Hello, My name is Ashley Gohr and I’m a librarian with ASU libraries at the West campus. Instead of taking most of the time talking to you all I thought it would be nice to treat this session like more of a discussion where I present my experiences with building a game collection and then we all discuss different things that have worked at other libraries if anyone in here has had experiences building game collections. It’s also important to note that although I’ll be presenting on my experiences building a game collection, every single person will have different experiences and insight, and there isn’t really a single way to do it because all libraries have different resources, budgets, staff, and more that make this kind of collection building uniquely challenging.
To start off, I am compelled to briefly cite a few reasons why games are so incredibly important and worthy of being collected seriously in academic libraries. These are just a few, of many many reasons why collecting tabletop games in academic institutions specifically is rewarding and worthwhile.
First, in my opinion the absolute most important thing to starting a game collection is simply wanting to do it. Having a staff or librarian or volunteer that is interested in making a collection is the first and most important step. Even if you as librarians might not have a lot of knowledge about different tabletop games, how to play, or really a plan for what to do with the collection in the first place, that’s TOTALLY ok!
The key to building a collection is to figure out what your resources are and utilize them (which just so happens to be exactly what librarians are good at!). You can build a really great game collection without knowing much of anything about actual gaming or even without having experience.
The easiest way to start a game collection is by first doing research on your local resources. The best places to start are with local comic and game stores. Talking to the owners is a really awesome and easy way to see not only how much interest there is in the area for gaming, but also what specific groups there are, what times are best for events, using the space to advertise, and especially for donations and partnerships! Local business owners have, in my experience, always been absolutely amazing and helpful resources. In fact, a huge number of games in our collection were donations from a game store across the street.
Other great resources are even provided by other gamer librarians themselves. If you're interested in different projects, collections, and more you can check out the ALA games and gaming roundtable, or lectures and websites by awesome faculty that study and support games in libraries like Scott Nicholson or James Paul Gee.
Above all, gamers are your most valuable resource! Whether they are students, faculty, or people in the community, partnering and working with gamers is incredibly important. Not only can they help inform purchasing for the collection, but they can help organize events, run game nights, and be amazing sources to help with community outreach.
For example, when we first formed our game collection the library participated in the ALA sponsored International Game Day, which helped connect us with local gamers eager to volunteer and have their gaming groups meet in the library. Because of that event and brining gamers together, the next semester a game club formed on our campus, and they’ve been one of our most important resources since then. They run events, they hold game nights, they do outreach, they make suggestions for the collection, and so much more!
Now that we’ve established some quick basics, instead of starting right in with the nitty gritty details, I’m going to first relate the story of how I was able to create our libraries game collection and some of the successes and overwhelming failures we encountered along the way. Rest assured, there are absolutely going to be things that do and don’t work, because every community responds differently to new services, but something I cannot stress enough is that to really create a good collection, you need to expect and learn from failures to inform your own particular way of managing your game collection, and don’t get discouraged and stop trying new things because something didn't work out. It might sometimes be necessary to take risks when building this new collection.
So our game collection actually didn’t start as a collection at all, but rather a set of course reserves for a class on game development. There were only a very few games and they were all kept behind our circulation desk since they were reserve materials. Understandably, even though they were required course material they weren’t checked out for almost an entire year of being on reserve. There are many many reasons for this, but probably the most important of all is that they were not accessible. Because nobody at the library, including staff and librarians had any interest or knowledge of games, the collection went relatively ignored until I asked to further develop it as a special project.
First, I did a substantial amount of research into other libraries around the country and how they handled their collections. The most common and obvious thing I saw was that almost all libraries had their collections on a shelf in the open, to allow for browsing and greater visibility. Unfortunately, our director was hesitant to start ordering more games for the collection until we saw some circulation, so the first order of business was to relocate the collection to a more visible public area, coupled with a series of cabinet displays to increase awareness. After moving the games to a bookcase at the front of the library, the collection essentially experienced a renaissance and started circulating for the first time.
Although this picture is actually a few leaps forward in terms of the overall collection development, this is just a good example of how we placed a well labeled and very visible bookcase in a high traffic area. After the smaller collection started circulating, we purchased a few more games to test whether a greater diversity in games would increase circulation, and it did, a lot! In one month alone the collection, which was even smaller than you see here, circulated 45 times. In other words, 45 games were checked out in one month because of the changes that were made.
And here is our semi-current game collection. As you can see, it has grown substantially from the small collection on reserve you saw a few slides ago, and this is almost entirely thanks to experimenting with locations and checkout times and circulation rules and purchasing, and a myriad of things until we discovered something that works. As of now, students can check out games for 7 days at a time, and even request them through the catalog. For purposes of time and ease I won’t be going in depth into cataloging issues with games in this talk, because it’s very widely variable and could probably constitute an entire discussion on its own.
This is just a really crude and quick timeline that I tried to piece together to show, visually, how the collection progressed and that it did actually take time and work to start paying off in the end. But now the collection has well over 50 games, which were a combination of generous donations and purchases made by the library, and circulates very regularly.
So now that you’ve heard my personal story on how our library managed to create our, still modest, but ever growing game collection, let’s take a look at some of the more pressing details that usually makes libraries and librarians really nervous about collecting games.
I hope by the end of this presentation I can convince you that collecting games is absolutely worth it for you library, but also that a lot of anxieties that libraries and librarians have about game collections, actually really aren’t any more of a problem than any other issues we face when loaning out books and other materials.
So first, I’m sure many people who aren’t familiar with these collections are wondering, where do you even get games in the first place. The good news is that any library can fairly easily create game collections for little to nothing through donations and thrift shopping. The best place to get donations is at local gaming and comic stores. One way I try to approach local businesses is to let them know about what we’re planning, that they’re welcome to attend events to increase student traffic through their business, and also I put “donated by” stickers on those games that are donated to let the students know what resources are available to them in the community, but also to help the local stores.
Component organization is critically important for a game collection. Organizing the pieces in each game helps in a variety of ways, the most important of which is keeping track of pieces. It’s also important because it helps staff and patrons keep the games neat and organized, and makes piece visualization easier so staff don’t have to sort through loose pieces when checking in materials. It also helps for preservation, which will we discuss later, since a lot of these games will be getting a lot of hands on use.
[explain each item]
Storage is also another hugely important aspect of game collections, but this particular one often goes unmentioned or isn’t practiced, even by gamers themselves. When you are placing games on shelves, always shelve them on their sides, or spine, and do not stack the boxes. This will also help in terms of preserving the boxes and making sure your games last much longer. Seriously, don’t stack your boxes…
There are a lot of ways to preserve your games to help them last longer without having to replace them. Luckily, almost all games now have instruction sheets and other loose materials available for download in pdf form online, usually on the manufacturers website. If for whatever reason the manufacturer does not provide this, which is rare, it’s always a good idea to scan instructions and extra sheets so that they can be reprinted later. Laminating things like score sheets and other small loose materials is another excellent way to get more use out of games. Instead of having to waste finite score sheets in games, laminating 10 and including mini dry erase markers with the game will make the finite paper resource last longer, and also make it easier for players.
When/if you lose, misplace, or break pieces in your games, they are actually very easy to replace, and also almost always provided for free. Make sure to always keep the proof of purchase that comes with each game to make ordering replacements easier, but if you misplaced those as well there are always options for replacing pieces. To get replacement pieces contact the retailer directly and explain that you are a library lending the game and include what pieces and how many are needed. Many companies have a form that you can fill out online, and replacement pieces will almost always be sent without question.
Finally, help get the word out by doing outreach for the collection. There are a lot of different ways it can be done, all of which are valid and unique in their own ways. Some work in some communities, and others don’t, but most approaches are worth trying, and sometimes even repeating even if they fail initially.
Although there are a lot of great starter games to help get collections going, every single community is going to have different tastes and needs, and while these and other games are definitely worth ordering to start a collection, check with your local community and build a collection suited to them.
All your games are belong to us: Building Tabletop Game Collections in Academic Libraries
All Your Games
Are Belong To
Building Tabletop Game
Collections in Academic
Michelle Ashley Gohr
Asst. Librarian, ASU
Helps get students into the library
Provide stress relief during midterms/finals
Used for serious study/inquiry
Important part of popular culture
Community engagement & enrollment
What are Your Resources?
ALA- Games and Gaming Roundtable
Academics in Game Studies
Local game stores
Local comic stores
National Gaming Organizations
Arizona Men in Black
Shelve games on the shelf as if they were a
on the “spine”, not stacked on top of one
another (this damages the boxes)
Scan or download all loose instructions and
other materials in the game
tokens, cheat sheets, monopoly money, score
Score sheets and other loose materials that cannot
Clue score sheets, Zombie Dice sheets
Include dry erase marker sets in each box requiring
score sheets to allow for reusuable paper parts
Keep proof of purchase for replacement
Many replacement pieces can be purchased or
obtained directly from the retailer or through
Amazon depending on how the game was
Library Guides/ Online Collection Browsing
Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, etc.
Good Starter Games
Classic Board Games
Chess, Checkers, backgammon, etc.
Ticket to Ride
Settlers of Catan
Resources for Librarians
Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning through
Modern Board Games
Everyone Plays at the Library: Creating Great
Gaming Experiences for All Ages
Board in the Library
Games in Schools and Libraries Podcast
ALA Gaming Wiki