Serving Players Through Selection

A guide to videogame collection development

November 3, 2011

While libraries are learning the value of gaming, there is not currently a great deal of information available discussing standards for videogame collection development, and few libraries with game collections have published their policies. To help librarians more effectively serve gamers, Team G of the 2011 class of ALA Emerging Leaders worked to study and establish best practices for videogame collection development in libraries.

Our research consisted of a combination of (sparse) library literature on the topic, a casual survey we sent out to libraries with game collections, and sources outside of libraries from the gaming sector. Analyzing this information made clear that tying the collection development policy explicitly to the library’s mission is essential. Libraries have a number of rationales for offering videogame collections: Entertainment and community engagement (often public libraries), supporting the curriculum (often academic), education and socialization (often school), and preservation and cultural significance (often archives and museums).

A library’s existing audiovisual policy may not be suitable for videogames because of critical differences between mediums. Where films are passive and linear, videogames are interactive and non-linear, and technology to support use changes much more rapidly. A collection development policy should be discrete to support these differences in both form and use.

How to select

Once goals for the collection are established, a library can decide which specific games to purchase. Since the best games for a library’s core collection will vary depending on library type, and mission, there is not necessarily a list of the best games for libraries to acquire. Here, however, are some issues to consider in selection and purchasing:

  • Type of collection (circulating vs. non-circulating)
  • Audience
  • Game ratings
  • Game platforms
  • Auxiliary gaming items
  • Cultural significance
  • Reviews (see ALA Connect for a number of review sources) and purchasing options

What to select

The proliferation of portable gaming devices in the library and traffic to gaming sites on library networks nullifies the issue whether libraries should offer videogames and reframes it as a question about the quality of the gaming program the library will offer.  Library staff should understand that their evaluative skills are needed in directing patrons to good gaming experiences, and that there are a number of excellent review sites to assist them in this process. As with any library material, libraries must balance their selections among different genres to fit the varied interests of their communities. 

While videogame genres do not completely match up with other media forms, the experiences that they offer often do.  For this reason Scott Nicholson, author of Everyone Plays at the Library (Information Today, 2010), created the SNAKS model, which aligns genre names with their archetypal experiences. This model, shown below, provides the additional benefit of continually aligning in-genre selections to the overall goals for the collection.

Social: party and strategy games
Narrative: role-playing games
Action: rhythm, sports, fighting, adventure games and shooters
Knowledge: trivia games
Strategy: route-planning, area control, trading, role selection, worker/tile placement games

Videogames are relatively new to libraries and they present unique challenges in collection development. While issues arise when taking on any new format, the interactiveness of the medium presents new challenges for staff in both selection and evaluation.  That staff may feel unprepared to meet these challenges in the absence of library-specific literature is part of our motivation for taking on this research. We were encouraged by the attention our project received and the continuing support we have found in the library community. In the course of the next year we will be focusing on developing library-specific standards for describing and reviewing materials, with particular attention towards issues of social responsibility in selection and the furtherance of critical discourse. See our progress at sites.google.com/site/libraryvideogames/.

Nicole Pagowsky is instructional services librarian at the University of Arizona, and creator and curator of Librarian Wardrobe. Erik Bobilin is a supervising librarian for Brooklyn Public Library's Kensington branch