Ellyssa Valenti Kroski Leads the Charge in Gamification and Library AI

Community Profile
Ellyssa Valenti Kroski

“Immersive games are not only very entertaining for patrons, but they are outstanding vehicles for developing critical thinking skills, providing literacy instruction, staff training and team building, as well as outreach and marketing.”

Ellyssa Valenti Kroski MLIS, BA
Director of Information Technology, The New York Law Institute
Adjunct Professor, San José State University and Drexel University
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 

Ellyssa Valenti Kroski has been an adjunct professor here at San José State University’s iSchool since 2007. In that time, she has accomplished many impressive things both within and outside the iSchool. Having been published more than 60 times in various books, journals and other publications, Ellyssa is a knowledge expert in immersive gaming, digital breakouts, makerspaces and much more.

The Evolution of a Maker

Ellyssa has always been a passionate maker, from crafting to cosplay, she even has a makerspace in her own home that includes a 3-D printer and a laser cutter. She points out, however, that not all makerspaces need these tools. “Makerspaces and maker activities,” she notes, “don’t actually necessitate any high-tech equipment. It could be coloring books or scrapbooking.” It is the art of creating, the utilization of knowledge and the building of skills that makerspaces highlight in individuals.

When Ellyssa noticed libraries beginning to embrace makerspaces, she pursued publishing her book The Makerspace Librarians Sourcebook. Then as a follow-up, after years of practical experience, she revisited and dove deeper into the topic. She began asking key questions such as: “What have we learned? What are some of the tools and programs that really worked out? What tools and programs were not adopted by patrons? How do we assess makerspaces? What are some of the new issues libraries are coming up against?” Her findings and expertise led to a second book on the topic:  Makerspaces in Practice. Both books feature subject matter experts who walk through the step-by-step details for how to create, manage and market a library makerspace. 

Digital Breakouts and Immersive Games

Along with makerspaces, another big passion of Ellyssa’s is immersive gaming. As a self-identified lifelong gamer, she has always looked for ways to incorporate immersive gaming into her library field work. Recently, she designed a seven-week progressive law library scavenger hunt with The New York Law Institute. With new clues dropping every Monday, anyone can play along at nyli.org. Clues lead the viewer (e.g. “hunter”) to various sponsor websites where holiday images are found containing a secret code after completing a puzzle. At the end of the event, players can enter the codes they have collected into a digital breakout form for a chance to win prizes.

Ellyssa notes that, “It doesn’t cost anything to put together a digital breakout and it costs very little to put something together like a LARP or escape room in the library,” making these activities a great way to involve patrons and see engagement. Ellyssa is so passionate about these activities that she even took a trip to Europe to do a four-day Harry Potter LARP adventure in a 13th century polish Castle!

Embracing Virtual Service

As information professionals begin to grow accustomed to serving patrons in the midst of social distancing and online services, they now look for new ways of connecting with their patrons. Ellyssa and the iSchool are partnering with the American Library Association to teach a course titled Launching and Expanding Virtual Services: A Complete Guide for Challenging Circumstances. The 12-week course, starting at the beginning of January 2021, will cover a vast number of topics from planning and marketing virtual services in the library to the assessment of these services. There will be weekly lectures, application demos, interviews and hands-on activities, both synchronous and asynchronous. What a valuable and great resource for librarians during this pandemic that continues to challenge how we engage with our community. 

Law Libraries and Changing Technologies 

As the director of information technology at the New York Law Institute, much of Ellyssa’s work combines her passions with law librarianship. Her outstanding work has been recognized twice with the American Association of Law Libraries’ Joseph L. Andrews Legal Literature Award, first for Law Librarianship in the Digital age in 2014, and most recently for Law Librarianship in the Age of AI, which defines exactly what AI is, what it means for the legal field and how it affects law libraries and law librarians in particular. Her inspiration for the book was “to gather the field’s top innovators from all areas of legal librarianship including academic government and private law firm libraries; to provide inspiration and guidance to librarians about how these cutting-edge AI tools and applications impact the law library field; and the new roles law librarians can play in the implementation, evaluation and ongoing maintenance.” With AI permeating more and more of everyday life, it’s easy to overlook how important this topic is. With this technology continuing to increase and develop Ellyssa points out that librarians will do what they do best:  “evolve and take advantage of these new roles and opportunities AI creates.”