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Celebrating Our Community in Technology: I SPY

New technology leads children to take a unique look at their communities in the Mohawk Valley Library System’s I Spy project. The project is making children aware of history in their own backyard, while introducing them to architecture, digital technology, and creative writing!

I Spy is based on the traditional game of figuring out written rhyming clues with a symbol and locating the item. In this case, our symbols are part of the local community’s historical site. Clues and descriptions are written describing the historic site.

Besides being available on the Web, paper game cards have been made to distribute locally at the library, schools, historical societies, and local tour bureaus.

Students are very excited about taking part in the I Spy project, and comments heard while photographing historic sites include: “Oh wow, look, there are patterns on the roof” referring to slate roofs and “check out how much you can see when you zoom the camera in on the gargoyle's face!”.

This is the kind of history we want to preserve, and what better way to learn than by children discovering it for themselves, through projects such as I Spy.

How to create your own I Spy site

How to create the game:

Select an I Spy team using students in grades 4 through 8, library staff, local historians and teachers. 4th through 8th graders were selected because in NY, 4th grade curriculum includes NY history, and 8th grade includes local history. We found that four to eight students worked well as a team. Students and adults will work together to choose 12 sites to be the backbone of the game. Access to a digital camera (zoom capability preferred) with photo editing software is necessary to create a Web-based game, as is someone with Web site building skills.

For each of the sites, students will (under the supervision of library staff):

  • take a digital picture of the whole site
  • take a digital picture of the symbol that represents the site
  • write a rhyming clue that describes the picture and/or symbol
  • work with local historians to research and write a historical caption for each site, and to locate a historical photograph (copyright free) for each site
  • draw map of local community with historic sites numbered
  • using a buddy system, lead small groups for tours around selected sites

For each of the sites, adults will:

  • Write letter to owner of each site congratulating them on their site being selected (this allows the site owners a chance to learn about the project, and decline participation if a problem)
  • Train students to use digital cameras
  • Take students to photograph sites
  • Check all writing for accuracy
  • Upload digital pictures into library’s computer (using Photo Suite III or another photo editing software program) to select images wanted for project (If your library doesn’t have a Web master/mistress, students may be your best source for this job!).
  • Proof all writing, maps, etc.
  • Train student tour guides

Meanwhile, behind the scenes:

  • The graphic artist (or staff artist or volunteer or student) creates I Spy logo, magnifying glass for clues, and makes maps for each Web site.
  • The artist also creates the master for each community’s game card, to be professionally printed. We asked for a black and white master so that member libraries can duplicate the game card on copy machines. For our game, T shirts were designed and distributed to team members, to help with tour guiding and to publicize the project.
  • The Web consultant (or staff Web master/mistress or volunteer or student) set up the Web pages for the game using Dreamweaver software (any Web development software or straight HTML coding can be used.)
  • The Web game shows the I Spy Community Name logo, then shows picture clues in magnifying glasses next to written riddles. Clicking on the picture clue or the written riddle presents the whole site picture with description and name. Pages with historic photographs are linked from the main site pages.
  • Our Web consultant edited the historic pictures by inserting picture clues into magnifying glasses, adding community pictures, written riddles, historic descriptions, and scanned the historic pictures, which includes editing, adjusting, clipping – all the tricks of the trade!
  • Then, the library staff needs to proof, proof, proof both the Web site and game cards!
  • And finally, the publicity effort begins. It actually began when the I Spy teams were created, since the project lends itself to so much discussion – in school, at the library, and at the historical society.
  • Participating library staff have shown the sites to local teachers, who are incorporating the games into their local history curriculum. And, local historians have suggested adding an oral history component to the game for a second year of programming.

Besides helping children to take a new look at their communities, the games are bringing history to life in local communities, and a boost to local tourism.

I SPY was made possible through the support of Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds, granted by the New York State Library to the Mohawk Valley Library System.

This site is maintained by:

Mohawk Valley Library System
858 Duanesburg Rd., Schenectady, NY 12306
Phone (518) 355-2010, Fax: (518) 355-0674

Carol Clingan, Director, Mohawk Valley Library System

Sue Rokos (, Project Coordinator, MVLS
PA Farrington (PA Farrington Associates), Project Consultant
Mary Robertson (, Graphics Consultant
Graphics copyright MVLS, 2000.


More I SPY pages: Canajoharie | Cobleskill | Fonda/Fultonville | Fort Plain | Gloversville | Johnstown | Northville | Quaker Street | Schenectady | Schoharie | Scotia/Glenville | Sharon Springs | St. Johnsville

The I Spy games and Website was supported by Federal Library Services and Technology Act funds, awarded to the New York State Library by the Federal Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.

Mohawk Valley Library System - About I Spy - Visit Our Kids' Website


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