F, G, 1
In the context of the Atlas, “games and gaming” encompasses many forms of structured play—board and card games, computer games, video and console games, role-playing games, war and combat-focused games, and even alternate reality games. Just as librarians support a variety of member interests and age ranges, the librarian should support all types of games that are appropriate for the needs of the specific group of members.
Games, like movies, music, and even fiction, are a form of popular media that the librarian supports. As the role of gaming in society has grown, the role of gaming in libraries has also grown. Sometimes this draws a critical eye from the public in the same way that, over the years, movies, popular music, and even recreational reading has drawn as the library supported these services. The “penny dreadfuls,” inexpensive popular serial fiction from the late 1800s and early 1900s, drew the same kind of questioning as gaming does today (Dyson, 2008). Over the years, the library has changed to reflect the changing recreational interests of the public that it supports. Currently, at least for electronic games, “the average game player is 35 years old and has been playing games for 12 years” (Entertainment Software Association, 2009), and “sixty-eight percent of American households play computer or video games” (Entertainment Software Association, 2009). Therefore, it makes sense that librarians support games for a growing portion of their population.
There are two primary ways through which a librarian supports games and gaming—through collections and services. Many librarians have created collections of games, and in this way the game is treated just like any other artifact in the library. Games are selected according to a selection policy to develop a collection that meets a specific need and audience. School and academic librarians build collections of games to support the curriculum either through games that teach other subjects or games that are used to teach courses about gaming. A growing number of special collections of games and gamerelated materials are in libraries and museums. These games can be accessed by users in the same way that other forms of media are accessed. In many cases, they are circulated and played either at home or in the libraries. Supporting games as collections falls in line with a more traditional view of librarianships and can neatly fall underneath policies that dictate other collections.
In line with new librarianship is the support of gaming as a service. With these gaming services, patrons are able to play games in the library. There are several ways that gaming goes in libraries. Most librarians allow patrons to use computers for whatever they would like for a certain period of time. This means that while patrons can use the computers for database searching and web browsing, they can also use them for personal e-mail, social networking, and gaming. Some librarians do ask that while others are waiting, those using computers for personal enjoyment limit their use. Another common implementation of gaming in libraries is as part of a summer reading program or other program for children. One traditional sight in many libraries is public domain games, such as chess or checkers. In fact, U.S. libraries have supported chess since the 1850s (Mechanics’ Institute, 2009).
The growing area of gaming as a service is a formal gaming program. These programs could be focused on one game, such as a Scrabble tournament, or one type of game, like the Nintendo Wii, or a variety of board, card, and video games in a mixed session. These gaming programs may be an open play event, where players come and engage in games with each other with no other structure, or a tournament, where players play within a structure with the goal of providing competitive play and recognition. These programs could be focused on one age group, such as teens or seniors; could be explicitly intergenerational, such as a family game day; or could be open to all. Programs could be one-time or ongoing, and they vary in size from a Pokemon regional tournament that draws hundreds or an ongoing Dungeons and Dragons game that brings six players per week.
Surveys done by the Library Game Lab of Syracuse have unearthed three common reasons for gaming programs. The most common reason is to provide a service for those who are not served as well as other groups by the libraries; typically, these are teen-focused programs designed to draw teens into the library. Another common reason is to create an activity that allows members of the community to engage with each other in a participatory manner (compared with more passive programs where the audience comes together to watch something but not engage). The third common reason for gaming programs is to extend existing library programs; summer reading gaming is a good example of this. Because games engage and motivate, gaming programs can create new dimensions to book talks and other traditional library programs (Nicholson, 2009).
One of the problems that librarians can have in starting gaming programs is making decisions about which games to use based on personal gaming interests. Just as librarians should not make decisions about which books to purchase for the library based on their own reading interests, librarians need to be careful to represent the needs and interests of their target community in selecting games. Librarians should start with their mission and goals and use these to inspire development of gaming experiences. The games selected should be justifiable as the most appropriate choice for the patron group and the librarians’ missions. The programs can then be assessed to demonstrate how they fulfill the librarians’ goals. These assessments are then valuable for those needing to answer the critics of gaming programs. When used with the librarians’ goals and missions in mind, gaming programs can be motivating ways to bring people to the library on a regular basis to engage with each other through shared activities. They easily fit into the model of new librarianship as interactive and exciting activities that fit the interests of a growing group of the population.
Dyson, J. P. (2008, November 2–4). The power of play today. Presentation at the ALA Techsouce Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium, Chicago, IL.
Electronic Software Association. (2009). Industry facts. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp
Mechanics’ Institute Library & Chess Room. (2009). About us. Retrieved September 29, 2008, from http://www.milibrary.org/MI_about_us.pdf
Nicholson, S. (2009). Go back to start: Gathering baseline data about gaming in libraries. Library Review, 58(3), 203–214.
For more information about gaming in libraries, Dr. Nicholson taught a 30-video course through YouTube on Gaming in Libraries, which can be accessed at http://gamesinlibraries.org/course. In addition, Dr. Nicholson has written a book on the topic called Everyone Plays at the Library, which is coming out by Information Today in 2010.