Kids & techYesterday I attended a workshop here at NYPL on video gaming in the library, presented by Eli Neiburger, author of Gamers… in the Library?! The why, what, and how of videogame tournaments for all ages (ALA Editions, 2007). Neiburger burns with a passion for video gaming (he whipped up his sleeve and showed us the Zelda tattoo on his right shoulder), and I could tell that plenty of the 40 or so of the NYPL staff in the room caught the bug from him. He’s been giving workshops on how to run video game tournaments for library systems all over the country, and he says that around 200 library systems have now held those tournaments.

Neiburger, IT Manager at the Ann Arbor (MI) District Library, says, “Video games are a way to promote core library services to a tough audience” – namely, to teen boys. Video games of one kind or another have been around for over 20 years, yet you won’t find any in most libraries. “Throughout history,” he told us, “whatever format or activity teens are into the most is the downfall of civilization” – in other words, the thing that adults least want to make available in the public library. Yet teens, especially the boys, are at the age when they’re so involved in other things that they’re probably the least likely to be recreational readers that they’ll ever be. So how will the library best serve them? Since around 95 percent of teen boys play video games, he feels that libraries should hold video game tournaments.

He doesn’t think that libraries should circulate the games, however. Because there are three primary formats for the games – Sony Playstation, Microsoft Xbox, and Nintendo (GameCube or Wii) – there’s no way a library could find the budget dollars to supply a big enough circ’ing collection in all three formats to please its users, and stocking only one format means you’ll disappoint two-thirds of your users. Any library’s collection would thus look pathetic next to what any kid could find rentable for a few bucks at the local Blockbuster.

That’s why he feels that tournaments are the answer, since they give gamers who would normally never associate with each other a chance to meet and compete. Neiburger identified two games that are not about to offend any parents – Mario Kart and Super Smash (a Nintendo game with Mario Bros. & Pokemon characters) – yet ones that teens like. He holds tournaments about three times a month, and four times a year holds a mammoth set of playoffs in the Ann Arbor main library’s basement activity room that over 100 teens sign up for. He also holds a Pokemon tournament for elementary-age kids. Almost no girls sign up for the teen tournaments (he says in an aside, “but we get girls coming to all the other library teen programs that most boys won’t be caught dead in”), but lots of preteen girls sign up for the Pokemon tournaments – and they win in the same numbers as the boys. And if you hold a DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) program, you’ll get at least 50 percent girls.

One thing is very clear. If your library wants to hold a video game tournament, you must have someone – either a staff member or someone from the community – who is passionate about gaming, and knows the gaming culture, to be in charge. It won’t work if you try to run it and you aren’t a gamer yourself. Neiburger showed us the blog he runs about the tournaments, and jeez, does he have some obsessed young men corresponding with him, who seem particularly fixated with dissing one another and their clans (teams of six gamers). To look at the world of tournaments at AADL, visit Neiburger’s blog, and if you’re interested in running your own tournament, he’s about to make available special software that he’s used for several years to keep scores at his tournaments.