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The Librarian's Guide to Gaming:

An Online Toolkit for Building Gaming ala @your library  logo



Dr. Scott Nicholson"Gaming stands alongside movies and music as a popular form of recreation, so it makes sense that libraries supporting recreational media should also support games and gaming."

~Dr. Scott Nicholson,
University of Syracuse
Syracuse, NY


A Brief History of Gaming in Libraries

That Was Then :: This Is Now :: Gaming in School & Public Libraries :: Toy and Game Libraries :: News & Research

That Was Then

Chess, supported in libraries for over 150 years, is the oldest and possibly most commonly played game in libraries. Scott Nicholson, Associate Professor, Syracuse University School of Information Studies, says that libraries supporting recreation is not a new concept, and cites a 1975 interview with a Maryland children’s librarian who considered toys, games, and realia as “the logical next step in our acquisition of 'non-print' materials.”

Documented use of games in library collections for study goes back over a quarter of century; circulating collections of toys and games goes back to the Great Depression. Recreation in libraries was embraced in the mid-1960’s, with game design camps, jigsaw puzzle contests, and live action roleplaying.

Today’s trends lean toward intergenerational programming, modern board games, authentic games (not edutainment software) and digital games on handhelds, consoles, and online. See Nicholson’s "Go Back to Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries" and Playing in the Past: A History of Games and Gaming in Libraries in North America. (forthcoming)


What's Happening Now

PC & board gaming is down since 2006, console gaming is up, and Guitar Hero was the favorite game played in libraries in 2007. Dr. Scott Nicholson's gaming census for all types of libraries is quickly becoming an annual event, so be sure to save your data from 2008 and contribute to the Library Gaming Census in 2009!

  • 2007 Library Gaming Census Report
    Scott Nicholson's 2007 survey of gaming in libraries covered tabletop games and videogames.
  • The Role of Gaming in Libraries: Taking the Pulse
    The 2006 survey of 400 public libraries showed that at least 7 out of 10 public libraries support gaming in some way, with larger libraries more likely to offer collections and programs.

Gaming in Public and School Libraries

Over 75% of public libraries support gaming @ the library, allowing computer or board gaming, circulating games, or offering gaming events and programs. According to Scott Nicholson's article, "Finish Your Games So You Can Start Your Schoolwork: A look at gaming in school libraries," nearly 20% of school libraries circulate games, and over 80% allow computer gaming in the school library. Overviews of gaming in academic and special libraries can't be far behind.


Toy and Game Libraries

Toy and Game Libraries are run by organizations such as churches and hospitals, as well as by libraries.


Keeping Up: Current Gaming News and Research

Joystiq is the premiere clearinghouse site for the videogame industry, reporting on news, research and trends; Board Game News, covering news and reviews of designer board and card games, is a tabletop game resource.

For library specific information, start with the Library Gamelab at Syracuse, a grant funded project. Research on gaming may help justify adding gaming services at your library, and provide a snapshot of gaming trends.

There are some wonderful platform specific resources; Board Game Studies focuses on tabletop games, while Nick Yee's Daedalus Project is concerned with Massively Multiplayer Online games, and both Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research and The International Journal of Computer Games Technology cover PC gaming.

For an overview of videogaming industry market research, watch the NPD Group's webpage; they cover videogames under the Entertainment category.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project produces reports on how Americans use technology. "Adults and Gaming" reveals more adults are playing videogames than one might think (and that seniors are playing videogames in record numbers), and "Teens, Video Games and Civics" reveals 97% of teens are playing videogames (and teens who play civic themed games are more likely to be civically engaged).

The Kaiser Foundation focuses on major health care issues in the U.S. Their report, "Kids and Media @ the New Millennium", is a national public study on media and health. Findings include that parents do not exercise much control over their children's media diets; only 5% of children spend an hour or day a less with media, most use multiple forms of media at a time--and most kids still read for fun.

The MacArthur Foundation provides grants and loans to support people and institutions who are committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In a recent study supported by their $50-million digital media and learning initiative, "Living and Learning with New Media" found that America’s youth are developing important social and technical skills online.

Beyond news coverage of gaming events and tabloid articles on the violent effect of game, the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 brought more complex issues to the forefront.

Andrew K. Przybylski, Richard M. Ryan, and C. Scott Rigby undertook six studies at the University of Rochester (NY) going on the belief that violence adds little to enjoyment or motivation for typical players. The results of "The Motivating Role of Violence in Video Games" printed in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in February 2009 showed that "enjoyment, value, and desire for future play were robustly associated with the experience of autonomy and competence in gameplay;" in other words, the complexity of games is more highly valued than carnage.

Melinda Wenner addresses "The Serious Need for Play" in the Scientific American, January 2009, citing childhood play as crucial for "social, emotional and cognitive development."

John Lancaster's article, "Is It Art?" published in the January 2009 issue of the London Review of Books makes an argument that videogames are a medium whose importance and cultural ubiquity should be equivalent to that of film or television.

In Janaury 2009, the New York Times covered the release of AudiOdyssey, an M.I.T. gamelab videogame designed for visually impaired gamers.

The Maintain IT Project did a spotlight on one of our expert panelists, Kelly Czarnecki. Discover how thePublic Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County's ImaginOn is "Ahead of the Game" in delivering cutting edge youth services.


  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