Gamers… in the library?

Drammen Library is proud to be among Norwegian pioneers in the introduction of video games as a natural part of library services for children and young adults. In this article we shall present the arguments in support of the use of video games in the library arena and give some advice to anyone interested in carrying out a similar project. Drammen Library is proud to be among Norwegian pioneers in the introduction of video games as a natural part of library services for children and young adults. In this article we shall present the arguments in support of the use of video games in the library arena and give some advice to anyone interested in carrying out a similar project.

Video games in the library

When new media enter into traditional arenas there is usually no lack of dire warnings. Think back to the introduction of films into libraries, the criticism expressed in the mid-90s about the usefulness of the Internet and the feared possibility of people surfing for pornography in a public library. Today the question is how can something so commercial, so ‘pointless’ and so potentially harmful to kids as video games really find a place in the library – and why should one pursue such a project?

It can be daunting to be faced by new and unfamiliar things, but that is no excuse for not looking more closely in order to judge whether or not the myths are true. The media follow their own agenda, often focusing on conflicts and the negative aspects of a particular phenomenon, which in the case of video games means addiction and violence. These are, of course, genuine problems that must be taken into account.

There is, however, another reality, namely that video games can have a social and socialising effect. They can teach us new skills, such as languages and mathematics, they can offer an alternative and more interactive method of telling stories and they can improve our ability for logical thinking and reaction. Most important of all, however, is the fact that video games possess their own intrinsic value as a cultural expression. Therefore any argument for their inclusion in the library must go to the very heart of library philosophy, combining old and new conceptions as to what library space should contain and, not least, for whom it should exist in the first place.

Booklovers and newspaper readers already have their place in the library, but what about those youngsters who in their daily lives enjoy a completely natural relationship with computer games? Should we simply direct them to literature for children and young people? In many cases this will be tantamount to showing them the door and reinforcing the myth that libraries are just places full of dusty books and of no possible interest to them.

Take video games seriously

Moralising objections must be met with the same rationality shown when arguing for the purchase of books and periodicals. Not everything is good. Not everything is constructive. However, the material concerned may have its own inherent value and potential. One of our aims in introducing video games into our library is to make them less ‘scary’ to new user groups. By bringing them into the library we hope to offer those who normally would not play such games, both visitors and librarians, the opportunity to try it out.

Video games are also a good way to activate children. Today’s games are by and large a social activity, where players participate in a different way than before. Video games are also an excellent way to involve and attract new users to the library.

Gaming in the library

Unlike a personal computer, a video game console is a machine designed for one purpose only, namely to play games. Today’s consoles can be roughly divided into two types and three manufacturers. The two types are handheld and stationary. Hand-held is a portable console made to operate anywhere and anytime, whereas a stationary console requires a power supply, cables, a screen and controls.

The three manufacturers are Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft. Sony makes two stationary consoles, PlayStation 2 and 3 (PS2 and PS3) and also the hand-held PlayStation Portable (PSP). Nintendo offers one stationary console, the Wii, and one hand-held device, the DS. Microsoft has its Xbox 360, a stationary console. Here, at Drammen Library, we have decided to concentrate on video game consoles as the simplest solution, since neither the game itself nor any other software requires installation. Once the console is plugged in and the game inserted, one can play on an unlimited number of machines. A video game console is therefore less demanding than traditional computer games and also costs less than a PC.

Fixed consoles in the library

We have purchased all the types of gaming consoles, except for the PSP. We have taken a broad aim in order to attract as many users as possible. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 are set up as fixtures in the library and are available for use at all times when the library is open. Users are required to borrow games from the desk and find a place at a vacant machine. The games cannot be taken home (due to Norwegian copyright legislation) and the age limits enforced are the same as for borrowing films.

In order to avoid extra work and cable problems, we do not offer sound or the possibility of saving games on the consoles. Some users find it boring without sound, so we are considering supplying headphones. By and large, however, things work quite well without the sound. Both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have large inbuilt hard disks where games in progress can be stored. However, although this facility is available, there are no safeguards against other users continuing with the game or erasing it completely.

Every Wednesday is gaming day

Once a week we connect the Nintendo Wii to a projector, in order to play on a large screen. This makes the game more interesting both for the players and for the spectators. The Wii is particularly suitable for this type of active and social gaming.

On the Wii console four persons can play simultaneously. Motion sensors in the controls make it necessary to move when playing, so that those playing tennis, for example, must perform the actual tennis strokes. Pressing buttons is no longer enough. The various multiplayer modes create a social atmosphere. Many of our preconceived doubts were proved unfounded. Children are good at organising themselves when they play these games, but adult supervision can be useful.

Play, play, play

For librarians with limited personal experience with video games, choosing the most suitable titles can be a challenge. We spend time testing games, reading reviews on the Internet and keeping ourselves up-to-date.When choosing a game one must take into account playability, degree of difficulty and suitability. One of the most important aspects is to choose games which appeal to users and which they can quickly master. It can be tempting to purchase games with an educational element, but our experience shows that these are seldom lent out. Our users prefer to leave the schoolroom behind when they come to the library. Another and equally good solution can be to choose games together with the youngsters themselves.

Borrowing statistics

In 2007 we had about 5,000 borrowings of games for the Xbox 360, which represents a circulation of somewhat more than 100 per game. A particular feature of the Xbox games with the highest turnover is that they all have a minimum age limit of three years and that they contain a social aspect, either on the basis of cooperation or of competition.

The most popular games at Drammen Library are those based on car and motorcycle racing and other sports. The 13 top favourites include no less than 9 from these categories. Our statistics reflect the fact that we strictly enforce age limits, the majority of borrowers being under 16 years old.

The games with the lowest age limit will naturally be those with the highest borrowing figures. At the same time we can observe that the most popular games are those where two or more participants can play. It is also the case that the games most often borrowed are those which are easy to grasp, require no prior knowledge and have a fairly straightforward plot.

Many possibilities

Whether or not the introduction of video games into libraries is a success naturally depends on the resources available and on the interest and abilities of those managing the project. We have outlined some aims and possibilities, but our solution is not necessarily the final answer.We believe that video games have a place and a future in the library and that this is only the beginning to what libraries can offer in this area. Acquiring one or two consoles in order to attract greater participation in library activities could be a good place to start.

Recommended literature:

Gamers… in the library? By Eli Neiburger

Grand Theft Childhood by Lawrence Kutner and Cheryl Olson – News about games and gaming

Jonas Svartberg Arntzen
IT-librarian, Drammen Library

jonarn AT

Øyvind Svaleng
Cultural worker, Drammen Library

oyvsva AT

Marte Vatshelle Salvesen
librarian, Drammen Library

marsal AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

IT-librarian, Drammen Library
Cultural worker, Drammen Library
librarian, Drammen Library