Gaming has been a part of libraries since the mid-nineteenth century. In Great Britain, some libraries used billiard halls and parlors for games as a way to lure people out of the pubs and into a more “socially beneficial” lifestyle (Snape, 1992). The oldest chess club in existence today was started in the Mechanics’ Institute Library in San Francisco in 1854 (Donaldson, 2011). During the Great Depression, toy and game libraries appeared to help provide a relief for children while the parents used library resources to find answers to enter national contests for cash prizes (Chudacoff, 2007; Elrich, 1955).
As the interest rose in gaming in society as a leisure activity, so did the interest in gaming in libraries. Chess clubs were joined by Scrabble, bridge, and Mahjong clubs. As summer reading programs gained in popularity, games were commonly used as a key activity, so many youth grew up playing at the library. When early computers appeared in libraries, one of the ways patrons learned to use them was through installed games (Moses, 1983). Some libraries built collections of digital games to accompany their collections of traditional games and other forms of media. As free Web-based digital games became more popular, patrons could play games on library computers without requiring the library to install software.
Libraries have struggled to draw in teen populations. In the mid-2000s, Jenny Levine at the American Library Association (ALA) began to write about the use of video game programs in libraries to draw in teens (2006). To better understand the role of gaming in libraries, in 2009, I surveyed 400 randomly selected public libraries and learned that more than 70 percent allowed some sort of gaming in their libraries and about 40 percent had formal gaming programs. Common outcomes of gaming programs are that the reputation of the library increases among participants; participants who attend the gaming program return to the library for other, [End Page 751] nongaming services; and users improved their social connections with both friends and previously unknown members of the community (Nicholson, 2009).
Other librarians, such as Eli Neiburger (2009) and Beth Gallaway (2009), have written about their experiences, empowering librarians to create gaming programs. In 2008, I founded the Games and Gaming Members Initiative Group at the ALA to connect these programs using all sorts of games for all ages. This group connected with interested groups in the Young Adult Library Services Association and the American Association of School Librarians to create the ongoing event called ALA Play, which brings together librarians on the Friday night of the ALA annual conference to learn about and celebrate games, graphic novels, costume play, and similar activities.
During these gaming programs, patrons from different demographic groups come together around shared challenges to socialize, engage, collaborate, and compete. In my book, Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great Gaming Experiences for All Ages (2010), I created a model for the library gaming experience that brings together players, the game world, spectators, and library staff and explores how each interacts with the others. On the basis of this model, I developed a set of five Game Experience Archetypes that provides the organizational structure for the book and a basis for librarians to assess the usefulness of games of all types in meeting the goals of their libraries. Librarians looking to create a gaming experience can start by selecting an archetype based on their goals and then choose games that will bring about that game experience. This ensures that the chosen games meet the goals of the gaming program and fit into the mission of the library.
Each of the five archetypes—Social, Narrative, Action, Knowledge, and Strategy (SNAKS)—focuses on a different area of this model. Specific game titles can fit with more than one archetype, so librarians seeking to use games to meet different needs for different audiences should select games that span a variety of archetypes. Social game experiences are those that focus on facilitating social interactions among players; they are useful when a library uses games to forge connections between different groups of patrons. Narrative game experiences are those that immerse players in a story...