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The Librarian's Guide to Gaming:

An Online Toolkit for Building Gaming ala @your library  logo



Jack Martin"Be prepared to answer hard questions. A lot."

~Jack Martin,
New York Public Library
New York, NY


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Common questions about board, card and videogames follow. They may be useful as you present your case to decision makers, funders, the press, and the community. Download the FAQs in presentation form for your next board meeting.

Why gaming at the library?

Board games, card games, and videogames are stories & information, presented in new formats. Libraries are about stories & information. Games, therefore, fulfill library mission in all types and all sizes of libraries.

  • Public libraries have a mission to provide cultural, recreational, and entertaining materials, as well as informational and educational materials. Games provide stories and information as they entertain and educate.
  • School & academic libraries have a mission to curriculum support. Games provide stories and information, presented in a new format, that encourage critical thinking and problem solving and accomplish objectives of curriculum frameworks and meet AASL standards.
  • Special libraries have a mission to provide resources and support their industry or profession. Games provide stories and information, presented in a new format, that meet business goals and objectives and provide continuing education for employees.

What are some benefits of games?

  • Games are educational. They involve critical thinking, problem solving, and a constant learning cycle based on hypothesizing, experimenting and evaluating.
  • Games meet developmental needs of teens established by the National Middle School Association they encourage social interaction between peers and non-peers, enforce rules and boundaries, encourage creative expression, reward competence and achievement, provide opportunity for self-definition
  • Some games have a cathartic effect in releasing emotions. In the book Grand Theft Childhood, youth reveal that violent videogames in particular help manage anger & frustration.
  • Some videogames are healthy! Dance Dance Revolution gets heart rates up to 140 beats per minute, according to "Project GAME (Gaming Activities for More Exercise)" published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport in 2005, and more calories are burned playing Tekken than walking around the block. A 2004 study: The Effects of a Consumer Oriented Multimedia Game on the Reading Disorders of Children with ADHD in West Virginia discovered a correlation between playing DDR and improving reading test scores.
  • Gaming has recreational value. It's fun, entertaining, and catharthic
  • Games are social.

What is the connection between literacy and gaming?

A detailed response, with definitions of various kinds of literacy, is on the Literacy 101. There is no doubt that gaming and literacy go hand-in-hand. If you can’t read, you can’t play. Games come with instructions, menus, and more. Learning the language and mechanics of any game, from Chess to Little Big Planet, involves acquiring a new vocabulary.

  • Some card games, like Pokemon require deciphering the academic language of if/then clauses to determine the outcome of the battles that ensue when cards are played. Dungeons & Dragons comes with three tomes that serve as guides gameplay. Referring to these core manuals, as a player or gamemaster, depends heavily on information literacy skills; while the gameplay is focused on telling a story filled with conflict. Additionally, there is great deal of math involved in D&D: reading the dice, distributing attributes as players complete character sheets, adding and multiplying damage during combat, and understanding statistics and probability.
  • Many authentic, modern board games such as 1960: the Making of a President, Settlers of Catan, and even Pictureka! provide a learning environment that presents a variety of new challenges, supports creative problem solving, and provides support for overcoming failure. All of these skills can be linked to national standards for student achievers.
  • To play DDR or Guitar Hero, players must be able to read the screen to set up the game and choose a song to play. There is on-screen reading during the gameplay, as steps and progress are rated. There is  evenevidence to suggest that rhythm games like DDR a Hero improve reading skills of ADHD students. Matching movements to visual and rhythmic auditory cues, DDR may strengthen neural networks involved in reading and attention and thereby improve student outcomes.
  • Fantasy sports players apply information literacy skills when playing. The goal of fantasy football is to create a roster each week in pursuit of the greatest statistical production so that when you compete head-to-head against another participant, your team will produce a win. All of this requires players to practice strong research, critical thinking and communication skills in order to succeed.
  • Fantasy sports activities also include identifying a variety of information formats, evaluating and refining search results, applying criteria to determine the bias and credibility and creating new knowledge.
  • Finally, game design activities both encompass and look well beyond the forms of literacy that are defined by existing school and library standards, combining computational fluency, mathematics, logic, storytelling, sound and graphic design (with their implicit elements of symbology and user-orientation), systems concepts and information management, among other disciplines.

What do gaming events and programs bring to the library?

Gaming programs epitomize library as third place, creating a community place between home and work/school to socialize and play. Gaming programs are primarily social events. It's more about relationship building than gameplay. Ideally, all users come away with a positive library experience that encourages repeat business and word-of-mouth PR. Gaming events and programs bring in

  • New users (who may not visit the library) attend and gain insight into how the library may be relevant to them.
  • Regular users may see the library in a new light.
  • All users may be prompted to use other non-gaming library services.

Does this trend of putting games in libraries point to a larger trend?

Gaming is not a passing fad; games have been present in libraries for hundred of years. Libraries looking for ways to reach beyond their traditional patron base. Gaming offers libraries the opportunity to bump up again mainstream society--not just the readers. Libraries are striving to deliver what patrons want. Libraries continue to struggle for relevancy in a world where people are willing to pay money for commercial commodities that libraries deliver for free (Netflix, for example).

In the future, the focus of library as access point may not be gaming, but increased access to digital media and technology. Pioneers in this area include

Who attends gaming programs at the library?

Everyone! Public library events have been primarily aimed at a teen audience, which is interesting, because the average age of the gamer is 35 and rising! Using the Wii for seniors is a hot trend, as is family gaming.

  • Elementary school students attend Pokemon Tournaments at Ann Arbor District Library
  • Students in public & private schools, as part of curriculum.
  • Monopoly Tournaments at the Cornelius Branch of the Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg Country are attended by youth, parents, and seniors.
  • Middle schoolers take part in the 12-week long Digital Arts Workshop at the Carver's Bay Branch Library
  • Students in high schools are playing Big Games.
  • In academic libraries, gaming is part of bib instruction.
  • Seniors try Wii Bowling and other games at the Old Bridge Public Library.

What are some assumptions about games and gamers that come up in the context of gaming in libraries?

The mainstream media would have you believe that all videogames are like Grand Theft auto, that tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons lead to practicing witchcraft, that games of any kind –even puzzles or chess!--are too recreational for libraries. Common misconceptions about games follow.

  • Games are fluff or junk entertainment. There are books for adults, teens and children that ar considered by librarians to be fluff or junk entertainment, but there is value in all types of reading. There is a serious games initiative in the gaming industry, and many games have an edutainment flair.
  • Games discourage original thought. Although a gamer may follow a path laid out by a designer, they are often several ways to get to the endgame. Playing a game requires creativity and imagination.
  • Games don't offer learning opportunities. Technology writer Steven Berlin Johnson says that playing a videgogame is like engaging the scientific method: a constant hypothesize/experiment/ evaluate process. You learn something new every time.
  • Games are competing with books. No libraries should not be offering an either/or option! It’s not books OR games, it's books AND games (and dvds, cds, Internet...). Games are not a replacement for traditional print literacy, but literacy is changing - there is a new literacy now. Today's youth must be fluent in visual literacy, media literacy, social literacy.
  • All boardgames are like Monopoly and Candy Land. There are a plethora of complex, well-designed, authentic modern board nad tabletop games that are unlike games you may have played in your childhood. They encourage socialization, have multiple end games, and asa byproduct, often impart information literacy skills.
  • All videogames are violent like Grand Theft Auto. 85% of games have content that is NOT rated M for mature. GTA represents a very small portion of available videogames. No one objects to chess, the game that has been playing in libraries the longest; chess is a wargame that involves "killing" your opponent's army and monarchy. Link to ESRB.
  • Games are addictive. Like a book one cannot put down, some games are gripping. Some offer immediate rewards and many require concentrated effort. Many encourage self-improvement. Games may be especially compelling for some personality types: moderating gameplay time, interspersing gaming with other activities, and playing with other people helps create balance. Parents and adults need to set appropriate time limits for youth, and encourage a balanced media diet.

Is it enough to just put games on the shelves? Or should libraries find a way to engage the gaming community further?

Libraries should begin with services to gamers. Some suggestions towards a gamer-friendly library:

  • Encourage card/board games at the library tables.
  • Allow games on the library computers.
  • Foster a “club" environment or program around gaming activities.
  • Purchase gaming strategy guides for circulation.
  • Use games to connect patrons to books.
  • Treat questions like, "Do you have the rules for chess?”  or, "How do I beat Final Fantasy XII?" like serious reference questions.
  • Host career nights with game designers, developers, artists, game-music composers, and other creative thinkers from the professional game industry.
  • Offer workshops in game design and digital arts.
  • Host gaming programs, to bring in the gamers in the community.
  • Building relationships with the gamers creates a panel of experts to query when you are ready to circulate games and it creates trust they will be more likely to take good care of the circulating games, and respect the library and its collection, resulting in less theft and damage.

How can librarians can use games to connect patrons to books?

Librarians can use games to do reader's advisory.

  • Ask, "what games do you play?" to get a sense of the types of stories, characters and settings the gamer prefers.
  • Librarians and patrons can create "readalike" displays - if you liked this GAME, you may like these books/movies/CDs/games.

What else can librarians do to connect with gamers?

Librarians can learn to think like gamers in two ways:

  • Embrace change! Look forward to it! Find small ways to create a constantly changing environment in the library (hint: beta programs & services).
  • Take risks, for we learn from our mistakes, and can always hit the "reset" button.

Do libraries circulate or program with videogames rated “M” for mature?

Some libraries circulate games rated M for mature, or use games rated M for mature in library programs. M for Mature means the content is designed for people over the age of 17; it's equivalent to an R rating for a movie those games are intended for people over the age of 17. Only 15% of games sold in the US last year were rated M. For more information about game ratings, visit the Entertainment Software Ratings Boards website.

Some libraries carry M rated games in their collections for adults, or host programs or services using M rated games! It depends on the community.

  • In Suffolk County NY, a library has started an M rated collection for adults.
  • At the Benicia (CA) Library, teens can play Ghost Recon. if their parents sign a permission slip. Also, they have hosted two tournaments which included Halo 3 (parents signed permission slips for those under 18).
  • PLCMC held a Halo 2 tournament for youth.
  • PLCMC offers an adult gaming program called the Gaming Zone.

  That Was Then: A brief history of gaming in libraries.

This Is Now:
A snapshot of gaming in libraries today.


Talking Points: Connecting games & literacy.

Tools to measure your success.

  First Steps:
Easy, low-cost models for beginners

Next Steps:
Models large in scope and scale.

Gaming @ your library is an initiative of the American Library Association.
This initiative is generously funded by the Verizon Foundation