Public Libraries

There are three primary models for gaming in the public library:


  • Circulation of games, where the patrons check out games and play them at home.

  • Game-based Events, where the patrons play games at a specific time in the library

  • At-Will Gaming, where patrons can play games whenever they want.  These might be games that are always available (Chess boards or PC games) or games that are checked out for in-library use (console games for in-house consoles).


In addition, a fourth model might be the library fostering the creation of games through game design workshops or hosting design clubs.


Should a library have special times for gaming events or an area where games are always available?

It depends upon the goal of the gaming.  If the goal is to build community, then the events work well for this as it brings people together.  If the goal is a learning or literacy goal, then the games might be always available.   Determine the reason for the games first and then make decisions from there.


Model Programs

Tech Lab 2007, Broward County Library, FL

Audience: Teens

Attendance: 60

Budget: Grant funded

Description: One of the goals of this program was to see how using proprietary game design software with a subscription to online instruction from YDACS compared to using shareware with staff instruction to teach game design to teenagers. Broward County used shareware (Gamemaker) in the summer of 2006 for its first Tech Lab. While the cost of the software was little, the cost in staff time was great. The next year, we used Multimedia Fusion 2 with online instruction from YDACS. While the software and subscription were more costly, the program did not require a technically knowledgeable person to succeed, nor did it take much staff time.

Tips: Be very certain about how much money and time you have to spare before embarking on a specific game design program. There is no "one size fits all" program which will work the same for every library. Ask questions about the different game design programs you see at other libraries and see what will work with your time, budget, and the number of programs you want to provide.



Game Maker Academy, Wilmette Public Library Wilmette IL

Audience: Teens/Youth

Attendence: 300

Budget: Free

Description: Brian Myers, staff member of the Wilmette Public Library has developed Game Maker Academy, a program that teaches young people how to create their own computer games. Game Maker Academy offers a multidisciplinary educational framework combining computer programming, storytelling, graphic and audio editing, animation and analytic thinking, and other disciplines. Using a variety of free and open-source computer applications, students learn to make their own platform, scrolling, tile, RPG and sports games, while developing media literacies and foundational programming skills. Since its inception, over 300 teens have participated in Game Maker Academy and the series is now being offered at area libraries and as an outreach program at Chicago’s Intel Computer Clubhouse. Game Maker Academy received a 2008 ALA Presidential Citation for Gaming in Libraries.




Gaming the Way to Literacy, Carver Bay, SC

Description: Gaming club promotes literacy by offering a point system that earns extra playing time in return for reading, writing and good behavior.


  • "Gaming the Way to Literacy" WebJunction, August 2006


Youth Digital Arts CyberSchool

Audience: Youth from 3rd grade through high school.

Attendance: Students from across the country

Budget: Inexpensive and library site discounts

Description: The Youth Digital Arts CyberSchool, YDACS, offers innovative online courses where our our goals are for students to produce professional level digital art immediately and to create young entrepreneurs. Our programs are referenced in the article by Kathy Makens, above under Educational Programs, which describes how she first tried offering Flash and Game Maker courses at Broward County Libraries in Florida and then was very happy to find YDACS courses which were much less stress on her, and her students produced much higher quality product. Our programs are also being offered at Carvers Bay Library in South Carolina, and at The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, both of which are also referenced in this Wiki.

You can watch an overview video on our home page, download free[!] student games, purchase student t-shirts thereby supporting our young artists/entrepreneurs, and read testimonials from students, parents, teachers, libraries, and gifted programs directors from around the country.

You can also view a video about our innovative prototype game that we developed for the Durham Public Library in our News Forum.

Tips: An innovative way for library's to offer innovative digital arts programs without having to hire technology staff to research, develop, deliver, and maintain the varied aspects of offering such programs. Our courses are self-paced, available 24 hours per day and 365 days per year, and have support and quizzes built in which could prove valuable for documenting outcomes for grant funders.



Runescape Club, Nortonville KS


  • Creating Library Runescape Teams, by Chris Ripple, Central Kansas Library System, Great Bend, KS


Tournament Thursdays at the Peabody Institute Library, Danvers MA

Description: Ping Pong, Chess, Scene-It and more!


Scrabble Club, Woburn Public Library, MA

Description: Elementary and Middle school students meet to play and practice, compete with other local library teams, and attend the National Scrabble competition




AXIS, AXIS at Ann Arbor District Library, Ann Arbor, MI

Audience: all ages

Attendance: 80-100

Description: Mario Kart, DDR, Super Smash Brothers, and more


  • "Video Games As A Service: Hosting Tournaments at your library" by Eli Neiburger and Erin Helmrich. Voice of Youth Advocates, November 2005.
  • "Video Games As A Service: Three Years Later"by Eli Neiburger and Erin Helmrich. Voice of Youth Advocates, June 2007.


Runescape@Ruiz Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City, MO Audience: all ages

Description: Julie Robinson, Branch Manager of the KCPL Ruiz Library, created Runescape@Ruiz to forge a bond with the teens in a small urban neighborhood. During the summer of 2007, teens gathered every two weeks for Friday night lock-ins of gaming, snacks, teamwork and problem solving. For entry to all-night lock-ins gamers must produce report cards with solid grades or win reading contests. The popularity of these events has gathered lively diverse teens who proudly declare ownership of their library. Teens diligently police themselves and peers to preserve their lock-in privileges. Appreciative parents have also joined the fun, when teens permit.


Game Lab, The Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, NC

Audience: all ages

Attendance: 20-200

Budget: varies since it comes from different places. Ballpark: $7,000

Description: Circulating DS Lites w/Mario Kart, Legend of Zelda, and Brain Age. After school gaming club once/month for 12-18 year olds. LAN, board, and Xbox/Wii/PS2-GH2 and 3, DDR, retro computer games after hours or Saturdays for all ages around the system, Teen Summer video game tournament, game creation after school and in the library with Scratch, GameMaker, and Youth Digital Arts Cyberschool, Game Lab in Virtual Village-a partnership with community organizations and universities/colleges, 'Gaming Corner' at ImaginOn with Wii and PS3, Programs with virtual worlds such as Webkinz, Whyville, and Teen Second Life. We also do outreach at our local jail facility with youth and adults and have participated in Global Kids Ayiti: The Cost of Life game, a program about the challenges of poverty which takes place in Haiti, and other console games such as Wii Sports, Madden with the PS3, and finger DDR with PC laptops.

Tips: Develop good communication systemwide so that all ages are being served with all kinds of gaming.



Got Game at the Library, Columbus Metropolitan Library, Columbus OH

Audience: Teens 12 to 18, some family and tween programs emerging in the summer of 2008.

Attendance: 6,000+ from March 1 to December 31st in 2007. January 1 to May 21, 3,000+

Budget: In 2007, $25,000 to equip each of our 21 locations with a Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Play pack, and multiple controllers, a PlayStation 2 with multiple controllers, two DDR pads and game, two guitar controllers, with Guitar Hero 2 and 3. Leftover funds were used to purchase 30 games for circulating kits for branches to use to help decide what they wanted to purchase in the end quarter of 2007. Each branch received $260.00 to purchase games and accessories appropriate to the demand of their customers.

In 2008, our budget is $15,000 and each branch received an even share to purchase games, accessories, replacement items throughout the year.

Description: Nintendo Wii, Dance Dance Revolution, and Guitar Hero.

Tips: Do not underestimate the multiple impacts gaming can have. At our urban branches teen book groups were started where the initial participation came from gaming teens. Keep a look out for narratives and gather data diligently to tell the story of gaming and how it helps teens build development assets.



Game On!: Open Gaming, Tournaments, and Teen Choice, Pierce County Library, WA

Audience: Teens 12-18

Attendance: Bigger branches get between 20 -30 teens each week


Description: In 2006, Our system purchased 3 PS2 with DDR Mats and Guitar Hero guitars with Guitar Hero II game. Later we also purchased 3 Wii's with copies of Mario Kart Wii and Smash Brothers Brawl. We send this equipment around to the branches to have weekly and monthly gaming programs. Once a month we hold a Teen Choice program where the teens bring in what they want to do from games to movies, and somtimes even birthday cakes.


Board Game Day at Herrick Memorial Library

Audience: 12 to 16 year old, teen programming.

Attendance: 5-6 (at events so far)

Budget: Covers snacks provided.

Description: We have run a couple of these successfully at Herrick so far, and plan to do more. Board Game Day at Herrick is an open gaming event which runs for 3 to 3&1/2 hours on a Saturday afternoon. Many games are provided including modern titles like Ticket to Ride, Roborally, Battlelore, War of the Ring, Federation Commander, as well as traditional games like Chess, Checkers, Scrabble and others. The Library provides snacks including bottled water, cookies, candy, etc. Games are taught by library staff. Participants are encouraged to bring their own games to share as well. Sometimes door prizes are awarded by drawing.

Tips: Herrick is a small independent library, so budget is always an issue. The staff (of one) provides the games for use in the program from their own collection, games do not circulate and are not part of the Library collection. The bonus here is that the staff knows the games and can teach them. Snacks are provided from the library budget and consists of bottled water and non-sticky items like cookies, bite sized candies, pretzels, etc. Cookies go over better than pretzels though!

We use a sign up sheet in the weeks before an event. There is also a list of potential games alongside the signup sheet at the front desk. The list shows one or two pictures of each game, and a short paragraph description describing the game theme, and mechanics/goals of the game. When a patron signs up, they are encouraged to pick one or two games they are interested in learning. This info is used to decide which games are set up ahead of time so patrons can start forming groups and playing games on arrival. One page "cheet sheets" of how to play each game are provided as well, listing what a player can do on their turn and how the game is won.

Staff is available to answer rules questions, explain games, and play short pick-up games with any odd players waiting for a new game to start.