Game face: Chris DeLucia, one of the gamers who attended the Fayetteville Free Library’s first open gaming session in May, is among those rocking out the “quiet” rule in libraries. Michael Davis photo.
But the events, the first of which happened on May 23, are hardly an attempt to usher out those who cherish the library’s serenity. According to event organizer Monica Kuryla, the impetus for planning gaming nights came from experiences she and the library’s executive director, Sue Considine, had at national library conferences throughout 2007, many of which encouraged libraries to introduce new technologies to their browsers.
“It’s becoming a nationwide phenomenon in the libraries,” Kuryla explained. “At a lot of these conferences and workshops people are trying to implement social networking and incorporate YouTube.com into libraries. A lot of the word has been getting out. The 21st-century library is turning into a community media center. It’s about the social experience of the community.”
The library’s first gaming event drew about a dozen people from teens to middle-age participants, a fact that Kuryla said is pivotal to her plan to draw in not only those who otherwise ignore the library but also autumnal library users who might be interested in the new gaming technology. It’s not shocking to Kuryla that older generations are drawn in by such things given her experience with hosting social networking tutoring sessions and other computer-related programs at the library.
“I actually think that people embrace it more,” Kuryla noted. “I think they think it’s really interesting. What we’ve been doing for a couple of years is computer-training classes. . . We even have senior citizens come in who have never even touched a computer, who think it’s trendy and who heard about it on the news. We want to step away from the association between game consoles and teens. That’s what differentiates our game programs.”
Kuryla has also employed assistance from the Syracuse University Library Game Lab, a research program that began in 2007 because of the efforts of Scott Nicholson, assistant professor of information studies. The project aims to better understand how games attract people to the library. Nicholson, who contended that such gaming has been a part of usual library programs since the 1800s—in the form of cards, backgammon, checkers and chess—thinks that videogames as well as nontraditional board games improve library usage.
“In a survey we did regarding 75 percent of public libraries with gaming events, people reported they came back and did something else,” Nicholson explained. “And that’s the idea. If they feel the library has relevant stuff to them, then they come back to this book-rich environment, and that improves literacy.”
Of course, some contend that kids should be playing fewer videogames and reading more books, so it follows that Nicholson is pre-emptive against those who feel gaming doesn’t belong in libraries. He likens gaming to programs like storytime for children and library expansions such as those that include tacking on cafes; they all bring people into the library in the first place, which is part of the challenge.
“You can imagine taxpayers saying, ‘What’s the deal with games? Is the library becoming an arcade?’ It’s like, well, no. Not any more than it’s becoming a barista,” said Nicholson. Furthermore, Nicholson hopes that video and traditional board games will improve upon certain elements of literary understanding by involving users in the stories themselves.
“Rather than someone telling them how the story ends we have someone performing on the dance floor, standing in front of a band or battling over ancient ruins,” Nicholson explained. “So it’s like storytime, and once libraries starting tying in books and other traditional game forms, and once people start to get interested in gaming, they’re passionate, and they’re more likely to pick up a video or a book or something related to the topic.”
Events at the Fayetteville Free Library will run throughout the summer, and will include a Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock tournament on Wednesday, July 16, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; an open gaming session on Tuesday, July 22, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.; a family open gaming session on Saturday, Aug. 16, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; and an adult open gaming night on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 637-6374, Ext. 2.
The Baldwinsville Public Library, 33 E. Genesee St., Baldwinsville, will also hold a game day on Thursday, July 17, 1 to 3 p.m., and a Nintendo night on Thursday, July 24, at 6:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call 635-5631. Other libraries throughout the summer will host gaming events, to be announced. Contact the Onondaga County Public Library at 435-1900 for more information.