisor statistics
  • Puzzle released in November. Statistical analyses showed significant increases in usage during November (and September when I was writing the puzzle)
  • Top chart: Total queries to the DRA search box by month during 2007; November had a 200% increase over October.
  • Middle chart: Answer pages accessed in the DRA, either through queries or through browsing the questions; November had a 40% increase over October.
  • Lower chart: Total web traffic to the MIT Libraries webpages for the month of November 2007. November 20, the day the puzzle had a spotlight on the main MIT homepage, had 7796 visits, almost 2800 visits (56%) more than the second highest day that month.
  • Inventions of Note web traffic
  • Red=puzzle open for answer submission
  • Green=puzzle in construction
  • Blue=remainder of the spring semester
  • Average visits per day for the blue section = 136
  • Average visits per day for the red section = 304

Solver statistics

Submission count by student status (correct solutions in parentheses)

  • 237 different MIT students solved at least one puzzle
  • 23 students solved three or more puzzles
  • 3 students solved all six puzzles.
  • 122 students requested to be notified directly via email when future puzzles are released
  • Chart at right tells where students reported that they first saw the puzzle

What students are saying:

“…thanks also for providing a fun distraction from work throughout the year. I only wish you'd started these earlier in my time at MIT.”

“I had a lot of fun solving the puzzles!”

“The puzzles were unexpected, entertaining, and a welcome distraction from everyday work. Seriously, what MIT student wouldn’t be intrigued by a cryptic list of numbers, especially if it isn’t on a p-set?”

“It succeeded in not only being entertaining, but I actually learned a great deal more about the MIT library tools.  Keep it up in the future!”

“More frequent library puzzles, please.”