International Games Week October 29 – November 4

Games folks on libraries: Julia Bond Ellingboe

Posted on July 17, 2014

This third installment in the series is pretty exciting for me - I have been a fan of Ms Ellingboe's ever since I first came across her indie RPGs, and in fact they were one of the early examples that helped wake me up to the possibility that games could, like fiction, tackle serious issues in ways that seemed likely to help people learn and deal with them constructively, while still being - in fact, because of being - engaging... and even, given a non-trivialising definition of the word, entertaining. But enough of me gushing - on with the interview!

Thanks so much for joining us, Julia! Can you give our readers a brief bio?

I'm a part-time freelance editor, writer, and roleplaying game designer. When not telling stories or writing, I am the human resources manager at my local food co-op. Having missed my chance to become an itinerant storyteller, my work draws on various folkloric traditions, such as African American slave narratives, Japanese kaidan stories, and the Francis J. Child Ballads. My work includes Steal Away Jordan: Stories from American’s Peculiar Institution, Tales of the Fisherman’s Wife, and short fiction. I have a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Biblical Literature from Smith College (where I got almost all my library work experience). You can find my short stories in several anthologies from Stone Skin Press and Broken Eye Books.

[Quick editor's note: As you'd expect from the source material, both the games listed above potentially deal with mature themes. As is usually the case with story games, this will largely be the product of the group that plays them, and they are excellent, so don't hesitate to check them out - but if you still have a trace of that unconscious "games=kids" assumption, don't apply it here! These games were written by an adult for a mature audience.]

Thank you! What is your history with/past experience of libraries?

I started working in libraries when I was in college, and continued to work in academic libraries and a public library for about eight years after college. In my junior year, I was an art library assistant. After I graduated, I worked at our local public library for about a year and then got a job at my alma mater as a circulation assistant. I worked there for about five years. Then for two years I managed the college library's storage facility. When I worked at the college library, I was the chair of our library staff development group ("LSD"). My alma mater has a wonderful alumnae benefit that allows us to borrow from the college libraries and use online journal and ebook databases like JStor and Project Muse, which I've used fairly regularly in the 19 years since I finished college.

So it's fair to say you have a passing familiarity with the library world then! What is your current sense of where libraries are, both in general and in relation to games?

In my area of the country, libraries are one of the first town resources to be cut. We've seen the hours in my local city library reduced and nearby town libraries shut down completely. I think people assume that now that there's so much free stuff online, brick and mortar libraries are practically obsolete. What we forget is that libraries provide access to so much more than books. They provide free access to the internet to people who don't have computers, they offer educational programs to both adults and children, they are social hubs and safety zones.

I don't have a good sense of where libraries are with games. That said, a few years ago, a librarian friend of mine invited my neighbor (another game designer) and me to do a workshop for teens on creative writing and game design. This was part of her regular teen tabletop role-playing game group. I've seen my own game as well as others in public library collections. Game books and board games--heck, even video games--fit in just fine in libraries!

Where do you see this going, and where could it go?

I recently, finally came across a Little Free Library in my town. I'm going to put a copy of my game and a few others in it this weekend. [Ed: this was a week and a bit back, so some lucky person may already have found it!] Anything that offers access to books is awesome to me. Micro-libraries and Little Free Libraries have their limitations, though. You can bring the book home and never play it. On the other hand, library-sponsored game days and gaming clubs at brick and mortar libraries would be great ways to bring in new patrons and keep current patrons coming.

Thanks once again to Julia for her time!

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