Libraries Embrace Gaming

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By Trent A. Reynolds

The library is generally thought of as a quiet place. But for six nights last summer, a portion of the Westbank Library in Austin, Texas, was transformed into a haven for young gamers.

After closing time, around twenty teenagers, supervised by Children’s & Programs Librarian Kristi Floyd, gathered around consoles in the library’s conference rooms to battle it out at Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution, and Super Mario Kart.
Such an event will come as a surprise to many. Gamers, if they think about gaming at libraries at all, likely don’t think of it beyond maybe borrowing a chess board from the front desk. But as times and media technology change, libraries are changing with them, and one of the ways in which they are changing is to embrace gaming in its many different forms.

What Do Libraries Offer for Gamers?

Libraries’ offerings for gamers are as varied as the needs of gamers. A big one is space.People who play role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons know how difficult it can be to find a large tabletop in a conducive environment.

Libraries frequently offer conference rooms designed for meetings, featuring large tables, comfortable chairs, and wireless access in a pleasant and interruption-free environment. Often these rooms are available at no charge.

For gamers on a budget, many libraries offer games for circulation. According to a 2007 survey, 40% of libraries offer some sort of games for checkout.
Libraries can also be a resource for gamers looking for competitors or compatriots--the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana features an annual seven-week Dungeons & Dragons campaign for teens each summer which has proven popular enough that some are requesting that it go on year-round.

Why Do Libraries Support Gaming?

The American Library Association (ALA) has drawn explicit connections between gaming and various forms of literacy. The ALA points to a variety of positive impacts of gaming, such as these, excerpted from the ALA’s Library Gaming Toolkit:

  • Some card games, like Pokémon, 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 to gameplay. Referring to these core manuals, as a player or gamemaster, depends heavily on information literacy skills, while the gameplay itself 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.
  • 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.

The benefits go beyond literacy. The ALA also touts that games “involve critical thinking, problem solving, and a constant learning cycle based on hypothesizing, experimenting and evaluating.” Gaming can also be healthy, as the introduction of the Wii Fit and Dance, Dance Revolution demonstrate.

Libraries also benefit from embracing gaming and gamers. Support for gaming is one way for the library to serve the community and be an integral part of it.

Getting Involved with Gaming at the Library

For gamers looking for gaming groups or events to participate in, many libraries offer an online schedule of upcoming activities. A simple phone call will also work—librarians are eager to draw attention to the many things that libraries offer the community.

If you already use library conference rooms for your gaming group, consider opening up your group to other people in the community.

What if there is no gaming at your local library? Get involved! “Libraries are always looking for people to run events,” says Kristi Floyd. She, like librarians everywhere, would be thrilled if members of the community were to come in with their own ideas for events and work with the library staff to make those events successful.

Game On.

Whatever your gaming passion is, the library can be a great resource. From video game tournaments to weekly role-playing sessions to simply providing a conference room one evening for your Fantasy Football draft, the library has something to offer. Getting involved with your local library is a great way to share your love of gaming with the larger community, and the good people at the library are eager to help. What are you waiting for?

Trent A. Reynolds is a freelance writer and editor based in Austin, Texas.