November 12 is National Gaming Day, highlighting the increasing role of games (video and board) and playing in the library. To get the perspective of a library with an active gaming program, BookShelf spoke with John Courie, System and Network Manager for Caroline County Public Library in Maryland.
In addition to working as a Library Associate II prior to his current position, John also runs the library's bi-weekly anime club and is an avid gamer.
Can you give a brief overview of the library and the community it serves?
Caroline County, a rural agricultural county on Maryland's Eastern Shore, includes ten incorporated towns. The county population is roughly 40,000. The Library system serves the public from three Branches. The current Library mission is to provide services and resources that the community needs today and tomorrow, make it easy for people to use the library's services and resources, provide an environment and experiences that draw people in and keep them coming back, and be more visible in the community. The Library vision is to empower customers to use information and ideas to enrich their lives.
What kind of games do you have in the library?
You can divide the games we have at the library into three main categories: Video Games on the Public PCs, Console Games in the Teenzone, and Video Games, Console Games and Board Games as part of a library-hosted program.
The video games on the public computers are all open source. We have quite a number on the public PCs and each time we roll out a new public disk image (usually quarterly) we add and update the games on the computers. We have had success with Battle for Wesnoth, Freeciv, TuxKart, Tux Racer, GnuChess, and UFO:AI (an X-Com clone). One game in particular, SuperTux, is wildly popular with both children and young adults.
The console platform we decided on was the XBOX 360 and our games fall into four categories: Sports, Music games (i.e., Guitar Hero), Fighting, and Racing games.
What's the set up of your collection (where are they kept, do they circulate, etc.)?
We keep all the games together in my office and change them at least weekly. The console is protected in the teenzone by in a case with a mainly cosmetic token lock but we haven't had a problem with shrinkage, it's more to protect the connections and prevent teen customers from changing the game or plugging in USB drives to the device. We purchased two consoles outright and eight wired controllers. I used heat shrink tubing to attach a headphone cord down the length of the controller wire so that if the kids want to hear the sound they can plug in and hear it. The second console, while also serving as a backup, is kept in a travel bag that was made by Belkin specifically to carry around an Xbox. We keep the console and a number of controllers and Guitar Hero instruments in our shared staff technology Zoo and they are cataloged in our ILS as part of our professional collection so that staff can circulate it for programs or to take home and experiment with.
What kind of gaming programming do you have? How regular is it?
We offer the daily continual access to the public computers with the games on them. The console system is available for teen use in the teen zone the entire time we are open. We set up a mini Lan Party at our Otaku Club program which is Bi-Weekly and run a multiplayer combat game called Urban Terror (It's basically a Counterstrike clone) on six computers. We have also hosted board gaming nights and Guitar Hero competitions.
How successful has it been?
The Console platform in the teenzone sees pretty much constant use. The Games on the public PCs appear to be used pretty regularly as well. When we run the Mini-Lan party the seats are filled up and we have to moderate it to make sure that everyone who wants to get a chance to play is able to. We have had moderate to low turnout with the gaming nights and the Guitar hero competitions but they aren't offered with any regularity and I suspect that is why attendance is low.
How long have you had gaming at the library?
Do you have a librarian/staff member who is a gamer, and how do you think this affects the programming/games you carry?
We do. But I don't think that successfully implementing gaming at a library requires a gamer in any way. I think the main way having a gamer influences the programming is that they are able to quickly implement the most efficient way to get the gaming program up, and they are part of the culture so they can offer a lot of advice for what is going to be popular. But I don't think having a gamer is in any way a requirement for a successful program.
What portion of your collection budget is devoted to games?
300 dollars per year.
Has the cost of games and game systems (video or rpg) been in a factor in deciding what the library carries?
No, not really.
Have you noticed an effect on circulation of non-game materials that you can attribute to the games/gaming?
I would argue that it creates at least a passive effect because the gaming draws in people that usually would not use library services. But we haven't done any analysis of circulation stats or anything like that yet.
Where do you see gaming's place in the library?
I think that the role of the Library in society is evolving and while the core aims of Libraries are the same as they have always been, gaming will begin to be seen as an important component in the list of Library services. Well publicized gaming programs are well attended and we have never had empty seats whenever we set up a multiplayer game.