Libraries and Video Games: Why?

Libraries and Video Games: Why?

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8175-0.ch007


Libraries are more than just keepers of books and historical records; they are places to obtain information, to learn, and to experience a community. There is a history of games being in libraries, especially public libraries, and video games contribute more to libraries than just being there for patrons. Video games are an opportunity for education and literacy within the library environment, and it is important for libraries and librarians to understand this relationship so that video games can be used in the most effective way possible to help users in the best way possible. To make sure this happens, there must be a solid foundation for video games and how they are used in the mission of the program. This chapter explores video games and libraries.
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Why Games In Libraries?

The first question that usually comes up when talking about games (video or otherwise) and libraries, is the thought of, “what they are doing in the library in the first place?” The answer is varied and complicated, ranging from the historic, to supporting “traditional” library activities, to the modern day mission of the library. The short answer, is that they have already existed in libraries, still exist, and it is just a matter of adapting to new technology. Or in gamer terms: “tl;dr: gamez are in ur library already, stfu and play.”

Games are in libraries because they have been there for a long time. One of the oldest gaming programs on record is from 1854, when there was a chess club that existed in a library in San Francisco. Even since then, chess has been a common theme for gaming programs in libraries, but they have not always been supported. In 1992, a patron was arrested for trespassing at a library when he was playing chess with an opponent, and then was later using the chessboard to follow along with a book he was reading. As described by Nicholson (2013):

This represents the conflict in libraries with regard to a new type of activity in public spaces—some librarians see it as an opportunity to grow and adapt to their community, while others see it as a threat that should be stopped through new policies. (p. 344)

This idea of not allowing games into libraries, because it threatens the “traditional” role of what libraries are there to do should not be overlooked, because it can be an impediment to what patrons actually want from their library. If patrons do not want games in the library, then that is perfectly acceptable, but if there is information and learning happening because of the games, and the patrons want the games, they should not be discouraged.

Games have always had a precarious position in libraries, not just video games or digital games. Even with that precarious position, “The result is that most U.S. public libraries support gaming. In fact, 77% of the public libraries surveyed supported gaming in some way... we are comfortable saying that at least 7 out of 10 public libraries support gaming.” (Nicholson, 2009b, p. 205) Maybe gaming in libraries is not as precarious as thought, and is just a perception that needs to be changed. Or, the idea that video games are somehow different than physical games is the idea that needs to be changed. Either way, looking at the numbers from Nicholson (2009b), games are already in libraries and they should be accepted. They are already there, after all.

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