April 15, 2008

Does Gaming Promote Reading?

The State of Libraries: ‘Fund­ing Down, but Gam­ing Up”

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.

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.

Gamers Can Play It By the Books

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Be Socia­ble, Share!


  1. I’m glad to see that there’s some real inves­ti­ga­tions going on into the value of gam­ing in libraries. I was (as I said in my post) in a par­tic­u­larly cur­mud­geonly mood when I wrote that. As a 30-year vet­eran of library work, in which spread­ing the word about How Great Books Are has always been my goal, it makes me more than a lit­tle sad that we must use video games, which may be fun & build social rela­tion­ships but don’t make kids more lit­er­ate, to lure so many teens in.

    And, as I’ve posted else­where, it makes me sad to see so many other library users check­ing out only DVDs week after week. And yeah, I know this is *my* issue (although I know I’m not alone). But I actu­ally don’t oppose librar­i­ans using games — any­thing that brings peo­ple into libraries is okay with me. I just think it’s sad that there are so many young peo­ple who we can’t seem to reach with grabby books alone. I really want kids to get excited about read­ing. –W

    Comment by Walter Minkel (the Monkey) — April 15, 2008 @ 6:05 pm

  2. I under­stand what you’re say­ing, Wal­ter, but a lot of peo­ple didn’t love recre­ational read­ing as kids. It’s some­thing they came to as adults, and there’s no rea­son to think that can’t hap­pen with today’s kids, too. I have hope for it, any­way. I firmly believe that par­ents should be teach­ing their kids healthy media diets that include books, TV, movies, games, inter­net, etc., and libraries can help with that.

    I was glad you asked about this, because I’ve been mean­ing to blog about the grant for a cou­ple of months but just hadn’t taken the time yet. I’ll try to pro­vide peri­odic updates, espe­cially as things become more con­crete. Thanks for commenting.

    Comment by jenny — April 15, 2008 @ 6:13 pm

  3. […] Jenny Levine over at the Shifted Librar­ian has just writ­ten an excel­lent post on gam­ing, read­ing, and lit­er­acy.  I par­tic­u­larly like the def­i­n­i­tion of literacy […]

    Pingback by Gaming Literacy « The Geeky Librarian — April 15, 2008 @ 7:09 pm

  4. yada yada yada… devel­op­ing future library sup­port­ers… blah blah blah… devel­op­ing respect­ful rela­tion­ships… truly both GREAT rea­sons to draw teens in to the library…!!

    But — a true fact is that our Youth Ser­vices circ stats cer­tainly did increase much like those in Schaum­burg. Two years after installing our PS2s in the media bar cir­cu­la­tion in the juve­nile area increased 64%. JNF saw the largest per­cent­age with a 109% jump. But who knows… maybe they weren’t read­ing those books… might have just been look­ing at the pic­tures… ;)

    oh… and I heart THEM TARZANWE JANE!

    Comment by circulating — April 15, 2008 @ 7:18 pm

  5. […] också idag se att Bib­lioteks­bloggen skriver om dator­spel och läsande. Enligt theshiftedlibrarian.com finns det också forskn­ing som visar att ung­do­mar som kom­mer till bib­lioteken för att spela […]

    Pingback by Smart av datorspel? « Barn och unga — April 16, 2008 @ 5:59 am

  6. Jenny,

    Thank you for the post and the links to resources encour­ag­ing this dis­cus­sion. I’m pre­sent­ing at the Amer­i­can Com­par­a­tive Lit­er­a­ture Asso­ci­a­tion (ACLA)next week about the changes in nar­ra­tive from gam­ing and tra­di­tional print text. The focus of the paper is on how gam­ing is chang­ing how peo­ple inter­act with text and increas­ing their expec­ta­tions of what nar­ra­tive & inter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling can be. Video games are not decreas­ing a generation’s inter­est in read­ing, video games are chang­ing their expectations.

    Since I’ll be speak­ing with lit­er­a­ture and com­po­si­tion fac­ulty, I’ll be talk­ing about what this could mean for teach­ing and how we, as edu­ca­tors, can draw upon these expec­ta­tions to engage stu­dents in read­ing and cre­at­ing nar­ra­tive. I’ve spent time over the last few months research­ing this and I’ll be start­ing to sum­ma­rize my read­ings over the next week.

    Whether or not our gam­ing patrons are check­ing out mate­ri­als is the prac­ti­cal, fis­cal part of the effect gam­ing has on libraries. But how and why they read, cre­ate nar­ra­tives, and write is a piece of the gam­ing / lit­er­acy puz­zle. Tap­ping into that can keep them return­ing to read­ing and the library again and again.


    Comment by Research Quest — April 16, 2008 @ 7:43 am

  7. Are you by chance famil­iar with Steinkuehler’s work on gam­ing and lit­er­acy? Jim Gee and Lanks­hear & Knobel’s work come to mind as well. I think we are try­ing to under­stand what it means to be (il)literate in today’s world.


    Comment by Suzanne Aurilio — April 16, 2008 @ 7:49 am

  8. Hi,

    I grew up as a reluc­tant reader. Now I write action-adventures & mys­ter­ies, espe­cially for boys 8 and up, that kids hate to put down. My web site is at http://www.maxbooks.9k.com and my Books for Boys blog is at http://booksandboys.blogspot.com
    Ranked by Accel­er­ated Reader

    Thank you,

    Max Elliot Anderson

    Comment by Max Anderson — April 16, 2008 @ 11:56 am

  9. […] in libraries April 16, 2008 — Gra­ham Laven­der I came across an inter­est­ing post today about gam­ing in libraries. Indeed, it seems to be a divi­sive issue: some feel that computer […]

    Pingback by Gaming in libraries « The Inspired Library School Student — April 16, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  10. Thanks for the suc­cinct defense. I’ve had my doubts. I no longer do.

    Comment by Dale Prince — April 16, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  11. I tend to point out that a kid who never enters the library is surely not check­ing out books, at least a kid that comes in for gam­ing might.

    Really, the thing that is going to encour­age activ­i­ties that pro­mote any kind of lit­er­acy, includ­ing the tra­di­tional, is if teens feel wel­come in the library and more so, if they develop a rela­tion­ship with staff who will help them find the right book etc. to engage them. This can hap­pen through any kind of pro­gram­ming that draws interest.

    P.S. I have stumped more than one per­son by ask­ing them if they would object to the library host­ing a knit­ting pro­gram (avid knit­ter here) and then ask­ing how gam­ing is any different.

    Comment by Beth Saxton — April 16, 2008 @ 3:26 pm

  12. […] 16, 2008 · No Com­ments the Shifted Librar­ian posted a use­ful com­pi­la­tion of libraries using gam­ing as a bridge to lit­er­acy and pub­li­ciz­ing the library in work­ing with […]

    Pingback by the connection between gaming and libraries « Collection Developments @ Sno-Isle — April 16, 2008 @ 4:44 pm

  13. I com­mented on my blog about your post on gam­ing — Durff’s Blog

    Comment by mrsdurff — April 16, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

  14. […] Fund­ing down, but gam­ing up as way to attract young peo­ple (Inter­na­tional Her­ald Tri­bune) Does Gam­ing Pro­mote Read­ing? (The Shifted Librar­ian) Chim­ing in On the Big­gies (The Other […]

    Pingback by Uncontrolled Vocabulary #38 - Sandy Berman gone bad | Uncontrolled Vocabulary — April 17, 2008 @ 6:31 am

  15. Well as one of the con­verted Shifted-ites, I must say that my rea­sons for gam­ing in the library are all about cre­at­ing con­nec­tions between teens and librar­i­ans. As I was say­ing to my boss ear­lier today, “we have to adapt to them, cuz there is no way in hell they are going to adapt to us”.

    We talk about teens alot, but we also include a tour­ney for adults too. They love it!
    For them its not about the com­pe­ti­tion as it is the feel­ing that “Man, we could have never done this in the library when I was a kid.”

    And I need to go out and get Eli’s book. That guy knows his stuff.

    Comment by royce — April 17, 2008 @ 8:52 am

  16. Jenny,

    Glad to see such a lively dis­cus­sion on gam­ing in libraries. As many on this board have said any steps we can take to encour­age more chil­dren and teens t to spend time in the library is worth­while.
    We’re very excited about work­ing with the ALA on this grant project to help quan­tify how gam­ing can assist in learn­ing and lit­er­acy.
    For those plan­ning to attend the ALA’s con­fer­ence in Ana­heim this sum­mer, please stop by the rib­bon cut­ting cer­e­mony on Sat­ur­day, June 28, where we will announce addi­tional infor­ma­tion on the ALA’s gam­ing grant.

    Nancy Williams
    Ver­i­zon Foun­da­tion – National Pro­gram Direc­tor – Literacy

    Comment by Nancy Williams — April 17, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  17. I’m really happy to see this research and doc­u­men­ta­tion. I know it will help me con­vince some of the staff that say that gam­ing has no place in the tra­di­tional library set­ting. It will also nudge those that are on the fence about it. Thanks!

    Comment by elizabeth davis — April 18, 2008 @ 6:51 am

  18. I hate to wreck a good analogy,

    Comment by Shane — April 19, 2008 @ 10:15 pm

  19. Sorry I’ll try that again; I hate to wreck a good anal­ogy, but Tarzan taught him­self to read, Jane taught him to speak english.

    Comment by Shane — April 19, 2008 @ 10:17 pm

  20. Inter­est­ing dis­cus­sion on video games and the library!

    Comment by mediamaiden — April 21, 2008 @ 9:00 am

  21. Shane, Dale points out that Tarzan didn’t learn to read until Jane showed up — that’s the social piece.

    Thanks for com­ment­ing!

    Comment by jenny — April 22, 2008 @ 5:49 am

  22. […] Arti­cle here […]

    Pingback by GoNintendo » Blog Archive » Does gaming promote reading?- What are you waiting for? — April 29, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  23. […] dos­tosowanemu do wyma­gań współczes­ności, The Shifted Librar­ian, pojawił się bardzo ciekawy tekst zestaw­ia­jący dowody na sen­sowność wprowadza­nia gier do bib­liotek i jed­nocześnie wychodzący […]

    Pingback by O alfabetyzacji za pomocą gier raz jeszcze « Altergranie — April 30, 2008 @ 6:29 am

  24. […] some­how surfed my way to this page the other day. It struck a chord with me, because I used to game at the Syl­van Oaks Library back […]

    Pingback by Ethereal Sunshine - Gaming at the Library — April 29, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

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