“Are we really doing anything to tie video gaming and literacy together? I haven’t seen it; I’ve simply seen us holding gaming sessions because that’s what gets teens — boys in particular — excited enough to come in and participate in a library-sponsored activity, thus racking up the numbers we need for our monthly stats.
Librarians who are fans of gaming programs keep saying that teens are lured in by gaming, and once they’re through the door, those teens use the library in more traditional ways. But is there any documentation for this claim? All I keep seeing are anecdotes. Are teens who come in for games actually checking things out? I’ve rarely seen it myself. I hope someone will do a study one day soon of how well gaming works as a draw to get teens to check things out — especially things with pages and print.” [The Monkey Speaks]
Walter’s concerns are understandable, but there is indeed evidence that kids who come to the library for gaming also use the book collection more.
- See the April 2007 issue of the ILA Reporter in which Amy Alessio from the Schaumburg Township District Library notes circulation of the teen collection has gone up 70% due to an increase in teen-oriented activities, which includes gaming (p.31)
- At ALA’s 2008 Midwinter Meeting, Julie Scordato from the Columbus Metropolitan Library gave a presentation with some evidence, starting on slide 6.
- Read Carver’s Bay: Gaming the Way to Literacy on the WebJunction site
- I wrote the new issue of Library Technology Reports about Gaming in Libraries, and I specifically included a case study about a middle school in Virginia that has tied gaming to the statewide reading club, which doubled the number of participants in the first year.
And yes, there is also a lot of anecdotal evidence from leaders such as Eli Neiburger, Aaron Schmidt, Kelly Czarnecki, and others. Eli in particular has a great video he showed at the TechSouce Gaming, Learning, and Libraries Symposium last year in which kids talked about how they never knew the library had so much for them until they started coming in for the gaming. There are more and more reports about this in the press every day.
“At the Stillwater Free Library, director Sara Kipp brings in her own PlayStation for middle school and high school students to use on a game night. In Stillwater, game night is combined with a book club.
‘We already offered a book club, which was lukewarm at best,’ Kipp said in an e-mail explaining the program.
‘So we decided to introduce gaming in the library in conjunction with the book club. Some libraries separate the two, but we created a program to meld them in an attempt to give the teens what they are looking for all in one shot,’ Kipp continued.
The town of Ballston Public Library will connect video gaming to the Olympics this summer by holding a Wii Olympics using a package tied to the games. Rebecca Vanderhayden, the youth services librarian, said a participant gets a turn playing a game for every 50 pages they read.” [Times Union]
In addition, most librarians I’ve talked to who have offered gaming note that it enhances their connection with the kids, which makes it easier for these patrons to ask for help when they need it. Early research from the Public Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg County in North Carolina indicates this holds true for adults, too.
At ALA, we’re hoping to measure these kinds of outcomes that surround gaming in libraries. We’ve received a big grant from the Verizon Foundation to educate librarians about gaming, provide best practices, offer a toolkit to help get started, and track the results nationally. It’s a two-year grant, so it will be a while before we have numbers, but there’s a blog about Gaming News for the project, as well as an early start on a wiki for Gaming Resources.
I’m lucky enough to be working with Dale Lipschultz, ALA’s Literacy Officer, on this project. Dale is a well-known and respected expert in the literacy community, and I’ve learned a lot from her on this subject already. She made the following points about gaming and literacy in a recent email exchange.
- Literacy is more than reading and writing — that is it’s more than the acquistion of basic skills. Literacy requires problem solving skills, the ability to formulate and apply hypotheses, strategy development, etc.
- Gaming — board, social, and video — is a meaningful literacy activity. Kids (and adults) are invested in gaming. It’s fun, it’s what they do with their peers, and they like it. Therefore it has meaning in their lives. Gaming usually requires some reading and writing skills. It always involves problem solving and strategy skills. Even reluctant readers will read and problem solve in order to ‘level up’ and master the game and stay competitive with their peers. That said, along with mastering the game, they are improving their basic skills.
- Learning to read and write is a profoundly social process, and literacy development doesn’t happen in isolation. Learning is most effective when the novice is supported by an expert (an adult or peer) who scaffolds the activity and provides mediation or instruction as needed. The novice is encouraged to engage in an activity slightly beyond his/her level of mastery and comfort.
As Dale told me last year, Tarzan never would have learned to read without Jane. Librarians are well-positioned to provide the environment, expertise, and scaffolding necessary for literacy, and gaming enhances that environment. It also adds that social piece that makes the expertise more approachable. As Eli is careful to note in his book, you can’t just hand kids a bibliography when they’re engaged in gaming, but it does provide opportunities to offer books, graphic novels, and magazines in the type of environment Dale describes.