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					                                        Video Games in Public Libraries

Video Games in Public Libraries: Game On

             Barbara Hallam

      University of the Fraser Valley

                LIBT 200

         Information and Society

          Jan Lashbrook Green

           November 10, 2009

                                                                     Video Games in Public Libraries

        Libraries have evolved and changed over time to stay current with the needs and trends
of their users. Libraries offer various forms of technology for various purposes. They have
adapted to change in order to stay current and are a vital and necessary part of the community.
Computerized cataloguing, streamlined automated checkouts, smooth electronic delivery of
information and public access to the Internet are some of the technology advances libraries
have made. Technology has also changed the way information packages are formatted. Print
materials are now available in electronic versions, VHS tapes have been formatted to DVD, and
audio books that were once produced on cassette tapes are now available on CD. Libraries and
their users have come to accept and use these new technologies as they become available.
Currently, libraries are in a position to offer a new service that will not only reach out to current
library users, but will draw in a specific user group that typically does not frequent the library.
Video gaming is one of the newest trends of technology that is making its way into libraries. The
incorporation of video gaming into library programming will provide library staff an opportunity to
draw parallels from gaming to both literacy and life-long learning skills, and connect library users
to the collection and this can in turn set the foundation for life-long library users.
        In the library field, the term “young adult” or “teen” refers to a specific user group that
falls between the ages of twelve and nineteen years old. As this age group grows from
childhood into adulthood they begin to gain independence, challenge authority, and the
development of peer relationships become an increasingly important part of their lives. As a
result, teens can be observed socializing in large and often noisy groups. Because of this, it is
not surprising to learn that some libraries feel a bit out of their comfort zone when working with
teens. Libraries have an obligation to provide service to all age groups in the community,
including teens. Most public libraries in general offer a teen space that is separate from the
children‟s section and away from the adult section that will house a collection of age appropriate
materials geared specifically towards this age group.
        Teens come into the library for both academic and non-academic reasons. This includes
using the library for doing homework, reading for leisure and socializing with friends. The library
can be seen as a neutral place that is safe within the confines of their community away from
authority figures like parents and teachers. Ott (2006) observes that once a child passes the
age of ten they may not frequent the library again until it is time to bring their own children in to
story time. She also goes on to say that there if libraries want to bridge this gap, then they will
have to create interesting programs for teens so they will become life-long library users (Ott p.

                                                                      Video Games in Public Libraries

xiv). In 2008, BC Public Library Statistics show that the Fraser Valley Regional Library offered
2,696 children‟s programs with a total attendance of 96,657. During the same year they offered
183 programs for young adults, with a total attendance of 2,419 (Government of British
Columbia, 2009). So why are some teens making a point of avoiding libraries at all costs. As
Reed (2008) points out, traditional library services, book talks, and young adult advisory boards
are not reaching out to a large number of teens, because teens think that they are „too cool‟ for
libraries (p. 65).
         Today‟s teens like technology; it is important to them. Take a look at a teenager walking
down the street, most will have some sort of earphones plugged into their ears, be talking on a
cell phone, or fidgeting with an iPod. These forms of technology are part of their culture, it is
how they communicate, how they socialize and how the entertain themselves. In order for
libraries to capitalize on this cultural aspect, they can offer a form of technology, not yet
mainstream in all libraries, but that can be valued and used by this particular user group. When
libraries incorporate videogames into the programming, they are supporting the library‟s mission
statement by supplying both the needs and wants of library users.

        Library services to young adults should aspire to two fundamental objectives: to engage
        young people through meaningful and appealing responses to their recreational an
        informational needs, and to simultaneously support good developmental outcomes. This
        dual purpose creates a balancing act for library professionals as they try to figure out
        what teens want while giving them what they need. (Pierce,2008, p. 2).

        There is a common misperception that video games are just a passive source of
entertainment with no learning value. In order for libraries to break through this stereotypical
image, they will have to make a connection between video games and the value they have as
part of the library‟s programming and collection. There are two important connections at work
here - connections to literacy, and connections to life-long learning skills. First of all, literacy
skills are a perquisite to playing video games. In order for a gamer to interactively use a video
game they have to already have in place a certain degree of reading comprehension. Many
games require that the player read dialogue on the screen and follow instructions that may be
either on the screen or in an instruction book (Danforth, 2009, p. 50). Cheats are a form of
instruction that will help advance a player from one level of play up to another. Cheats are
available in print format, but they are also available online through websites and blogs. Players
use both literacy and researching skills when they search out sources for cheats. Gaming
magazines offer game reviews and showcase new games that are coming out. These are in

                                                                    Video Games in Public Libraries

high demand and when players read them it becomes yet another way of reinforcing literacy
          In addition to reading comprehension, Reed (2008) explains that skills in strategic
thinking, planning and communication are equally important (p. 67). He goes on to say that
numeracy literacy, negotiation, group decision making and data handling are also skill benefits
acquired through video gaming. These skills can be learned in games in which players act as
managers of a sports team, design cities in simulation games, wage war in shooting games, and
play the role of kings, knights or elves in fantasy games.
          Some video war games are accurately based on history. Game designers put a lot of
research into their games in order to make them as realistic as possible. Call of Duty 3, for
example, has the player fight his way through the Battle of Normandy, the most devastating
battle to be fought in World War ll. The buildings, vehicles, uniforms and firearms are all
realistically portrayed to reflect the era of World War ll. DeMaria (2007) explains that these
action based war games may not only teach the political and human realities of war, but they
can incorporate good problem solving skills and strategic thinking. He goes on to say that these
games also serve the human fascination with conflict, with player taking sides and prevailing
over the enemy (p. 47). Video games make a powerful learning tool because they allow players
to gain virtual experience by participating in role type situations. “This gives learners a better
view of the problem because they get to participate in whatever concept they are trying to
grasp” (Reed, 2008, p. 68).
          Socializing with peers is a life-long learning skill that can also be enhanced by video
gaming. When a library offers video gaming in the library, it provides a place to bring teens
together and engage the library with their community. Most games are designed to be played on
a multi-player level. Teens that have never socialized together are finding common interests
with one another and are developing new friendships. Leadership, teamwork and friendly
competition are some of the positive outcomes of learning this social skill. Sanford (2008)
supports this by stating that “Through active engagement, self-pacing, frequent specific
feedback, and social/peer support, students are motivated to learn and improve their own
ability” (p. 86).
          Playing video games provides an educational tool that teaches and allows users to
become more comfortable with new technology. Sanford and Madill (2007) describe the many
complex ways that video game play can support learning:

                                                                    Video Games in Public Libraries

        Players learn to interpret multiple sign systems, including maps, numbers, patterns,
        weapons abilities, and they learn how to communicate through online typing, reading,
        speaking through headsets to strangers, and listening to symbolic game sounds to help
        their game play. These cues and modern technological skills are becoming more
        necessary for various careers, and video games are aiding the learning process (p. 445).

        In order for video gaming to work effectively in a library, library staff must have
knowledge of the various types of games available, offer a designated space and time slots for
gaming, and be able to connect the library collection to teens through gaming interests. Library
Technicians can quickly learn what is popular among different age groups by talking to local
video game rental stores. Staff there will be able to provide background information on game
content, age ratings and explain the different types of games available. Further research can
also be done through the internet by visiting the websites of game system manufactures, such
as Xbox, PlayStation and Wii Nintendo. Easterwood and Wesson (2009, p. 24-25), break down
video games into three large categories and explains that by recognizing the features of each
category, Library Technicians will be able to identify aspects of the game and form literary
parallels, much like a readers advisory. Action/shooter games involve elements of combat and
fighting, combined with plenty of action and shooting. A fast paced action plot told in the first
person will parallel with the character of a first person shooter. Thrillers and books with a
comedic plot will provide an immediacy that will satisfy this genre. Strategy/simulation games
engage players in problem solving and require them to think their way out of certain situations.
Books rich in detail, plots that have a problem solving component and mysteries are a good
choice. Adventure/RPGs (Role Playing Games) blend action, problem solving and fantasy.
Coming of age books, science fiction, and books with rich character development are a natural
fit for this genre.
        Secondly, a library will have to offer space and time slots for gaming. Ideally, a
designated room away from other library users will address the noise and excitement levels of
the players. Teens will also feel a sense of ownership towards the library. By having their own
space, teens will feel that they are a recognized and valued member of the library. If space is a
constraint, consider off site venues to hold gaming programs such as local schools, community
or recreation centers. Introduce games into the library through programming. Saxton (2007)
explains that the libraries have the benefit of being able to offer gaming events, such as
tournaments that would be difficult for patrons to organize on their own (p. 32). The benefit here

                                                                   Video Games in Public Libraries

is that libraries can increase their library programming statistics by designing programs that are
popular with teens.
       Finally, connect the library collection to teens through their gaming interests. By showing
a genuine interest in what is important and valued among this user group, library staff can build
a sense of trust and respect. Library staff then have the opportunity to introduce the collection
based on the users‟ interests. Non-fiction titles that have career related themes to technology
and game programming, as well as a good supply of current gaming magazines, cheat books
and cross over books and graphic novels are a good addition to the collection. Services can
include a readers‟ advisory based on the aspects of different games. Identify characters, plot
and genre in games and relate this to books that are available in the collection. Offer a display
of read-a-likes, “if you like this game try this book”. Hoeffgen (2009) explains that by hosting a
tournament during Teen Tech Week, she noticed that it drew teens into the library that had not
been there before and exposed them to titles in the collection that are directly linked to video
gaming (p. 8-9).
       Throughout history libraries have changed and evolved to stay current with the needs
and wants of their users. Videogames are a new format of technology that can have added
value when incorporated into a library and offered to a specific user group. Statistics show that
young adult programming is significantly lower than children‟s programming. We know that
libraries offer few services or programs that appeal to and draw in teens. Future studies and
statistics are needed to support the importance of this newest type of programming in order to
get Library Boards on side with this new technology. Libraries can take content that players
would normally do at home, add distinct value to the experience and create a program from it.
Because funding and support is vital to libraries, it is important to educate the public and local
politicians as to the value of having videogames in the library in order to draw in this particular
user group. Videogames can improve reading comprehension, engage critical thinking,
encourage social skills and be used as an educational tool. By supporting this type of program,
libraries are building a foundation for this group to become life-long users. Simply put, these are
the libraries‟ future stakeholders. If libraries want to have the support of this group when they
become adults, then they need to reflect their needs and wants so they will see the value of the
library as a necessary part of the community.

                                                                   Video Games in Public Libraries

                                                                                     Barbara Hallam

                             Reference List and Annotated Bibliography

Danforth, L. (2009). Games and literacy. Library Journal, 134(11), 50. Retrieved from LISTA.

       This article focuses on the connection made between reading comprehension and video

       games. This article provided support in making the connection of how literacy is a

       fundamental requirement to playing video games.

DeMaria, R. (2007). Reset: Changing the way we look at video games. San Francisco: Berrett-

       Koehler Publishers, Inc.

       This book argues that video games are a powerful learning technology that can educate,

       motivate and inspire its players. A section of this book was used to support the argument

       that video games can be a good educational tool used for problem solving skills and

       strategic thinking.

Easterwood, L., & Wesson, L. P. (2009). Gamers are readers. School Library Journal, 55(4), 24-

       25. Retrieved from LISTA.

       This article groups video games into broad categories, explains the aspects of each one

       and links them to literary qualities. This article was used to illustrate how a parallel

       between features of video games and literary features of books can be made in order for

       staff to recommend similar interest reading materials.

Government of British Columbia. (2009, September 15). BC public libraries statistics 2008.

       Retrieved from

                                                                   Video Games in Public Libraries

       This website provides programming statistics from the public libraries of BC. The

       information here was used to support the argument that there is a significant drop in

       young adult programming as compared to children‟s programming.

Hoeffgen, B. (2009, Winter). Grants get teens gaming: Teen tech week 2008 at the Public

       Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. Young Adult Library Services, 7(2), 8-9.

       Retrieved from LISTA.

       The focus of this article was the educational qualities video gaming tournaments had on

       libraries and the collection. This article contained information that was useful in

       illustrating the concept of attracting new users into the library and the connection

       tournaments had promoting the collection to video game interests.

Ott, V.A. (2006). Teen programs with punch: A month-by-month guide. Westport, Connecticut:

       Libraries Unlimited.

       This book focuses on the importance of creating current and interesting programming for

       teens. This book was specifically useful in illustrating the gap libraries face in

       programming from children to young adults, and why it needs to be addressed.

Pierce, J. B. (2008). Sex, brains, and video games: A librarian’s guide to teens in the twenty-first

       century. Chicago: American Library Association.

       This book looks at teens and technology and how this relates to libraries and the service

       they provide to teens. The introduction of this book illustrates that a solid library mission

       statement can build a strong service for young adults by addressing their needs and


Reed, J. (2008, April). Young adults, video games and libraries. Bookmobiles & Outreach,

       11(1), 63-77. Retrieved from LISTA.

                                                                   Video Games in Public Libraries

       This article discusses the importance of how video games can entice teens to the library

       and provide a valuable learning tool used to develop life-long learning skills. This article

       was used to support learning outcomes that video games can provide, such as problem

       solving skills, communication, teamwork etc.

Sanford, K. (2008 July). Videogames in the library? What is the world coming to? School

       Libraries Worldwide, 14(2), 83-88. Retrieved from LISTA.

       This article focuses on how video game playing supports various types of learning and

       how public libraries are supporting this type of learning. This article was used to support

       social, leadership and teamwork skills that can be learned from playing video games.

Sanford, K., & Madill, L.. (2007). Understanding the power of new literacies through video game

       play and design. Canadian Journal of Education, 30(2), 432-455. Retrieved from CBCA

       Education (Documentation ID: 1370459501).

       This article explains the relationship between video games and the types of

       understanding and literacy skills learned by playing them. A quote from this article was

       used to illustrate the complex ways that video game playing can support modern

       technological skills necessary for various careers and help in the learning process.

Saxton, B. (2007, Winter). All thumbs isn‟t a bad thing: Video game programs@ your library.

       Young Adult Services, 5(2), 31-33. Retrieved from LISTA.

       This article discusses how libraries can use different video game programs to attract and

       engage teens visit public libraries. This article was used to illustrate the benefits that

       libraries would have by incorporating video games into their programming.


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