Before Jenn Bartlett, head of reference and adult services at Manchester (Conn.) Public Library (MPL), traveled to Gen Con—the largest tabletop-gaming convention in North America—in 2014, her coworkers joked, “Oh, you’re just going to play Monopoly all day!”
Instead, that trip effectively kickstarted the library’s board game collection. Bartlett came home with three free games; today MPL’s cache, mostly comprising publisher and public donations, is at 275 and counting. It’s the largest library board game collection in the state, she says.
Bartlett, current president of the American Library Association’s Games and Gaming Round Table, was introduced to modern board gaming in 2010, when she and her husband were given a copy of Battle Cry. Since then, her personal collection has grown to more than 350 board games. Her all-time favorite? War of the Ring, a dice-rolling strategy game based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series. “What’s wonderful about it,” she says, “is that it’s based on books!”
Bartlett, who is @boardgame.librarian on Instagram, contributes reviews to BoardGameGeek, showcases products to an average of 16,000 viewers on the Dice Tower YouTube channel, and, naturally, hosts a board game group at MPL.
“Board games put us together at a table with people we care about. We’re having fun and we’re learning,” Bartlett says. “People will go to their local game store, and they’re not always the most welcoming or inclusive places. That’s why libraries are wonderful—we are those things.”