Gina Crowther is the Outreach Services Coordinator at the Orion Township Public Library in Lake Orion, Michigan. She loves to share the world of games and geek with as many people as possible.
I started playing tabletop games with friends around 2007, and I attended my first GenCon (the best four days in gaming!) in August 2013 as a very casual gamer. My main enticement to attend GenCon was Trade Day, a day dedicated to the professional development of retailers, educators, and librarians. I’m a complete sucker for a day of professional development! It was at a workshop led by Beth Pintal from the Indianapolis Public Library that I learned about tabletop gaming in public libraries. During the rest of GenCon, I was exposed to the wide variety of tabletop games and the broad audience that they can reach and was completely inspired.
When I got back to work, I was eager to bring gaming to the Orion Township Public Library. I explained to my direct supervisor, the head of Adult Services, what I wanted to do and she gave me her approval to try. I scheduled our first game day for the following April as part of International TableTop Day 2014 and got to work. I had zero budget with which to work, so I did something that I think librarians are excellent at—I asked for help! I went through the list of game manufacturers that I saw at GenCon and reached out to them asking if they would be willing to donate games to a library. I emailed and called, explaining what I hoped to accomplish with their donations and I was overwhelmed with the responses I received. Within weeks boxes began to pour into our library full of donations! I had a great collection to start our tabletop gaming programs.
I also encouraged patrons to bring their own games to play with others at our Game Day events. I find that a lot of gamers have collections and really enjoy sharing their favorite games with others. This was a great idea as several patrons showed up to my first game day with plastic bins full of games to play! I also developed partnerships with a game store in the area and the local high school’s Game Club and Board Game Design Class. Both the store and the school have lent games to the library for use during our programs, allowing us to offer a broader selection of games each time.
We also asked our patrons to donate games to the library—with the caveat that they may not be added to the collection, in which case we would pass the donation on to the Friends of the Library. This was great, because although there were donations with missing pieces, we did receive some usable games.
The first Game Day program was very successful and I was given permission to ask the Friends of the Library for a small sum of money to help round out our collection. They gave me $300 to work with. I researched games and bargain shopped to find as many games as I could that I thought would appeal to our patrons. As our program has grown, each Game Day has been very successful, with many patrons returning each time and asking when the next one is!
Additionally, we had patrons asking to take games home so we decided to circulate a portion of our game collection. The best part of this was that I received a collection development budget in order to add games to our collection. With this money, I am focusing on adding games to the circulating collection. Occasionally I still add games to the non-circulating collection, especially if they are award winners but have a lot of complicated pieces (I’m looking at you Colt Express!). Over the past 3 years, I have accumulated 41 circulating games and 71 games for our non-circulating collection, all with spending less than $700!
Through all this, I keep asking for donations any chance I get. Attending conventions, big or small, and meeting game designers face-to-face is one of the best ways to get free games. I am blatant when it comes to doing this. I will walk up to a booth, hand over my business card, and basically say “Hi, I’m a librarian, we have game day programs and a circulating game collection; can I have free games?” And it works more often than not! I have even asked point-blank for the copy they were using to demo during the convention—and received it! But I also found that reaching out to companies via email and phone is just as effective. These companies want their games to be played and having them in libraries is great publicity. It can’t hurt to ask, the worst that can happen is someone will say “no.” But, from my experience, a lot more will say “yes.”
Matt Willbergh is the branch manager of the Pt. Pleasant Beach Branch of the Ocean County Library, located in Pt. Pleasant Beach, NJ. He and his family have been subjecting everyone they know to the joy of hobby gaming for the past few years.
Here at the Ocean County Library on the east coast of New Jersey, we hold an annual Staff Development Day. This day involves seminars and workshops for OCL staff, provided by both staff members and outside groups. I recognized an opportunity to spread my love of board gaming by showing others how board games can be used to build relationships, even in the workplace. I, along with 4 colleagues, put together a workshop for the staff called “Co-Op Board Games as Team Builders.” Co-operative board games have been around for decades, but I have found that most people are not familiar with the genre. They are perfect to use as team builders, due to the fact that they get people to work together, communicate, share skills, and, most importantly, have fun. I wanted to share our process of creating this workshop, as it is easily reproducible and a great way to introduce others to the excellent games that are being played these days.
To start, we put together a list of co-op games we were each familiar with. Since we were going to be teaching the games to newcomers, it was important that we knew the rules. We intended to limit the workshop to no more than 25 people, so we looked closely at the number of players each game would accommodate. However, we did not have firm control over the number of attendees, so we allowed for flexibility by including a “party” game”, which could accommodate up to 12 people. We also came prepared with duplicates, thinking that if the need arose, a few of us could run two copies of a game.
We also considered the amount of time each game required to play. Most board games come with an icon on the box showing the estimated game length. We tacked on 15 minutes to the estimated game lengths, in order to accommodate game instruction. With just over an hour for our workshop, we chose games with box lengths of about 45 minutes to an hour (give or take).
After taking into account all of the above factors, we settled on the five following games:
- Forbidden Island (2-4 players; box time: 30 minutes)
- Forbidden Desert (2-4 players; box time: 45 minutes)
- Concept (party game with up to 12; box time 40 minutes)
- Castle Panic (2-6 players; box time: 60 minutes)
- Pandemic (2-4 players; box time: 30-90 minutes)
On the day of the workshop, we set the games up well before our start time. As attendees arrived, we allowed them to choose the games they wanted to play, with most selecting a game at random. We talked for a few minutes about co-op games, how they can be utilized at staff meetings or as ice breakers at teen volunteer events, and how they compel people to work together to achieve a common goal. We then explained the rules to each table and the games began.
I was running Castle Panic with a group of staff members from different branches; they did not know each other well. I guided them in the beginning, answering questions and providing basic strategic assistance. But as they learned the game, I was less involved. I stood back and watched them as they talked through each turn, discussing strategies, exchanging cards, and building a story together. There were tense moments as walls were breached and castle towers were destroyed, but in the end, they came together and saved the day.
Throughout the duration of the workshop, it was very obvious that each group was creating their own stories, and having fun doing it; the room was filled with cheers, laughter, and an occasional groan. In the end, some tables won their games, others lost, but it was obvious that everyone had a great time. Afterword’s, I overheard the group that had lost their game of Forbidden Island exclaim “we were so close! Let’s come back and play this at lunch time.” I could not have been happier.
Dalene Schrier is the Technology Specialist at Bentonville Public Library in Bentonville, Arkansas. She enjoys tabletop gaming and is an all-around geek.
Passion, dedication, and persistence are three characteristics anyone who plans library programming possesses. To produce a program with little to no budget, one needs those qualities and more. In the case of TableToppers, I have passion, dedication, and persistence in spades.
Spring 2014: Inspired by Wil Wheaton and my love of tabletop gaming, I approached my supervisors at Bentonville Public Library (BPL) about starting a tabletop gaming group. To my surprise, they agreed albeit with a caveat: I had to get everything donated. There was no extra budget for games. Luckily I like a challenge! After thinking about the best way to get games donated, I immediately began researching game publishers. Why not go directly to the source? With the assistance of the library’s wordsmith, we prepared a letter that was sure to get game donations. While some publishers did post their address online, some had online request forms. Using the same text from the letters we had multiple avenues for requesting support.
Local game stores in Northwest Arkansas showed enthusiasm about a library gaming group but were unable to donate materials to the program. Their support came in the form of promotion, which was needed and appreciated.
I began looking for other libraries that had tabletop gaming programs. To my surprise, I didn’t find many. I spoke with a couple of libraries that had active programs. Compared to those libraries, I was at a disadvantage with no budget. But I wasn’t going to give up.
A couple of weeks after the first round of letters, I received a response, not just from Rio Grande Games, a major game publisher, but the founder of the company! He was going to send me a package of demo games for our collection! I couldn’t believe it! Soon, more boxes arrived with more games. At this point, the only money spent was on paper, envelopes, and postage.
Fast forward to September. The room had been configured for optimal gaming space, the games were available for participants, and I was ready to play games! Of course, I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? In the end, there was no reason to worry. Eight patrons came to play games! This was a brand new program, featuring unheard of games, targeting adults with a niche hobby, so eight participants was a great start! TableToppers was a program with room to grow. And grow it did!
By the end of December, it was obvious TableToppers was a successful and sustainable program. We had multiple patrons suggest we change from a bi-weekly meeting to weekly as it would be more frequent and offer more opportunities to play games. The patrons spoke and I listened! Starting January 2015, TableToppers began meeting every Monday evening starting at 5 p.m.
TableToppers was going great! We received more donations of games and our weekly meetings had a steady crowd with an average of six participants. Around March 2015, after several patron suggestions, we decided to add Wednesdays to the schedule. At this point, TableToppers was a self-managing program with limited staff involvement. Still, BPL had not spent any money on TableToppers.
Around the same time, we decided to add Wednesdays to the schedule, I came across International Tabletop Day presented by Geek & Sundry, a geek collective. Founded in 2012, Tabletop Day is a celebration of all things tabletop gaming. With little time to spare, we planned to stream the event in California, hold open game play, and offer door prizes. Surprisingly, we had 24 total participants! Tabletop Day was a successful event supported entirely by donations, including door prizes.
With the relative success of Tabletop Day, I searched for other game days and found International Games Day @ your library, an American Library Association initiative that escaped my initial searches. When I saw that there was an event sponsored by ALA just for gaming, I was excited! I immediately started planning my events. Games Day was going to be bigger and better than Tabletop Day. I was on a mission and my goal was clear: bring together the gaming community and the library.
While planning the Games Day event, I was contacted by the founder of GlitchCon, a local geek and anime convention, about having the Library’s game collection in the game room. This was the perfect opportunity to reach a large group of regular gamers. We took our game collection and used the opportunity to promote our graphic novel collections. We also partnered with a local charity gaming event, Game It Forward Northwest Arkansas, to provide our game library for their inaugural event. Both events created great community connections.
November arrived too soon. Gear Gaming Store of Fayetteville partnered with us. They sponsored a Smash Up! tournament and donated door prizes and games. Lunch was provided by Marco’s Pizza. We scheduled gaming events and open game play for all ages. Having a designated area for family games was a big hit! With the limited success of International Tabletop Day, an unexpected 150+ participants played games until the very end. International Games Day @ your library was here to stay! All BPL had to purchase were cups and beverages for this event.
In two years, BPL has spent less than $100 total on TableToppers. All games in our collection, giveaways, and other related items have been donated to BPL with the exception of playing cards, a pound o’ dice, and bags for game components. Currently, BPL has more than 125 games in its collection and is valued at nearly $4,000. Bentonville Public Library has received great patron feedback and positive media attention.
It doesn’t matter if you have an endless budget or just a few dollars. If you are determined to put on a program, you can and will find a way. Chances are there is someone just as passionate as you! Your patrons will appreciate the effort, and your library will benefit from you thinking outside the box.
Dalene Schrier, Technology Specialist
Bentonville Public Library – Bentonville, Arkansas
Darren Edwards is Operations Manager for Bournemouth Library, UK. He has been a tabletop gamer for over two decades, initially wargaming then discovering roleplay and modern board games whilst at University.
Hello from sunny Bournemouth; where Bill Bryson cut his teeth as a journalist, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, J.R.R. Tolkien retired, and Mary Shelley is buried. Bournemouth is a busy seaside town on the south coast of the UK, with twelve libraries serving a population of around 180,000.
Our largest town centre library has taken part in International Games Day (IGD) for the last three years, but 2015 was the first year we attempted to run events in all twelve of our libraries. The success of these events was pretty varied. The busiest of our events at our town centre library led to an increase in footfall of 15%. At the other end of the spectrum one of our community libraries had no participants at all.
From our experiences last year we have learnt a few things about ways to increase the likelihood of an IGD event being successful.
- Connect the event with existing programming
Those libraries that ran one-off, standalone events were less likely to attract a
significant number of attendees than those connected to regular activities. The “Stay and Play” session that was added to a community library’s weekly “Baby Wriggle and Rhyme” attracted 50 children and parents. By connecting with existing groups you have a premade audience to target. It is also easier to get people to stay in the library than to attract them in the first place.
- Forge links with your local gaming community
In our experience, local games stores and clubs are highly likely to want to help out with events. We are lucky that Bournemouth has a very active gaming community and were able to ask a range of local retailers and clubs to help out. All but one of these responded and all that did respond ran activities for us. The retailers and groups had the opportunity to recruit new customers/members but also brought some of their regulars with them, many of whom were not existing library users.
- Provide staff or volunteer support for visitors
Our most successful events were the ones which had games on open display and staff or volunteers available to demonstrate and advise. The events in which games were on display but had no staff support were still well received, but had lower levels of participation. Providing staff support minimises the initial barrier to customers trying something new and makes for a more helpful, welcoming atmosphere.
- Be focussed and know your limits
In our first year of IGD we tried to put on a really wide range of activities and ended doing them all a bit of a disservice. Focussing on one or two specific areas that you will be able to deliver high quality on is better than trying to do everything all at once. Consider how you will cope if staff are sick, or volunteers arrive late, or if you are forced to change the space being used at the last minute. Aim low and exceed expectations.
All of our events were positively received by the public, especially those aimed at children. A number of those attending asked for us to run more regular games and play activities. As a result of last year’s IGD events, one of our community libraries has started an after-school chess group. At our largest library, we have started a word games and logic puzzles group for adults and are investigating starting a Lego club for children.
Our guest post today is from Jake Hutton. Jake is a Children's Library Associate at the Harford County Public Library.
When the 2015 International Games Day was announced, I was a new Children’s Librarian, at the Bel Air Branch of the Harford County Public Library, in Harford County, Maryland. During the short time I had been at the library, I had acquired a reputation as the resident gamer/nerd, so my boss asked if IGD was an event I would like to run. I jumped at the opportunity and approached planning with a few goals.
- Showcase the many forms of non-electronic gaming available by providing a wide range of activities.
- Demonstrate and discuss the value of gaming to participating parents and interested co-workers.
- Draw in as large a crowd as possible.
- Get a range of age groups in the library playing.
The Actual Event
After months of preparation the day finally arrived. It was a resounding success. We had a total of 70 participants, with the majority either elementary aged or adults. Most of the participants stayed the entire day, playing pretty much every game we had available.
Thanks to three local gaming stores, Critical Hit Games, Xpanding Universe, and Bel Air Games, along with several volunteers giving their time and materials, we were able to offer a wide range of activities including board games, miniature painting, card games, miniature games, and Dungeons and Dragons.
One particularly popular board game was Get Bit. In Get Bit, each player plays as a multi-part pirate, with the goal of outswimming the shark chasing them. Players secretly choose from a hand of cards ranging from 1 to 5, with the lowest number moving to the back of the line. The final person at the back of the line gets bit, and the player must pull off a body piece. The kids had a blast yanking arms, legs, and heads off, and putting them in the shark’s mouth!
Another very memorable moment happened while our volunteer Dungeon Master ran an intro game of Dungeons and Dragons. One of the players was a hesitant Mom, who was playing only because her son begged her too. Before starting playing the Mom had confided that this was not necessarily her thing.
After about 15 minutes playing, I overheard the Mom celebrating when her character succeeded at slaying a monster, and groaning loudly when getting mauled by a wolf. At one point the Mom stated, “Ok I think I am getting this, this is pretty cool!” After the event she approached me and we chatted a bit about the benefits of games like Dungeons and Dragons for the imaginative play, social interaction, and reading comprehension they teach, I think she left viewing gaming in a more positive light.
IGD was an extremely rewarding experience, and I left work already excited for next year. It was great seeing elementary aged kids playing alongside adults and middle schoolers, with everyone smiling and having a good time. I overheard several commenting that they would like to play similar games in their own homes. I would strongly recommend anyone considering participating in IGD to give it a try, which leads me into some of my tips and lessons:
- Contact friendly local game stores. Most will be more than excited to participate in a program like this. They may even bring prizes. This does not mean stores like Gamestop, but rather small comic shops and board/miniature game stores. Most areas have at least one.
- Hand out raffle tickets for participating at each station. This encourages people to stay longer and to try different things. I drew tickets for small prizes throughout the day, and had 2 of the nicer prizes drawn at the end of the day. These were donated by the participating game stores.
- Make prominent displays in the library, talk it up within the branch, and try to contact local schools. Do whatever you need to get the word out. I could have improved on this front, and will be making a bigger effort next year.
- This is a great chance to showcase the gaming, science fiction, and fantasy materials in the library collection. Many people were surprised by and interested in our range of materials. I was even sneaky and rewarded people who checked out related items with a raffle ticket!
Before signing off, I want to thank Critical Hit Games, Xpanding Universe, Bel Air Games, and my volunteers for making IGD such a success! See you all next year, if not before.
Children’s Library Associate
Harford County Public Library