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The place of play in a university library

As an amateur of games of all kinds and as a university librarian, I wonder about the place of play in this institution. Professional distortion requires, I admit from the outset that this post is slightly too long … but oh how interesting!

My question therefore boils down to one and only one question: Is the presence of games in the university library relevant or not?

Some, completely sold, are convinced that all forms of games have their place in the university library (as everywhere else, ie to persevere in order to reach world domination through games ). For others, like Phil Davis and Brian Mathews , this is a problem, as moving away from the traditional role of the library dilutes his mission.

In fact, opinions about the place of games in academic libraries are quite mixed. While public libraries have a mission to information, literacy, education and culture by providing collections using all types of media, university libraries are designed to support teaching and research. As a result, university librarians are often unhappy about the place they place on this medium, which they say keeps the library out of their mission:

” Academic libraries do not always have to be serious places, but they should be scholarly. Public libraries have some incentive to act as community centers, and that makes sense for their mission. ”

– Wayne Bivens-Tatum

The game in academic library can be represented in three forms:

One-off activities, aimed above all at a marketing objective of attracting students;
Game collections, few and often justified as a study object;
Training activities where games are used to support the development of information skills.

The game, a marketing tool
As libraries increasingly seek to improve their marketing, ad-hoc gaming activities are often well received because 1) they are ephemeral and 2) they are popular with students . I am thinking in particular of initiatives like gaming nights or tournaments on game consoles.

Several university libraries also justify the presence of games in their school by their social aspect . A major trend in our field is to transform the library into a social place for the academic community. In this sense, the integration of games offers the possibility of making the library a dynamic and motivating environment for students. Thus, tournaments, orientation races, geocaching, buying consoles have the same objectives as buying comics, lending iPad, lounge areas and cafes.

The game, a document under study
Bâtir une collection de jeux en bibliothèques académiques, et principalement une collection de jeux vidéo, est un pas de plus que peu de bibliothèques décident de franchir. La raison est simple: il devient difficile de constamment justifier la présence de ces collections. Néanmoins, quelques bibliothèques ont effectué des initiatives intéressantes. Au Canada, la bibliothèque de l’Université de Calgary possède la plus importante collection de ce genre. Aux États-Unis, les bibliothèques de l’Université du Michigan et de Harrisburg University of Science and Technology proposent aussi des collections impressionnantes. Les bibliothécaires qui tentent d’intégrer les jeux en bibliothèque justifient ces achats en considérant le jeu comme an object of study, often linked to specific school curricula . This also explains the large number of collections of ” retro gaming ” that allows the study of the history of this document.

For librarians who would be tempted by the experience of building a video game collection, I recommend that you:

The book Gaming in Academic Libraries: Collections, Marketing, and Information Literacy issued by the ALA paints a portrait of the situation of the game in a university library;

The article Building next generation video game collections in academic libraries that attempts to identify the major academic issues that libraries need to consider in order to develop games collections;
The document Circulating Video Game Collections in the Academic Library which offers a very detailed analysis of a project of development of collections of games in university library.

The game, an educational media
The use of games to support training is another use to consider. On this side, libraries can be innovative and create serious games or use existing games to highlight the objectives related to information skills . These games are popular. I’m thinking quickly of the last WILU Congress 2010 that had the theme Create Play Learn. In the past, the university library was centered on the paper book and the visible documentation. Nowadays, the majority of our documentation is invisible to the student. We buy more electronic resources than ever. Research in our tools and the use of information are becoming more complex. It is in this context that the documentary training becomes important and the game supports the trainer . To my astonishment, there are already several interesting games developed by and for the world of university libraries.

The best known is surely the trivia The information literacy game which, in my opinion, is a little too banal and simplistic;
A very interesting initiative is being developed at the University of Calgary, the game Benevolent Blue aims to combine an FPS and documentary research, what a genius idea! ;

The defense of Hidgeon, The Plague years is a game developed by students in Information Science at the University of Michigan. They offer us a “board game” interface and a medieval atmosphere where the player must answer questions about the documentary search;
A bit heavy, visually less beautiful, but interesting enough to use in training: Doing Research: An Introduction to the Concepts of Online Searching .

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