Libraries – From Storehouse to Studio

file0111313-1Videogames in the Library? Wouldn’t installing a Wii or an xBox bring a lot of unruly teenagers into a refuge of quiet and intellect? It turns out that putting computer games in a library brings in a huge wave of new patrons and dramatically increases circulation – of books!
Two recent items support the thesis that games can benefit libraries and patrons. The most interesting aspect to me is that it may move libraries from being relatively static storehouses of knowledge to dynamic studios where knowledge is crafted, shaped, and extended.

The American Library Association is sponsoring a study to gauge the impact of games on learning and literacy. Why? The gamer blog 1Up has the money quote from Dan Barlow:

“…once teens come to library because of gaming, they also find time to study, to check out books. Most importantly, they also find time to learn. They learn about information technology, they develop research skills that will serve their life-long learning needs.

“Gaming in libraries? You bet! with an investment of about $900, (less than 1 tenth of 1% of budget) we have over 3,000 new young adult library users.”

30-40% of libraries already circulate games so this movement is well under way. It is a natural extension of library support for leisure activity – but it is becoming a learning activity.

Maggie Hummel presented at this year’s Games Learning & Society conference gave a detailed preesentation on how the Park Ridge Public Library outside of Chicago transformed their relationship with teens by incorporating games. She made several excellent points:

  • Public libraries can’t force kids in -they don’t have the leverage a school does – but they share the same mission of learning.
  • As a result they are freer to experiment and try new things (yes lots of innovation is going on in school libraries)
  • This was a tough sell to the board – they feared that kids would only come to play
  • Actual results – they doubled book circulation for young adults. Their summer reading program went from 280 to 420 in one year.
  • They moved to sponsoring competitions – which has brought out whole families
  • In a natural progression the library is now sponsoring game writing workshops and youtube movie workshops taught by High School students.

This progression makes sense. In their most traditional sense libraries are where you went to dig up research, to find things out. You almost always wanted the information so that you could do something – build a porch, quote Cicero, or while away a summer afternoon with a good story. But the researching and the doing were in separate places. Digital media unify the research and the action in one space – the computer and the web. I can take what I learn in a game and turn around and build a game like it. I can go read a book on urban planning and then play SimCity with a whole new set of insights.

It is important to note that this is all additive – the existing role of the library does not go away. The library experience is richer not poorer when games are added to the mix.

Impact on School

What greater or better gift can we offer the republic than to teach and instruct our youth? – Cicero

The implication for schools is fairly direct. Find something the kids are engaged with, provide a space for them to explore and play with it, then use the other resources at your command to encourage them to dig deeper. Reading, discussing, and creating are all natural follow on activities to playing games.

If you can’t convince the School Board to allow games in the library perhaps the Library Board will be more open minded – the evidence says they should be!
Additional Reading

Study on penetration of games in Libraries