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.”
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
Philip Minchin, the 2013-4 IGD blog editor, is popping back in with a guest post on... well, the title already spoiled it. The article explores why cataloguing games can actually do a great deal to unlock their capacity to cultivate learning, and concludes with some resources and references that will help you make a start.
In my Talking Points series from previous years, I've talked a lot about why I believe games and play should matter to libraries. I hope that I've already made the point in those series that games are important and underestimated forms of culture (and play is an essential element of ALL culture), and that it is no coincidence that their escalating prominence and ballooning share of our collective time, attention, and resources comes at a historical moment when creativity, imagination, systems literacy and social skills have never been more crucial.
But to date I've only alluded to the reasons why I believe libraries matter to games and play, over and above the ways we matter to every part of culture.
This could become another Talking Points series, but for now I want to focus on one of the core elements of libraries' sharing work: cataloguing.
The role of cataloguing in establishing and popularising analytical vocabulary
If games and play are a fraction as important as I believe they are, they deserve intelligent, considered, literate discussion comparable to what we afford literature, cinema, and other arts. (And of course, playful artforms can incorporate other media, along with narrative, composition, and all the other technical dimensions that come with them - there is no medium so open as play!)
However, as a medium that consists fundamentally of elements not central to other media - of systems at the published level, and of decisions and actions taken by players within the context of those systems at the experiential level - and which is not required to incorporate any other media, games need their own critical vocabulary.
Some of this vocabulary already exists in other fields - psychology, education, mathematics, logic, philosophy, economics, systems analysis, and so on. But it is largely isolated to those disciplines, which is a pity given its direct relevance to everyone who makes decisions within systems where others are also making decisions, and who might benefit from tools that render them better able to describe and analyse their experience. Which is to say, the entire sapient population.
And of course, while those academic disciplines have much to offer discussion of games and play, play and games are their own things with their own unique qualities - there will necessarily be some terminology that arises from studying them in their own right (which may well then inform those other disciplines).
To be fair, considerable work has been and is being undertaken in advancing critical discussion of games and play. Game dev site Gamasutra, criticism site Rock, Paper, Shotgun, and new BoingBoing subsite Offworld are great places to start for meaty discussion of games and play in a more holistic cultural context, and games academia is doing its bit to develop the terminology that lets us better describe experiences that have hitherto been nameable only in the broadest of strokes. I would not wish to downplay the value of any of these.
But just as the ruleset of a game is near-impossible to grok without actual play, we learn and understand taxonomies and critical distinctions best by reference to actual experience - by exploring the patterns within a collection of real objects where the similarities and differences are made manifest. Artistic movements and genres move from being academic jargon to mainstream parlance in no small part by being made visible in collections - and in catalogues. The simple fact of highlighting opportunities for learning prime people to do so, and equip them with the tools for analysis and even metacognition about what they are learning - not to mention simply marking such learning as valuable enough to note.
And it is this which libraries could offer, by not only including games and other playful media in their collections, but by cataloguing them properly, with reference not only to narrative or thematic elements and publication metadata, but to the actual details of how they are played, or played with.
This includes describing the physical media (something we need to do anyway for collection maintenance) and the rules and procedures of play, at the very least in the sense of including gameplay genres. A first-person shooter is radically different to a tower defense game, but under current cataloguing conventions at most libraries, you would be hard-pressed to tell Plants vs. Zombies from Left 4 Dead.
Other key aspects of gameplay include questions of chance vs. strategy, how much customisation of play elements is possible and expected, how much information is open and how much hidden (and from whom), and so on.
Another key element to describe is the required audience for play, including:
- Who will be able to play? - this is often shorthanded by age, but being more specific about which specific capacities and developmental milestones are necessary would both popularise awareness of these aspects of intelligence and maturity, and allow more accurate assessment of suitability of games. For some games, specific life experiences may even be necessary - or, more likely, a player's experience of the same game may vary depending on their specific life experiences.
- How many can play? The larger the required group, the harder the logistics of assembling a group to play. What effect do changing numbers of players have on the play experience?
- How long does a typical game last? (This will feed into the first question of who can play - new parents and the overemployed rarely have time!) What are the factors that affect the duration of play - number of players, experience level of players, inclusion of optional gameplay elements, or other?
- What is the social contract of the game - how does it shape the relationship of players to one another? Is it competitive, team-based, or co-operative? Does it promote openness and collaboration or secretive shenanigans? Which way does its tone tend? (Though of course the individual instance of play can vary wildly from the default!)
These are just a few basic qualities of games that clearly have an impact on their suitability for any given person, but would largely be ignored by traditional cataloguing (which, to be fair, was developed for media that are far more uniform in their physical composition and in the qualities of the required audience - or, at least, better suited to self-selection by their audience). If we are going to take cataloguing games seriously, as I hope it is apparent we must, we need to expand our understanding of the many ways a creative work is defined.
Games studies and popular culture have both contributed a great deal in this area, but cataloguers interested in getting up to speed on some basic attributes of games could do a lot worse than starting with Elias, Garfield & Gutschera's Characteristics of Games (MIT Press, 2012).
However, I believe some of the most interesting work lies around making explicit the skills, attributes, and/or insights required, developed, and/or rewarded by the game. This is something that could also be considered for other media, especially books - but given that playful media inherently depend on their audiences' abilities and efforts in ways no other medium does, it makes particular sense to consider cataloguing these dimensions of such works.
That this might result in games and play leading the way in making media generally more useful for educators and learning... well, that sounds about right to me, actually.
Examples and other resources
Much of this discussion was covered in a paper I wrote in 2011 for Australian library tech conference VALA, which also includes tables of fields of particular relevance to various specific forms of game - you can download it here. Some of this was derived from (and informed) work I did on cataloguing videogames and tabletop RPGs while working at Port Phillip Library Service, but since I left some years ago I am not sure how much of this was kept up (especially since I believe they have moved to outsourcing more of their cataloguing).
In writing that paper, somehow I missed this 2008 presentation by Bradley Shipps of Outagamie Waupaca Library System on cataloguing board games in MARC, which goes into more technical detail - particularly about the physical description of the work. One thing I thought particularly commendable was their use of the Related Resources field (856) to store a URL of the publisher's free PDF download of the rules, but the whole presentation is a must-read if you're interested in the topic.
(If you are, there's a blog post whose comments would be interested to hear from you at the LITA blog - go say hi!)
I already mentioned the tremendous Characteristics of Games in the body of the text - that's because it's that good.
This University of Tennessee (Knoxville) page offers useful information on cataloguing web games specifically - aside from the general notes above about the broader topics we could be cataloguing, I have nothing to add.
Play Play Learn are among the first in the world (that I've come across, at least) to include the notion of cataloguing games (especially those that are not explicitly "educational") for skills, let alone mechanisms of play. They blur these together slightly in their categorisation of games - understandably enough, as there is considerable overlap in the implications of the two when undertaking "player's advisory" work, especially for the instructional kinds of purposes they aim to support - but their work is inspiring and another must-see. (As is the earlier work of some of the same team in the Genesee Valley Educational Partnership.)
Maria Hertel is aging up in her library career! She has served everyone from babies to adults as a children’s librarian, teen librarian, and at the college level at libraries across Wisconsin and Illinois. She is beginning her third year as a Reference Librarian at the La Crosse (WI) Public Library.
I think librarians can all agree that consulting an expert on a subject is a good way to gather information about an unfamiliar topic. Keeping that in mind, I went to my experts—the gaming community in the La Crosse area—for help planning the second International Games Day at the La Crosse (WI) Public Library.
The great thing about gaming is the wide variety of choices available including video games, card games, board games, and roleplaying games. Giving patrons opportunities to try out games is what IGD is all about! The difficult thing is that it can be very overwhelming to plan if you are not a regular gamer. Don’t get me wrong, I love games, and have played lots of them from standards such as Connect Four to more complicated Euro Games, but it takes a special type of person to be able to teach others the ins and outs of these games.
Difficult to plan you say? Challenge accepted! Time to pull in the local gaming community! To plan our IGD, I pulled in experts from four local game stores who specialize in board games, card games, and video games. I also got help from two local gaming clubs. These volunteers know what games are hot, and better yet, they can bring a collection of awesome games along. During our IGD they helped teach popular games like Ticket to Ride, Magic the Gathering, Street Fighter, Suspend, and Word on the Street. Best of all, they were able to let the patrons know what an active gaming community we have in the region.
How can you find these sorts of groups in your area?
- Word of mouth—gamers usually know where to find other gamers.
- Check to see where people buy games in your community.
- Search websites like Facebook or Meetup for local gaming groups.
- Not a big gamer scene in your town? See if you can find some library staff members or volunteers who can help lead some of their favorite games.
The key is having people who are passionate about a game and willing to teach it to someone else.
What can game experts do for you?
- Help patrons learn an assortment of new games.
- Set up tech for video games, which is time consuming and confusing if you aren't up to speed on the newest game systems.
- Provide "gamer’s advisory" (just like reader’s advisory) for those who want to learn new games.
- Talk to patrons about other gaming venues and events in the community.
- Help build relationships between patrons and community members who have a common interest.
- Encourage patrons to support local businesses and get involved in local clubs.
It was great to have help at the event and to have people who share excitement and expertise about all types of games.
The collaborations that began as part of IGD have also spurred other events in our community. For example, the library has collaborated on Free Comic Book Day and is now holding gaming nights during the summer. Likewise, the atmosphere of collaboration has helped to create two big community events—a Comic Con at the La Crosse Public Library and a gaming convention at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse called Coulee Con.
Travis Perry is the founder of the Franklin County Gamers group in Northern Vermont. When not serving on the local school board, hanging out with his family, or turning time into dollars, you can find him pushing his table top games on people. You can contact him at taperryvt at gmail.com.
Gamers are everywhere, but surprisingly the biggest complaint we have is "I can't find someone to game with me". My poor wife has heard that too many times to count, and has given in to my demands to play tabletop games with me, but I know her heart isn't in it. She usually starts to get a "trapped animal" look in her eye and looks for a way to politely end the game early if it goes past 40 minutes.
I live in a rural part of Vermont and getting people together to play games usually means someone is driving an hour to go play. I was making a 50 minute trek across the state one day a month to play games and it pushed me to create my own group.
I needed a place to play games that met a few criteria:
- Family friendly
- A space with enough chairs and tables
- A location that was central to an area and community
- A place that was inviting and nonthreatening
This lead me to contact our public library. It met all of the criteria, as libraries are usually a hub in the geography of a community. We started our monthly event at the Georgia Public library in Georgia Vermont and on the very first day I was told that if we got 6 people to attend that would be very good for a program. We got 17 people the first day.
Gamers will travel to play games!
The Library did not know it had this need to fill and was excited to be getting people from many towns away to attend this event. We have averaged 12-15 people at every event, with new people checking us out almost every month.
The library kindly advertises in the local papers and online as well. As word of our group spread other gamer communities started to list our event at the library on their sites and online pages and we have quite a large reach.
Mind you I thought I would be the only one playing games or teaching 1 or 2 people to play each month, I never imagined this kind of participation in only 7 months of existence.
The library helped get this game group going, and I decided the game group could help the library and others in our area. We knew libraries needed games for people to play if they wanted to host their own events but they didn't know what to buy or were intimidated by the cost. Tabletop Games can run $20-$80 and come in big intimidating boxes.
I focused on contacting board game publishers to see if they wanted to donate to libraries to help them build their collection, since the gaming community is a "community" after all.
Tasty Minstrel games donated 12 games within a week, and so did Asmadi Games (4 games). Alderac Entertainment (or AEG) donated 7 games, and 7 more came from Rio Grande games. Steve Jackson games and Gamewright games donated and many others. I was moved by the kind donations to spread the community of gaming.
So far to date, we have helped libraries secure donations for over 100 games. Spread between 7 libraries that's almost 15 games per library.
You can get free games! Get on that Libraries 🙂 Just remember to send them a thank you or a picture of the people playing their games.
International TableTop Day at the library is great, but tapping into the local gamer community can help you keep the momentum all year long. My advice is to have a game day, and then tap into that group of gamers and maybe you too can find your gamer champion who will help you carry that torch and spread the love of gaming in your community.