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The Librarian's Guide to Gaming:

An Online Toolkit for Building Gaming ala @your library  logo



Dale Lipschultz"Preschool children love playing traditional board games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders, and through play they learn to take turns and cooperate while developing early literacy skills... memory and matching board and computer games help preschoolers move from spoken language to print."

~Dale Lipschultz,
ALA, Office for Literacy and Outreach Services
Chicago, IL

Literacy 101

Gaming and Literacy :: 21st Century Literacy :: Visual Literacy :: Media Literacy :: Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) Literacy :: Programming Literacy :: Multimodal Literacy :: Science Literacy :: Technology Literacy


Libraries, Literacy and Gaming Fact Sheet

What is the Connection Between Literacy and Gaming?

Tools and toys in new technologies have burgeoned over the last 20 years, and so has our understanding of what literacy is and can be. Awareness of what it takes to be an active and engaged participant in society has changed; so libraries have changed the way they understand, promote and support literacy.

Libraries have provided collections, programs and services in support of traditional literacy skills for centuries. Today, ideas of what literacy is include digital, information and communication technology (ICT), media, programming, and visual. Reading and understanding information is vital. In all these literacies, users are required to produce new knowledge from their informed conclusions and to share that new knowledge with their communities.

Libraries of all types promote the development of literacy skills in numerous ways: information literacy classes in colleges and universities, gaming programs to promote problem solving and the development of higher order thinking skills in public libraries, and other services that improve technical and literary fluency. Regardless of the type of service libraries may provide, they are all important in strengthening these multiple literacies.

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 (D&D)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 itsself is focused on telling a story filled with conflict. 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. For more information, check out Dungeons & Dragons Afternoon Adventures.
  • Many authentic, modern board games such as 1960: the Making of a President, Settlers of Catan, and even Pictureka! provide a learning environment that supports creative problem solving, and provides support for overcoming failure. All of these skills can be linked to national standards for student achievers. For more information, check out the Genesee Valley BOCES training on using modern board games in the library.
  • To play Dance Dance Revolution (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  even evidence to suggest that rhythm games like DDR and Guitar Hero improve reading skills of ADHD students: by matching movements to visual and rhythmic auditory cues, DDR may strengthen neural networks involved in reading and attention and thereby improve student outcomes. For more information, check out DDR/Guitar Hero Tournaments.
  • 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. For more information, check out Information Literacy through Fantasy Football.
  • 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. For more information, check out Game Design, Game Maker Academy or Digital Arts Workshops.


21st Century Literacy

21st Century Literacy is the ability to use a range of tools and skills (technological, interpersonal, communication) to effectively participate in the workforce.It includes print, visual, media, multimodal, scientific and many other types and modes of literacy.

AASL. Standards for the 21st Century Learner. AASL, 2008.
The American Association of School Librarians' (AASL)document on the ability to use a range of tools and skills (technological, interpersonal, communication) to effectively participate in the workforce.

ALA Information Literacy Wiki. January 27, 2009.
Contains resources for all types of libraries on information competency or fluency.

ACRL Information Literacy. January 27, 2009.
Association of College & Research Libraries Information Literacy (ACRL) Information Literacy website is a gateway to resources on information literacy.

Digital Directions. January 27, 2009.
Provides an overview of literacy in the 21st century.

NCTE. The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies. NCTE, 2008. January 27, 2009.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTA) position statement on 21st century literacy includes technlogy proficiency and working with multimedia among other skills.

NoodleTools on 21st Century Literacy. Noodle Tools, 2008. January 27, 2009.
Provides overview of skills needed to locate, retrieve, assess and use information

Partnership for 21st Century Learning. Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2008. January 27, 2009.
This organization offers a unified, collective vision for 21st century learning that can be used to strengthen American education.

Warlick, David. Warlick's CoLearners. 2008. January 27, 2009.
Online handouts for Redefining Literacy and Literacy & Learning presentations.


Print Literacy is the ability to read and write proficiently.

ALA. Office for Outreach and Literacy Services. February 16, 2009. 
Resources on literacy outreach to specific populations.

National Institute for February 16, 2009.
A federal agency providing leadership on literacy issues, including the improvement of reading instruction for children, youth, and adults.



Visual Literacy is the ability to interpret, assess, process and make meaning from visual images such as photographs, charts, graphs, and video.

Baker, Frank. Visual Literacy. 2008. January 27, 2009.
Visual literacy definition.

International Visual Literacy Association. January 27, 20o9.
An organization dedicated to research study and publication of visual literacy.

Visual Literacy. Wikipedia. 2009.
Article on visuacy.


Media Literacy is the ability to critically assess messages presented by media outlets such as newspapers, blogs, television shows, and movies.

Center for Media Literacy. Center for Media Literacy, 2008. January 27, 2009.
Best practices, resources and lesson plans for media literacy.

Media Media, 2009. January 27, 2009.
Resources for advancing media education.

PBS Teachers: Media Literacy. PBS, 2009. January 27, 2009.
Resources for teachers, including activities related to PBS shows.


Information, Communication, Technology (ICT) Literacy is the ability to learn and use software and hardware to communicate knowledge and ideas.

ICT Digital Literacy Portal. Lempster Group, 2008. January 27, 2009.
This website represents a global partnership among leading business, education, and public policy stakeholders to promote universal ICT Digital Literacy.


Programming Literacy is the ability to understand and applying programming principles to create change in technology.

Edutopia. Programming: The New Literacy. The George Lucas Foundation, 2008. January 27, 2009.
Success stories about what works in public education.


Multimodal Literacy is the ability to understand and interpret the same information presented in multiple formats.

National Council of Teachers of English. January 27, 2009.
National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) position statement on multimodal literacy.


Science Literacy is the ability to understand and be fluent in the nature of science and scientific methods.

National Science Digital Library. NSDL Science Literacy Maps. The National Science Digital Library, 2009. January 27, 2009.
Tools for teachers and students to find resources that relate to specific science and math concepts.


Technology Literacy is the ability to use the tools of creation and communication, such as computers, cell phones, MP3 players and more.

ISTE. National Education Technology Literacy Standards. ISTE, 2009. January 27, 2009.
Standards to test proficiency, knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to succeed in today’s Digital Age.

ITEA. Technology Literacy Standards. ITEA, 2005. January 27, 2009.
Provides technological literacy standards by the International Technology Education Association (ITEA).


  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