by Kristy Bowen

Gaming and libraries are often a perfect match.  As community gathering spots, libraries offer ample opportunities for members to come together, both for social interaction and intellectual stimulation.  Resources and collections fill a great supporting role for games like trivia nights and scavenger hunts.   In addition, collections of circulating games, be they analog or digital, can be quite popular, and offer users access to materials they might not have at home.  Analog gaming, which requires little in the way of expensive equipment and gaming modules, is a great way to get a lot of programming mileage out of very little money.

Building a Collection of Games

If your library is able to purchase games as a part of your collection development, you are at a distinct advantage.  There are, however, other ways to build a collection of games that don’t require a lot of financial investment.

Consider a donation drive.  Many people have rarely played and barely used game sets sitting around at home.  Ideally they will be completely intact with all parts and pieces included.  If you are, in fact, missing any valuable components, it’s an excellent chance to make creative new ones, either by hand or with a 3-D printer.  Cards and play money can always be reprinted and laminated if needed.

Thrift stores, estate sales, and garage sales are also an excellent place to pick up board games at a steal and usually have a wide selection of newer and classic games to fill out a collection (sometimes still wrapped in the plastic they came in.)

If you’re wondering where to start, you can begin with some of the classics (checkers, chess, Monopoly, Uno, Yahtzee) and then pick up newer and trendy/ popular games as user interest warrants.

Inexpensive & Creative Programming Ideas

Board, Card, & Tabletop Game Nights

Each semester, The CCC Library kicks off the semester with an Old School Board Game Night that gives students, new and old, a chance to mingle and play games they are most likely somewhat familiar with.  You can also organize events around a single game or subject matter, ie. an event featuring different types of Monopoly games with various pop culture themes, or a tournament devoted to word games (Scrabble, Boggle, Scattergories).  The community gathering aspect also works well for card and role playing games like Magic:  The Gathering and Dungeons and Dragons, particularly since these types of games often have avid and passionate fans that the library can help bring together.

Trivia Nights

Across the country, trivia nights in bars, cafes, and other venues are booming. On any given night in any city, you can find a venue perfect for fine tuning and displaying your wealth of knowledge general (pop culture, science, history) and incredibly specific (The Simpsons, The Walking Dead) Libraries, as centers of information and resources, are the perfect place for the creation and implementation of trivia programming.    Columbia College Library’s Gaming Society regularly hosts trivia nights in a variety of focus areas, (horror films, 80’s teen movies) as well as more general specialty areas (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer). 

Consider your audience and what may be a popular topic. In an academic library like Columbia, you can also work with interest groups on campus and specific classes to develop and participate in trivia areas of expertise.   For example, a French Revolution class could host a trivia bowl in the library to test their knowledge against the general campus community to prepare for an exam.  You could also pit faculty and students against each other in a variety of subject areas. 

You can either garner questions from existing trivia games you may have access to or find questions online (or even better, develop your own questions in areas you or your staff are familiar with). Once you have your subject matter, decide whether your game will be individuals or teams?  How many rounds and categories?  What will determine the winner?

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger Hunts are a perfect way to get users exploring the library and what it has to offer.  Clues and paths can be wrought among the libraries physical and electronic resources and are an excellent way to get patrons exploring what you have to offer.   Scavenger hunts are often a great idea for new library users to get used to using the online catalog, databases, and build familiarity with whatever classification system you use.  The hunts themselves can be as simple or as complicated as needed, employing simple trivia (where the clues are straight forward) or advanced puzzles and games that allow patrons to work together or alone to solve the hunt.  Such hunts are also great team building and socialization opportunities perfect for orientations and the beginning of the term.  The Columbia Library’s ARTCACHE (co-sponsored with the Aesthetics of Research initiative) is an art exhibit and scavenger hunt rolled into one, where participants use a set of clues and trivia questions to find the hidden interactive exhibit.   In the Fall of 2016, the library hosted a Search for the Sorcerer’s Stone, a Harry Potter hunt that featured games and puzzles that had to be solved to find the coveted stone.  

Murder Mysteries

Murder mystery events are a fun and creative way to highlight library spaces and resources, as well as create interesting and memorable experiences for users.  There are many approaches to hosting a mystery, some as simple as purchasing a pre-made “Mystery in a Box” set, some as complex as creating your own custom mystery from scratch.  Instructions for creating your own custom event can also be found online with a little googling.

There are also a multitude of ways to play.  In some, patrons move through the game based on strategically placed clues to solve the mystery.  Others are even more interactive, with participants taking on the part of characters and acting out roles.  You can set up the mystery in any way you prefer—singles or teams, as well as determine how tricky your mystery is to solve—red herrings, false leads, etc.

Such mysteries are an excellent chance to get library users comfortable and familiar with your spaces, as well as your databases and other resources.  The CCC Library has hosted mysteries that involved clue locations that had to be determined by using the catalog or finding specific pieces of information (or specific locales in the library) to proceed.

Themes can also be great fun.  Last spring, we incorporated a baking themed mystery game (The Bundt Cake Bump-Off) into our annual Edible Books event (whose theme itself was “Mysteries”).  This year, we hosted an 80’s Horror Themed Prom Mystery and featured costumes, 80’s Music, and a murdered prom queen.  

Promotion and Prizes

The CCC Library Gaming Society has done a number of promotions that have had great impact.  The Society, initially called “The Gaming Committee” when it was started in 2013, eventually became the “Gaming Society”, a name which invites “members” (ie. all interested persons) to help coordinate and facilitate the events they are interested in seeing happen.

We have also had dynamic partnerships with other entities on campus, most notably the college’s Harry Potter Club, The Muggles, who have collaborated with us on several events related to Harry Potter and other fandoms. In the Fall of 2016, The Gaming Society, co-sponsored GAME ON:  A Miscellany of Tabletop, Board and Card Game Art, and exhibit which featured game related visual art on the Library’s 1st & 2nd floor. 

This fall, we are implementing a ticket incentive, where both attendance and winning at gaming events will furnish players with arcade style tickets that can be redeemed for prizes of varying sizes throughout the semester. We are also hosting our first every GOOGLE BOWL, a sort of trivia game in reverse, that will land in various spots on campus throughout the semester and offer more chances to win tickets.

Our prizes for gaming events have won the gamut from simple ready-made items like prize baskets of treats to items made in the library using our Maker Lab equipment and other supplies–a creepy doll head trophy plaque for Horror Movie Trivia Night, a customized letter opener (the murder weapon) for the Horror Prom, 3-D Printed Game of Thrones Objects, a themed coloring book for Buffy the Vampire Slayer trivia night. There are also plenty of other ideas that can happen with a little bit more funding—new game giveaways, gift certificates to game stores (brick & mortar or online), Amazon gift cards, etc.

But whatever resources you are working with, with a bit of ingenuity, you can create a thriving and popular gaming series at your library.

A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is an Access Services Assistant at Columbia College Chicago Library and Co-Curator of The Aesthetics of Research,  an ongoing project dedicated to exploring the role that libraries and their collections play in artistic process, creative community building, and resource-sharing in the arts.

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