April 15, 2008

Does Gaming Promote Reading?

Filed under: Uncategorized — tsladmin @ 5:47 pm

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.


  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 TARZAN – WE JANE!

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

  5. […] ocksÃ¥ idag se att Biblioteksbloggen skriver om datorspel och läsande. Enligt theshiftedlibrarian.com finns det ocksÃ¥ 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 wymagaÅ„ współczesnoÅ›ci, The Shifted Librarian, pojawiÅ‚ siÄ™ bardzo ciekawy tekst zestawiajÄ…cy dowody na sensowność wprowadzania gier do bibliotek i jednoczeÅ›nie wychodzÄ…cy […]

    Pingback by O alfabetyzacji za pomocÄ… 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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