Last week I traveled to Chicago to be part of the 2nd annual Gaming, Learning and Libraries Symposium, a conference geared towards public, school, and academic libraries and focused on the topics of gaming, information literacy, and the place of libraries in serving a youth/student culture which has games and gaming as part of its daily life and experience. Over three days there were a handful of keynotes on gaming in the lives of our patrons, breakout sessions and panels discussing games and our role in promoting, providing, and circulating them, and opportunities for open gaming with each on various consoles, PCs, and with tabletop games.
As far as keynotes, the most impressive was Amanda Lenhart, from the Pew Internet Project, who recently completed a survey of over 1,100 teens between 13 and 17 and their parents as well (so that’s over 2,200 total respondents), to find out about gaming attitudes and habits. A 76-page report was written, from which Amanda culled the highlights for us, including the following stats I found interesting. Firstly, Pew felt that the term “gamer” has cultural connotations they didn’t want to deal with in this survey, so they never asked any teens if they were “gamers” but rather asked about their game-playing habits. In the broadest possible sense of game play (including consoles, computers, hand-helds, cell phones, and tabletop games), Pew found that 99% of boys 13-17 and 94% of girls 13-17 played “occasionally or regularly” (previous stereotypes held that teenage girls played games much less frequently than boys), and of the total amount of teens, 50% had played a game “yesterday.” Also interestingly, 61% of parents/guardians said agreed with the statement that “Game play has little or no effect on my teenager’s personality.” with only 13% agreeing that “Game play has a negative effect on my teenager’s personality.” Much of the media hype surrounding “violence in video games” seems to have less of an effect on parental attitudes than previously reported.
Other sessions I attended and got some ideas from involved setting up gaming labs in the library, managing and circulating a gaming collection, and providing support for faculty and students who want to find out more about how games can support teaching and career searches. Last spring I joined Joe Antonioli and Jason Mittell in authoring a proposal for a permanent gaming lab and circulating collection for our library. Though the proposal was tabled during the summer and may or may not be pursued in the current economic situation facing LIS, if the proposal is taken up again I have some possibilities which might make it more feasible for us to start and maintain. The three crucial issues, in my opinion, are access, security, and space constraints.
First, where access is concerned, this would need to be a collection open to students, faculty, and staff alike, with no restrictions inside the college community on use. Games, and possible consoles if we choose to circulate them, should be available to everyone on a reasonable (perhaps 7-day loan?) basis. Security for games themselves is easy enough: they would either live behind the Main Circ Desk, or it could be an arrangement such as we have with the Browsing DVDs, where the cases are kept in the stacks and game discs are kept at Circ. The real issue with security is if consoles and peripherals are involved. Do they circulate at all? If so, we’ll need cases, release forms, ways to deal with memory cards and online identities (e.g. Miis, Xbox profiles), and appropriate fees for damaged or lost pieces. If not, and the consoles live in a permanent library space, how will they be secured? Options include locking them into the smart classroom racks, attaching them via chainlocks (as we do with viewing carrel equipment), or perhaps having a padlocked storage unit in the lab whose key is only available at Circ.
These ideas also cross into the third area: space issues. The real catch to having a permanent gaming lab in the Main Library is that the library was designed to have flexible, not static, classrooms and viewing spaces. Currently any reasonable gaming space would also have to function as a computer lab, media development lab, viewing room, classroom, or some combination of the above. This doesn’t preclude a gaming lab’s existence, but we’ll have to make it compatible with what users already do in our library spaces. Thinking about usage patterns, it seems likely that a gaming lab would be used more frequently in the evenings than during the day, and so a classroom space NOT used for evening screenings would be preferable. Viewing rooms and conference rooms are still used frequently in the evenings, so they’re less feasible in general. Taking into account the space needed, hardware needed, noise issues, and easy access, I believe either room 230 or room 140 would make the most sense for a permanent gaming lab, if we decide to go that route. Regardless, I see no reason why we cannot easily start and maintain a circulation collection of games for the most popular console systems, likely Wii and Xbox 360, and perhaps also expand to games for the regular Xbox and PlayStation 2. It seems unlikely that the PlayStation 3 or GameCube will capture/still capture enough of the gaming market to make them viable systems to support at this time.