Friday 8 June 2012

Discovering libraries through geocaching

Geo-what? I'm guessing that's the first thing that popped into your head when you read the name of this post. Don't worry, it's an activity that most people don't know about.

According to the main geocaching website,, geocaching is:

a high-tech treasure hunting game played throughout the world by adventure seekers equipped with GPS devices. The basic idea is to locate hidden containers, called geocaches, outdoors and then share your experiences online. Geocaching is enjoyed by people from all age groups, with a strong sense of community and support for the environment.

It's a great way to discover new places, and one of the main reasons that geocachers say they enjoy the hobby is that it's taken them to places that they otherwise wouldn't have visited (even within their own city). Currently there are approximately 1.8 million geocaches hidden around the world, and 5 million geocachers.

The main reason for me to write this post was to spread the word about geocaching and how it can be used by libraries as an outreach and promotion activity. As an example, one of my colleagues (who is also geocacher) and I recently placed a geocache in Macquarie University Library. With the opening of the new library, we wanted to encourage people to come and discover it. We thought that a cache would help with this, and be something a bit different. There are several other caches in Australian libraries, or ones nearby which require a bit of research in the library in order to find them e.g. there’s one near the National Library in Canberra.

There are several projects and ideas that I've come across that combine libraries and geocaching:

     The University of Notre Dame in Indiana came up with "Caching in at the Library" for their orientation programme for first year students.
     A librarian at Shoshone Public Library in Idaho has hidden a cache in the library as part of their summer reading programme.
     As part of their activities to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, the State Library of Victoria has got into geocaching. A series of caches was placed along the route that the expedition took, as well as at other sites associated with the explorers.

There are also caches which have been placed in a library by regular geocachers with the permission of the library. Some of these include:

     A cache with a Dr Who theme in the Manly Public Library
     A cache within the British Library
     A cache within the Kolding Library in Denmark

Most of the caches within libraries require cachers to note down information that can be found in the building e.g. the year the library opened, or the number of words on a plaque or sign. This makes them a useful way of showcasing a particular collection or feature of the library.

Geocaching is a way to allow people to discover your library who may otherwise not visit. With the explosion in the use of smartphones, many more people have the technology to allow them to take part in geocaching. It represents an opportunity for libraries to market and promote themselves in a fun and educational way. Why not give it a go?

Andrew Spencer is a Liaison Librarian at the Macquarie University Library.

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