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5 Reasons why you should be gaming in your Library

“We’re pleased to have Justin Hoenke, Teen Librarian at Cape May County Library guest posting for us this week. -Peter Bromberg

This past month, my library (Cape May County Library) was named the first place winner of the New Jersey State Library’s video contest “Solving Life’s Problems.” The video follows a timid young boy named Trevor whose family cannot afford to buy him the latest video game system. Instead, his family takes him to his local library where he quickly becomes a fan of the weekly game night program. In turn, Trevor and his family become regulars at the library. (So regular that Trevor now gets high fives from the librarians!)

Needless to say, I’m super proud of our staff (Lisa Alderfer, Technology Librarian and Mike Trout, Technology Assistant) for putting this video together. It clearly shows the many ways a library can be there for its patrons if we just take that extra step. But video games…in the library? I always get quizzed about how odd this idea seems by friends, family, and library patrons. I tell them that the answer is simple…we’re a public library and the public wants video games so…we give them video games! In 2008, video games sales topped $21 billion dollars( Now I’m no expert with money, but that seems like a lot. Enough that we librarians should take notice.

If you’re on the fence about video game programs or circulating video game collections in your library, here are five reasons why you should just go for it.

1. Welcome to the 21st Century!
Video games are part of the new media. Corporations are using video games for product placement. Movie stars are starring in their own video games. That old cliche of video games making kids lazy and unsocial can be thrown out in the trash. Video games help people learn how to solve problems, develop hand/eye coordination, and now with games such as Wii Fit, provide exercise. Please check out all of your excuses at the door thank you very much.

Welcome to the 21st Century, where video games are a relevant source of information and media. If you choose not to have any kind of video games in your library, you’re living in the past.

2. Gaming builds community.
Since my library (Cape May County Library) initiated our Game Night program in January 2008, we have seen around 20-30 teens attending our weekly Game Night program. Looking at this crowd, you see a wide range of personalities; the hardcore gamers, the metalheads, the anime teens, and many more. Over the past year, I’ve watched all these personalities mix, mingle, and become good friends. Teens have told me that because of our Game Night program they now have more friends at school. This is what the 21st century library is all about…building community. The public library of the 21st century should bring together all sorts of people and provide them with the stuff they want.

3. You will see all sorts of new people in your library.
My desk is situated about 30 feet from our entrance. I get to see a number of folks stopping in the library on a daily basis. They’re usually the same people, but since we got our circulating video game collection things have changed. I see a lot of new faces coming in every few days to get a new game. Once they find out I’m the one buying the games, I become sort of a pseudo celebrity. The cool thing about this story? These are people I’ve NEVER seen in the library before. Just think of all the patrons that are out there that are not interested in books. This is one way to reach them.

4. You couldn’t ask for an easier way to get teens interested in the library.
I call video games the “gateway drug for getting reluctant teens interested in the library.” It almost seems too easy. Have video games and they will come. That’s it. As I said in #2 above, every week I see a wide range of personalities mixing it up for two hours over Rock Band. These teens started out just coming to our game nights. I casually introduced them to our other teen programs and all the teen books and graphic novels we had. I didn’t beat them over the head with this other stuff…instead I just said “Hey, take a look at this other cool stuff.” Slowly but surely the teens were coming into the library on non game nights. They were checking out books. They were coming up to my desk and requesting new books. As a matter a fact, they helped initiate a new collection of video game strategy guides in our teen room.

Now, our teen circulation is through the roof. All of our teen programs are very well attended. And it all started with video games in the library.

5. The initial cost may be high, but the return investment is priceless.
Wow. That was such a cliche line. I’m sort of proud of myself for writing it. Anyway, video games cost a lot of money. Playstation 3 games regularly go for $59.99. Ouch. Especially in a time when so many libraries are getting budget cuts. Here’s something to think about though; You’re not plopping down all this money for nothing. You are creating life long library users. These patrons will see that and they’ll become supporters for your library. They’ll be the ones to fight for you in the future if you face budget cuts.

Are you also gaming in your library? If so, comment below and share what is working best for your library.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions:


August 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Clean Books

The library community where I work is primarily a devout religious one. In turn I’m frequently asked for “clean” or “safe” books by the parents and children. Working in the children’s department one would think finding a clean and/or safe book is easy. Let me tell you it is not, there are levels of clean. The first level of cleanliness is the purest, straight and wholesome goodness of Dick and Jane and the Bobbsey Twins. Then there are just the plain dirty books, but dirty books are not usually in the children’s department. What constitutes if a book is on a certain level of purity are the elements the book contains. There are two major elements that makes a book clean and safe or dirty and dangerous. These elements are boy-girl interaction and magic.

To make a book clean and safe there should be little to no boy-girl interaction. This is the basic element for all clean and safe books. According to the community boys and girls can be friends or siblings, but if there is any love interest what so ever it is no longer a clean book. One might think children’s books usually do not have girl-boy romances in them, but they do. Early chapter books and easy readers always have a valentine story. I know it is seemingly innocent, but the community asking for these books do not feel that way. Once I started looking in the collection, recollecting the books I have read and asking around, there seemed to be lots of first crushes, kisses and boyfriend/girlfriend subplots in juvenile books. Back in April I booktalked There’s a Girl in my Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli. I thought it was a great book about girls fighting against stereotypes and sibling rivalry. What I had forgotten about one of the subplots with main character having a huge crush on a boy, they go on a date and he kisses her. I felt wretched. The girl I had booktalked is part of the community that should only read clean and safe books. The girl in fact loved the book and wants to read all of Spinelli’s other books. I have learned that if there are any hugs or kisses in the book to tell them right off. It goes against the my librarian belief to give away the ending, but sometimes it’s the only way.

The other major element that causes a book to be unsafe is magic. Fantasy books are wonderful! I love fantasy and a little sci-fi as well. Ask me about my Harry Potter collection. Fantasy books, especially the ones on the juvenile and easy reader levels, rarely have boy-girl interaction, but they have magic of one kind or another that can harbor satanic and wican beliefs that are definitely unsafe to a young person. These are the books I read most often following closely by chickette lit, which sometimes mixes the boy-girl interaction and fantasy.

Drugs, alcohol and death are the typical elements that cause books to challenged and/or banned. They also contribute immensely to the sanctity of a book. If the book makes the reader question their own belief system or introduces an idea into their head that is against the communities ideals it is unsafe.

I try to recommend the safest and cleanest books I can without asking the customer in front of me to describe their level of cleanliness or devoutness. And yes, as a librarian, we should only booktalk the books we have read and loved, but really there are lots of books out there and I cannot read them all. I read lots of J and YA books, but most of them do not qualify as clean or safe. To end my first blog I wanted to mention that even though there is a tremendous stress on clean and safe books in this community, but no one complained about my Banned Book display and have had any challenges of the collection since I have been working here.

October 18, 2006 at 9:49 am 7 comments

Libraries Get Second Life

Second Life, an online virtual world created by Linden Labs in California, has gotten the attention of librarians from all types of libraries. The Second Life Library 2.0 Grand Opening this past weekend was a rousing success, despite a few technical glitches on the “main grid” or 3-D world, which appeared to be system-wide.

The Info Island Second Life Library 2.0 has a central blog at, where you can also check archives for development of the world and discussion of all of the library events held there, including book talks, instruction, reference, and more. Lori Bell and the Alliance Library System in Illinois are spearheading this venture. Her folks submitted their Second Life Library Project to Talis’ Mashing Up the Library competition and won 2nd place!! Serious Games has discussed library services in SL as well.

Other Second Life Library “branches” are cropping up, including a 19th Century Library, Caledon, and a medical library. Great photos of these places and more appear in the library’s Flickr photo pool. A teen “grid” is in the works at for those under age 18. Metaverse Messenger, the “newspaper” of Second Life, is a real newsprint publication (for ironic purposes, perhaps, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes!) which is also available online (teen and adult versions).

Check out Wikipedia’s background and technical info, and more importantly the critical analysis of SL issues and services links at Better yet, teleport there now!

October 17, 2006 at 12:06 pm 1 comment

Merchandising: Attractiveness as a form of access

At the Mount Laurel Library, we’ve been working in a “merchandised environment” for over 2 years now.

As the Trading Spaces: Reinventing the Library Environment project demonstration site we had the opportunity to get retail fixtures such as book gondolas, CD browsers and slat wall. We’ve also had training on how to keep our library collections both accessible and attractive to customers.

It’s worked! Our circulation leapt by 39% the first year and it’s been rising ever since.

Well, learning how to merchandise is one thing.

Our staff training uses handouts, slide shows, tip sheets plus hands-on experience to show how to better merchandise our collection.

Our merchandising goal for all staff is to spend on average 5 minutes each hour keeping the displays looking full (that’s about 30+ minutes a day for our full-time staff).

Keeping it all looking good, all the time, is another matter!

Have you ever been in a store that looks “picked over”? Well, it’s the same in a library if you don’t keep up on merchandising the collection.

Success means more circulation and that means we’re constantly filling in gondolas, flipping books cover out, and adding onto slat wall displays. In practice though, it’s hard to keep everyone focused on why it’s important and incorporate it into our daily routine.

To keep our eyes looking at the library from a customer point-of-view, we’ve just started is a twice weekly Walk-About. It’s a way for staff, individually or in a small groupers, to walk through the library and note:

  • what looks good (to celebrate success)
  • what area needs immediate attention (today, let’s do it now–together)
  • what area needs work next

All of our staff share this task through a weekly rotation among our departments. We’ve also created Walk-About sheets to help staff keep track and make it easier to report back at our morning briefings (a quick heads-up meeting before the library opens).

One of the side benefits (besides improving the look of the library displays) is that it encourages everyone to get out and really see the entire library — even those areas they don’t usually work in.

The result — a better looking library and and better informed staff.

October 6, 2006 at 1:12 pm 3 comments

Free Collaborative Online Tools (Trust Not Included)

Author: Michelle Kowalsky

It’s tough to use a collaborative tool with folks you don’t know well. . .or don’t trust. Whether you’re creating a PBWiki or writing on a Writely document or trying to post data on a Google spreadsheet document or on iRows, the process is the same. You post your info. Someone else posts their info. You effectively sway to the music in time.

But then, you correct a typo on their part of the info; they delete a word of yours. Soon you’re both waving the proverbial sickle in a wheatfield. . .chopping off dead chaff with wide sweeps high and low. Soon the document is no longer the one either of you intended. What may be the result of a series of many compromises (or poor online interpersonal skills!) may not in actuality be a document of any usefulness at all.

This is where the features of reputation management like those on Wikipedia or eBay come in. . .many, many people post their info and the truth tends to surface naturally. When only a small group of people keep changing the figures on the business report, it can just as often be a power struggle. Collaborative online tools still work best for me when they have, ironically, a face-to-face component.

October 4, 2006 at 7:40 pm 5 comments

The Nostalgia of Back-to-School

Yes, the school librarians in New Jersey are back to school this week. It’s often both a happy and a stressful time concurrently; we admit it, we like the routine but secretly hate it. I’m sure I’m experiencing the same things my fellow LMSs (library media specialists) have endured this week. My feet hurt from not wearing dress shoes for the past two months. My bank account hurts from not getting paid for the past two months. But, I’m excited to see the kids, work with the teachers, play with all the new books I ordered, and get the learning underway.

I can’t help but think about how the back-to-school “aura” enraptures everyone at this time of year, and especially educators. We reminisce about all the times September rolled around and we got ready for a new school year. For some, this experience has come and gone twenty or thirty times as a professional, and twenty or so times before that as a student. This back-to-school feeling, of nervousness and excitement, of new school supplies, new school clothes and a reunion of old friends, is a dear and meaningful experience for teachers, and students alike. It is like coming home. Year after year.

Yet sometimes we librarians just want to jolt our users out of this warm blanket, chocolate chip cookie experience. We want them to “look at all the new stuff we got.” Check out our new books, which you’ve never heard of (especially if you’re not a teen literature reader)! Use our new Web 2.0 applications, which you’ve never seen before! Try to do this lesson which no one has ever done before — and which no one guarantees will be a success! It’s crystal clear to me, this week at least, that we don’t capitalize on the feelings of nostalgia that libraries bring to people’s lives.

Now I’m not sure that I want people’s rememberances of libraries in their past to be foremost in their minds, especially if all they remember is the ‘shhh-ing’ librarian, or having detention in the library, or going there to do a term paper which ultimately became the worst experience of their school careers. But I do want them to remember that the library *is* a home of sorts, a place to be accepted, to have your questions answered, and to excite your brain whenever you’re in the mood. Now how can I make sure the best parts of the library remain in the nostalgialgic lore for future generations?? Purchase a system that generates a gentle apple- and cinnamon-flavored breeze when you approach the new YA Fiction section??

September 8, 2006 at 6:24 pm

"Hi ! No, I can’t help you"

Have you noticed that sometimes when you approach people at a service desk, you get the impression they don’t really want to be there or to help you? The words they say may be fine, but the “no” is in their body language. At the reference desk, we may not even notice that we do it — we fold our arms, roll our eyes, or lean to one side as if we’re waiting for a bus when someone asks a question, perhaps one we’ve heard hundreds of times. I believe that although it may be subconscious, and may even affect our users subconsciously, it still has an effect.

I’ve personally been witness to fast food counter clerks, department store return agents, and reference librarians who — when a patron approaches the desk — unconsciously says “no” as their first response to the person’s question. Sometimes they’ll also shake their heads side to side or squint. All of these actions, even if it’s subsequently the best reference transaction in the world, give off the wrong first impression. It even happens in virtual reference; this must be just a bad habit some of us have fallen into.

Now that I’ve noticed this, I’ve been trying to adapt. . .sometimes forcing myself to smile, nod, and even say “yes” or “sure” even as soon as the first few words of a question are uttered. I know I’m overcompensating here, but maybe it will level off with practice! When someone says “maybe you can help me. . .” I want to insure that I say something positive in response, quickly, and with appropriate body language that communicates the same. We can become masters of subliminal advertising!

June 2, 2006 at 8:09 am 4 comments

More NJLA Redux: Fantastic LGBTI Roundtable program!

So, this is the first time you’re hearing from me — I feel like I’ve been lurking too much and posting too little (actually not at all!)… But even several days after attending the Documenting their lives: LGBTIQ Identities program at NJLA on Tuesday, I find myself still thinking about it. The roundtable has put together some pretty amazing programs in the past — including others at this year’s conference, but the Identities program hit close to home for me, or at least down the street in Newark. The bulk of the program included a preview/trailer of The Sakia Gunn Film Project, a documentary that is currently in process and a discussion with the film’s creator, Chas Brack. For those of you who don’t know the story of Sakia Gunn, she was a 15 year-old black lesbian living in Newark — after leaving a club early on Mother’s Day in 2003, Sakia was stabbed in the chest by a man who had made a pass at her. Sakia and her friends had made it clear to the man that they were lesbians, and it is very clear that this was a hate crime, but Sakia’s death got very little media attention — and what attention the incident did garner did not make explicit the circumstances of the murder. Mr. Brack’s film (due out by early 2007) seems to be a tribute to Sakia, but it’s also a wake-up call to the rest of us. Sakia was poor, she was black and she was gay — and I see teens like her everyday. I can’t WAIT for this film to be finished so that I can (hopefully) have a showing at my library here in Elizabeth.

The discussion following the trailer was extremely interesting as well — there was a teacher from Newark Public High School in attendance and she shed some light on some of the aftermath of what had happened to Sakia. Program moderator, Laura Baldwin, also offered some further information — comparing media coverage of the Matthew Shepard murder to that of Sakia’s. [One researcher reported that in the two months following the murder of Shepard — a white, middle-class teen living in a rural area — reports of the crime showed up in over 500 major news outlets. In the two months following Sakia’s murder, only a handful (11 if I remember correctly) major news media outlets covered the story. And our own ABC affiliaten reported the murder and showed Sakia’s photo, but did not mention that this was a hate crime — or “bias crime” as it was ruled when Sakia’s murderer stood trial.]

So, what does all of this have to do with libraries? Well, first off, the big question is: are we serving our LGBTI populations? And on top of that, are we reaching out to LGBTI teens? AND, if we’re in an urban setting, are we being sensitive to the LGBTI patrons of color? As a community center, and usually a safe haven, are we doing enough to educate our patrons? Help them get the information they need?

The remainder of the NJLA presentation was a sampling of another documentary — one that was touching and funny and heartbreaking all at the same time. It’s called No Dumb Questions and it follows a family (mom, dad and three young daughters) as they discuss how transgendered Uncle Bill is becoming Aunt Barbara. It’s a GREAT video and I think a great addition to library AV collections.

The LGBTI roundtable provided a bunch of great handouts at this program — and from what I understand, they will soon be posted to the NJLA website[], so I urge you to take a look. Many of the resources provided would aid in both collection development and just in a better understanding of the LGBTI community.

April 29, 2006 at 10:09 am

Educational Role of Libraries

In a comment regarding PeterB’s post on library CE, JanieH said:

“I hope there is someone out there that can answer your not-so-rhetorical of ‘what’s next’ for both our sakes. . .For what it’s worth, I do see the same trend happening in training for the public at our library — what they want and what they need is becoming an issue when planning classes.”

I’ve been thinking about this and I’m starting to conclude that the educational role of libraries might be the ‘next big thing.’ Where else can you go to ask a question of a real person on almost any topic? I know some of you are thinking of the Genius Bar at the Apple Store, but technically is that free? And of course you could call an 800-number and talk to a rep over the phone for problems or tutorials for your software, hardware, or communications technology, but we all know how ineffective that procedure can be in fulfilling our needs. Other than taking a course or a workshop (which often cost lots of $), there are relatively few other opportunities for patrons to receive just-in-time, real-person help for computer issues.

At libraries of every kind, anyone can walk up to the reference desk and ask a computer question, get help on using an application or receive assistance in finding information on how to solve a technological problem. If libraries capitalize on this aspect of service, for which a gaping hole exists in our society, we could rule the world! Most computer problems that I encounter at my high school library or at the university reference desk are easily solved and within my ability range. Students ask for help in converting files between applications, using some of the easier features of common software, troubleshooting connectivity issues, or searching effectively for something online. By providing patrons with both Q-and-A services, and short (5 minute) tutorials helping them to solve the computer problem they have just encountered, our value and worth in patrons’ eyes would expand exponentially. If we could market the library’s natural in-person and online “computer troubleshooting and tutoring services,” we would both fill a niche and meet our patrons’ needs, thereby encouraging them to come to us for any kind of

Additionally, these types of computer questions — which are increasingly common areas of patron concern — are well within most librarians’ expertise. If they are not, they provide an opportunity for librarians to learn new skills and information that is immediately applicable on the job. If a technical problem cannot be solved in-house, it could encourage networking and mutual reliance on other organizations and resources, something we all agree is important.

April 28, 2006 at 8:33 am 8 comments

What Libraries Can Learn from ‘Snakes on a Plane’

OK, so even CNN (search for ‘Snake Appeal;’ video clip aired Apr. 14) has picked up the story about how bloggers are affecting Hollywood. . . Excitement about the truly simple title and plot of the forthcoming movie Snakes on a Plane is amazing; use your favorite search engine to find “Snakes on a plane blog” (warning: foul language ensues). Libraries truly have much to learn from this phenomenon!

Imagine your library users getting this excited about your collection, facility, or services. . .

  • They understand what you’re offering right from its title, and
  • They help create it, modify it, and market it to others

What could be better?! Somehow the traditional model of libraries — in which we collect stuff and then loan it out to folks only via strict rule-governed interpersonal or technological exchanges — is not this exciting. The concept of Snakes on a Plane is simple and easy for everyone to understand. In fact, it simultaneously works on several levels (perhaps for different “users”) — the literal, the horrific, the ironic, and the twisted. It engenders creativity, personalization, and a multidirectional flow of discussion. Apparently, it spawns dynamic change and improvements, and gives “users” a feeling of ownership and co-creation whether they influenced the final product or not. Talk about customer service lessons!

April 15, 2006 at 10:02 pm 6 comments

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