gaming in a tiny library

I was just asked a question about gaming in a small library, how to promote it and how to convince one’s fellow librarians that it’s OK. Here’s my answer:

We host many gaming activities at our library (service pop. of 5400) with mixed success. The three National Game Days we’ve participated in have brought in decent quantities of people. Our Rockband tournaments have done OK. When we incorporate gaming into other programs, such as teen sleepovers, they are very popular, especially the Kinect dancing games.

We also offer anytime Wii play in our TeenSpace. We usually have 3-6 kids there everyday, playing. And we allow gaming on our computers, and after school will often have 4 kids playing Roblox or whatever together.

As for non-videogaming, LARPs have been popular for us. We held a live-action zombies vs. zombie-killers game that incorporated a scavenger hunt all over town for teens to find the stuff they would need to survive a zombie apocalypse (stuff we hid, such as bandaids, nerf guns, gummy brains, etc.) and then the two teams had a war. This was VERY popular. We hosted D&D for over five years, and only stopped this fall when the DM and two other players graduated high school and went to college (Anyone want to DM in Horicon?) We also host a Pokemon Club that is so popular we are increasing them to twice-monthly meetings in January.

We offer a wide variety of board games for patrons to use in-house and a free puzzle exchange. The board games aren’t played much, but the puzzles are very popular. We sometimes have board gaming programs using Carcassone or other cool games, but it’s been a while since we did that. It was well-attended when we did. I hope to incorporate weekly LAN/console gaming parties into our program lineup next year, and bring back more board game events.

As for promotion, as always, word of mouth works best. We generally send PR to 2 local papers, 2 local radio stations and our local access TV channel. The best results I’ve gotten have been because of the local schools morning announcements. Flyers all over town seem to make no difference at all. We do sometimes do mass emails from people who are willing to be included on an email list. That works pretty well.

In a town as small as ours, 15 people is a great-sized gaming crowd. So I don’t know if you can expect masses of people. But the people who come will be very happy and impressed with your library!

As for your disgruntled staff, tell them that information literacy is better supported by games than just about anything else in the world, including real life, for these and many other reasons:

  • Our brains dig the reward system of learning new things and experiencing new world and show it with bursts of happy-making dopamine when we level up or accomplish tasks, or win
  • we are actively creating our own learning through games, which makes it stick
  • there are no real negative consequences for risks, which encourages innovative thinking
  • there are big learning rewards for small efforts, unlike in life, when you have to work very hard to see results, and which allow us to learn things quickly
  • we get to try on other identities and discover what it feels like to be tough or sneaky or witty or the things we perceive as outside ourselves, and we learn empathy through living alternate lives, just as we do with fiction
  • we become aware our own skills and limitations, test them, build them, are appreciated for them
  • we learn multimodally, which suits people with different learning styles
  • we become fluent in different semiotic domains, or symbolic worlds in which the culture of practice may be very different from our regular lives, when we game as a soldier, as a detective, as an elf mage, or as someone who is a superhero. This fluency translates to quicker learning of “realworld” semiotic domains, as when we switch jobs.
  • If reading is the most important thing to your fellow librarians (which I hope it is not the case) then show them the incredible variety of reading needed to play most games, from the very complicated manuals, wikis and discussion boards to the various levels of formality with which ideas are textually represented in-game, depending on who is speaking.

There are a lot more reasons to game. Check out James Gee. If not his book, then watch a few YouTube videos of his talks. He will inspire you.

Thanks to Terrance Newell’s Videogaming & Information Literacy course at UW Milwaukee  SOIS, my last class in my master’s degree career (over in two days!) for the great ideas that I barely touched on in this post.


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