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One of the leading mantras of the library modernization movement is the oft-referenced notion of providing the “third space” a community needs, if the first and second spaces are home and work/school. In my own life, the local library has served that role: when my daughter was an infant, we were regulars at the mid-morning lapsit at the branch down the street. It was about more than instilling an interest in literacy and language in a small child; it was a place to go to escape the monotony of home and socializing. It also served as a way to meet and share experiences with other neighborhood parents. After going for a few weeks, we’d start to see parents and kids we knew from the library around the neighborhood, and started organizing playgroups and get-togethers. The library had served as the jumping off point for community organization and involvement. Suddenly a big city neighborhood felt like a tight-knit community that we were a part of.
While reading Chapter Thirteen, Gaming, in Meredith Farkas’s book, Social Software in Libraries, I was pleasantly surprised by the coincidence of finding the same branch librarian who organized those lapsits — a friend of mine for nearly two and a half years now — quoted for her expertise in library gaming. Catherine Delneo’s 2005 article, taken from Young Adult Library Services, lays out a number of the key facts behind promoting library gaming: the sheer numbers of game players, the increasing percentage of female players, and the social aspects of videogame play. Delneo also described an interesting program in which the Austin Public Library introduced youths to game design through an easy-to-program software scheme that allowed the participants to collaborate on their own new games (Delneo, pg. 34-35).
Farkas goes into further detail on gaming and it’s history, from its roots in the 60s and 70s, the popularity of consoles, game genres (fighting vs. first person shooter, for example) that a non-gamer wouldn’t be familiar with, and some of the ways libraries have implemented game playing. These included “LAN Parties” featuring networked computers, tournaments on console games, creating gaming-dedicated areas, and attempts at providing “reader advisory” services that might, for example, steer a role-playing gamer towards epic fantasy reading.
All of these suggestions serve the Third Place concept. Teens — and an ever-increasing segment of adults — play videogames. It is a compelling interest for them. By circulating secondary materials they might not be able to afford to purchase (spin-off novels and DVDs, strategy guides, related comics), the library can create value for these users. By providing a physical space for them to play, they can try LAN-based games or games they do not own at home. A gathering point is created, and those teens and young adults have the opportunity to create a community of their peers — just as I became part of a community of my peers by bringing my young child to the branch for lapsits.
The academic library environment is commonly held fairly far apart from the public sector; collections are to serve the institution’s research needs, not the pleasure of the patrons. Academic libraries are not as caught up in the high-culture/low-culture debate that has persisted in public libraries. However, some academic libraries are starting to look at gaming as a potential vehicle for library relevance. Jim Morris of Lake City Community College in Northern Florida writes that adopting gaming in the library — particularly in after-hours, when the din of a tournament won’t detract from the study-hall environment — goes hand-in-hand with other loosened regulations (allowing food and drink, bringing in comfortable furniture, circulating reference materials) to create a more appealing library. One night might be LAN gaming; the next might feature a poetry slam. Morris believes these disparate activities both serve the same purpose: saying “yes” to his patrons. And therefore, Morris is creating a new twist on the Third Space: dorm and lecture hall as first and second, library, again, as the third.
Delneo, C. (2005). Gaming for tech-savvy teens. Young Adult Library Services 3 (3), pg. 34-38.
Farkas, M.G. (2007). Social software in libraries. Medford: Information Today, Inc.
Morris, J. (2007). The new academic library and student services. Journal of Access Services 5 (1/2), pg 31-36.