Saturday, September 09, 2006

Gaming in Libraries: Computer game titles available at NLB

Kevin left a comment in this earlier post, asking if NLB would experiment with bringing in gaming events to its libraries. I replied that my colleagues and I do visit this issue on and off. We are keeping an eye on how the issue of gaming in libraries develop.

"Gaming events" could be in the form of LAN Parties (briefly described in this OCLC article). A simple start to "Gaming in Libraries" would be to make game software titles available for loan (as reported in this article; see also this blog entry by John Scalzo).

The NLB already offers certain software titles for loan (you'll need to sign up for the Premium membership service). Such titles have been available for several years now, just that NLB doesn't make a big deal out of it. Some feel it should (there are arguments for and against, which could be discussed in a future blog post).

For now, here are some tips on how NLB library members can check for the availability of computer game titles from the NLB catalogue:

#1 - Search by Subject - One way is to (a) select "Subject by Subject" and (b) type in "computer games software"
screenshot_NLB Catalogue.jpg
Searching by subject is useful when you wish to browse through the list of items. IMPORTANT: You have to use the specific term/ phrase (or what we librarians call "subject heading") or else you won't get the results you want.

#2 - Keyword Search - Another way is to use the Search By Keyword feature, where you combine words and phrases to obtain a list for browsing, or to pinpoint to specific titles in mind. In this example, I typed in "call of duty software" since I had a specific title in mind and wanted to focus the search to "software" and filter out books. Here's the screen shot of the results page:
screenshot_NLB Catalogue - Call of Duty

If you are interested in more search tips, read this this page from the NLB website. Or you can always ASK a librarian (there are many ways to do this now -- via email (, enquiry forms, leave a comment at the ASK! blog, meet the librarian face-to-face...)

So, will NLB or any library introduce more than just computer software titles to their collection? It really depends. Behind any 'Yes' or 'No' answer, there are a few general considerations, for instance, the library's objectives, its budget, its policy for collection development (which support its objectives), and customer needs.

Here's a simple illustration -- if the library's objective was simply to "attain the highest loan statistics", one could easily convert the entire library to stock only game titles, including XBox and PlayStation titles. Heck, I'd even throw in the Xbox and Playstation machine for loan. I'm sure it will be a very empty library, with all the items constantly on loan. However, life isn't that simple. Most libraries support some higher aim, like "promotion of reading and literacy". So there has to be a balance. You get the picture.

Of course one can choose to have a complicated view of things, or just account for a few key considerations and then simply experiment. Depends on the institutional culture I suppose.

I think what's stopping the wider adoption of Gaming in Libraries is the lack of concrete measures for the outcomes from implementing "gaming". For instance, nowadays it's relatively easy for most libraries (bar those in the under-developed nations) to set up a LAN Game Centre in its premises. I'm sure it will be fully utilised, especially by teenagers. But how would we really know if those teens would be 'learning' more, nevermind if they end up 'reading' more?

That being said, I'm sure as more research is done in this area, and as the idea of "Gaming in Libraries" gain wider acceptance among librarians, library administrators and library customers, things will change.

What might be critical is the development of the Games themselves. Take the game, "Call Of Duty" (reviewed at RoughNotes). I'm a big fan of the game (albeit an old title) because it has that authentic learning element. It's fun, it's exciting, and it reinforces what I've read about the Normandy invasion, leading to Hitler's defeat.

My gut feel is that "Gaming in Libraries" isn't a matter of "IF" but "WHEN". Admittedly, I make this statement based on a superficial understanding of the overall developments of 'Gaming in Libraries'. Still, I've read blog posts about World of Warcraft and Second Life, and I can't help but feel some critical mass is building up. Maybe not within months. My guess is within the next 5 years.

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  1. Thanks for bringing out the idea of gaming in the library. While loaning out game titles isn't new (similar to libraries loaning out movie dvds), the more interesting point is to find out why gaming could be a relevant activity in the library.

    Based on a success story of gaming @ library:
    - kids looked at the library differently
    - the library didn’t have to force their information on them
    - the kids are using the library more
    - parents are happy that the kids are not passive in the library anymore

    Perhaps this boils down to what the library means to everyone. Is it a sanctuary for the neighborhood community? For bringing kids together in a healthy environment (and good company)?

    Another success story to the gaming idea is "The High Strung Library Tour 2006". A rock band in the US recently went on tour to several libraries throughout the States and played their rock concert there. Kids and parents loved it and there was a new perception that the library was a cool place to be. It demonstrated the counterpoint that libraries need not be a place of silence, so long as it afforded "opportunities for discoveries".

    Learning might not be at the forefront of such events (gaming or loud music), but it plays a supportive role since learning can occur anytime anywhere. After the rock concert, I heard via National Public Radio that kids said they wanted to learn how to play electric guitars. As for gaming, "Call of Duty" might give children a piece of history, but some find it interesting enough that they might want to be historians, film makers or even game programmers.

    To answer the question of what events like games and music bring to the library, I believe my answer would be that it's a themeatic series of events designed to inspire thinking and that the library is truly a place of discovery and learning. Simply by showing off the various library resources related to such events, you'd be setting off triggers (call to action) in people's mind to try something new.

  2. Thanks for the comments, as always. Just adding on to your points about the thematic series -- that's been happening at our libraries for some time now, particularly for library programmes. I suppose we could apply that approach in introducing Gaming, i.e. start off as a programme and then see if it can evolve to something more permanent (like on-demand service).


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