While most libraries have closed to help slow the spread of COVID-19, their staff are still working hard to share online resources and programs with their communities while maintaining social distancing. Tyler Hahn, a Youth and Special Services Librarian at Iowa’s Cherokee Public Library, may not be able to host gatherings in person, but he’s still bringing local kids together virtually through a popular digital pastime: esports.
Esports—a form of organized video game competition, often played in teams—have taken the gaming world by storm. Libraries are a natural place for youth interested in technology to spend time, especially in rural communities like Cherokee, where many households lack high-speed internet access; Tyler has long welcomed library users’ interest in esports, treating the medium as a valuable opportunity for students to develop their creativity, social skills, and even college and career readiness. By joining the library’s esports team, kids learn how to work together and solve complex problems, all through the lens of an activity they’re deeply personally invested in. “Esports at the library offers this sort of opportunity for social emotional learning and growth,” Tyler told I Love Libraries. “It allows youth to connect their interests in games into other areas of the tangible world, whether it be a particular field of study, a career, or even a new hobby.”
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cherokee Public Library’s esports players have stayed in touch virtually. Tyler has kept the team busy with at-home STEAM challenges like developing their own victory dance on FlipGrid, creating 3D models in TinkerCAD, and writing code in Scratch. The group has also been using their diverse interests and talents to create fun content for the larger library community. One tech-savvy student has been creating videos to encourage their peers to get involved with coding at the library; a young artist on the team has been creating coloring sheets for the community to download and enjoy for free, and an avid writer is crafting YA and tween stories for local readers. “The community loves seeing what is being created and seeing their kids and grandkids creating content and having an outlet to show off their skills,” Tyler says.
Looking ahead, Tyler hopes to continue building on the success of these esports efforts, including incorporating gaming into the library’s summer reading program to encourage and empower reluctant readers. This way, kids can advance their education and literacy skills, all while enjoying themselves at the library.