A Publication of the Public Library Association Public Libraries Online

Foursquare for Libraries

by Michael Porter and David Lee King on May 2, 2013

In this Internet Spotlight column, let’s play a game. But not just any game. What if we make it a game that’s played completely online, that you can play with friends, and gives rewards for doing well? While we’re at it, let’s make it location-based (more on that in a second). Anyone know what game we’re talking about? If you guessed Foursquare, you are correct!

What is Foursquare?

Foursquare is an online, location-based game. Basically, Foursquare works like Last.fm or LibraryThing, but instead of sharing music you’ve listened to or books you’ve read, you’re sharing places you’ve visited and aggregating that list out to your friends.

Location-based means Foursquare needs to know where you and your mobile device are in order to work. Location-based services (such as Yelp, Google Maps, and Foursquare) use this information for a variety of things. Yelp uses it to tell you which great restaurants are close and Google Maps uses it to plot you on a map. Foursquare uses it for check-ins to places you visit, and keeps a running tab of those.

If you want to play Foursquare, first install the application on your phone, via an iPhone, Palm, Android, or BlackBerry app store. You can also use the mobile version of Foursquare’s website for other phones that have web access (but no handy app store). After that, simply go get coffee, eat out, shop, and so forth. But then, once you get to your destination, “check in” with the app (for example, using an iPhone’s Foursquare app, there’s a “check in here” button that needs to be pushed). That’s the basic gist of the game.

So how do you win? Every time you check in, you earn points. If the location isn’t in Foursquare yet, you can add it (and get bonus points for doing so). If you visit a location more than anyone else, you eventually become the “mayor” of that location (until your title is swiped by someone else). For example, David is currently the mayor of Topeka & Shawnee County (Kans.) Public Library (TSCPL), Bank of America, Starbucks, Topeka Bible Church, and Walgreens. Which means he has visited those places (and checked in) more than other Foursquare players in Topeka.

You also friend people, and see your points tallied with everyone on your friends list. Once you friend someone, you get to see where he or she has been. You can also access a weekly leader board to see who has earned the most points during the week (Foursquare resets scores every week). Unfortunately for David, he lives in the same city as one of the top Foursquare players, so he has reached second place once, but he has no chance of reaching first.

TSCPL can be found at http://foursquare.com/venue/308934. This entry includes the library’s name, address, phone number, and Twitter name (@topekalibrary). There’s an attached Google map showing the library’s location. There’s a list of recent visitors and a list of tags, including: books, café, coffee, computers, DVDs, information, Kansas, library, movies, music, questions answered, Topeka, and Wi-Fi.

There are also lists of top things to do while at the library. These include:

  • Make sure to get a library card!
  • Use one of our databases—get full-text magazine articles!
  • Play a video game.

You can also earn badges for various milestones in Foursquare. Here are some of the badges David has earned so far:

  • Newbie: Congrats on your first check-in.
  • Adventurer: You’ve checked into ten different venues!
  • Super User: That’s thirty checkins in a month for you!

One more thing: Foursquare players can also create to-do lists and tips at each place they visit, and suggest things for friends to try or do. Every time you do one of these, it can be shared with your Twitter and Facebook friends (and you get points for doing those things, too).

So How Does This Game Relate to Libraries?

Good question! And we have some answers for you, too. Yes, Foursquare is an online game made for users with smartphone mobile access— think iPhone, BlackBerry, Droid. So it’s not available to everyone.

But think about your community— are there a lot of people carrying around some type of smartphone? If your city is anything like Topeka or Seattle, the answer is probably yes. You potentially have at your disposal some pretty engaged users of mobile devices, looking for Foursquare points.

Here are some ideas for your library to try out in Foursquare:

  1. Add your library as a place, or edit the entry if someone else has already added it. You can enter your street address (Google map is included), phone number, and your library’s Twitter name. This makes it easy for Foursquare players to
    check in when they visit.
  2. Add tags relevant to the library. For example, David has added the tags library, books, music, movies, and Wi-Fi to his library’s Foursquare entry. If you are in the area and search for Wi-Fi—guess who’s at the top of the list? Yep, the library.
  3. Add tips and to-do lists. For libraries, both are helpful—it’s a way to broadcast your services to Foursquare players. To-do
    lists are handy, because other players can add those list items to their lists. When they do something on those lists, they
    gain points. Think of it as a fun way to get people doing stuff at your library. Just think, someone could gain points by getting a library card—how cool is that?
  4. Add your big events. Then you can have an event check-in with prizes for the first person who checks in.
  5. Shout-outs. These are a type of status update and can be sent to Twitter and Facebook.

What Are Other Libraries Doing in Foursquare?

David recently blogged about Foursquare.1 Here are some of the comments from readers:

  • Colleen Greene: Pollak Library (at California State University, Fullerton) is using it in beta mode, adding in a bunch of to-do
    items and tips for students. Our social media team is exploring the idea of prizes. I am also teaching our campus social media working group how to use it and incorporate it into a campus culture.
  • Jason Clark: Saw this in a tweet from New York Public Library, which talks about the kernel of an idea—summer reading meets Foursquare. A friendly reading competition in the mobile space? While this isn’t true Foursquare integration, it points to how Foursquare could lead to and inspire new library apps and services.

And one interesting side note: Sometimes, people can be a bit negative about our libraries while adding tips to Foursquare. For example, one reader commented on David’s blog post, saying, “Saddened to see that one tag already added to my library:  shitty Wi-Fi. Hope to find a way to turn that perception around.”

Make no mistake, Foursquare is definitely faddish right now, and is mainly played by people who love their mobile devices, and who probably use Twitter and Facebook. But it’s also a great way to connect with a very active, involved online mobile community—and pretty much every city and town has that these days.


1. David Lee King, “Foursquare and Libraries—Anything There?” www.davidleeking.com/2010/01/25/foursquare-and-libraries-anything-there (accessed Mar. 3, 2010).