Thursday, June 28, 2007

Telegrams from ALA Part I: Gaming

OK, the real reason I didn't post these during ALA is because my laptop is permanently on the fritz. But pretend I was submitting these over a literal wire, and that's why they're delayed. It's so much more romantic that way.

The most compelling workshop I attended was also the one that I least wanted to have anything to do with. It was about holding a video game tournament in your library, which I had no intention of ever doing. But it was the only kid-related workshop during that time slot, and I wanted to get my money's worth.

So it turned out to be fabulous. The presenters were Eli Neiburger and Erin Helmrich from the Ann Arbour District Library, where there's a whole gaming season with eagerly awaited weekend-long tournaments for a range of ages. Not only did the presenters succeed in eviscerating my prejudice against video games in libraries, they offered a beautiful model for promoting teen programming (it's all about branding) and a plan for taking over the world.

I don't want to steal their thunder, since one of them has a book coming out next month, but check the powerpoint (in PDF) to get a glimpse of how brilliant and organized their tournaments are (People, they have commentators, post-game interviews, instant replay on the big screen ... like it's a football game or American Idol ... so cool) and check this basic "menu" of resources for getting started.

And here are my favorite points:

  • "We can't be all things to all people, but we should have something for everyone." In other words, the question isn't whether or not we should have something for gamers. It's a question of how we can most effectively serve them with our budget. And the answer is ...

  • Buy the software and equipment for game tournaments rather than building a circulating collection of video games. A single game reaches a max of 52 people a year, assuming you check it out for a week, while a tournament brings in more than 50 kids each time it's held.

  • The introduction of the wii has also made gaming more accessible. For the first time, it's bringing in seniors who want to simulate bowling--not just teens and twenties who want to crash race cars. We better get ready for the influx of new users.

  • And this was my favorite point: you don't have to know anything about gaming to start a program like this. What you do have to do is reach out to people in the gaming community--which might include local teens, college students, or people who work in another department of the library.

It was interesting, because after the workshop, there were a series of annoying questions that were all along the lines of: but what if you don't know anything about gaming? I mean, the presenters had to find 5 or 6 different ways to say: find someone in the gaming community to provide leadership.

It reminded me of the challenge of Spanish-language outreach among libraries where none of the employees speak Spanish. Still, the librarians want to come up with their own initiatives rather than letting the local community take charge. I'm beginning to believe that the secret to success if often giving up a measure of control.

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