This month, I’m going to take a break from talking about a new game I’m playing and take you on a magical journey. Imagine hundreds, nay thousands, of ladies* and a few men, all decked out in gear ranging from sensible shoes to cat-print sweaters to tattoos to all of the above wandering around a convention center. You’ll hear strange and arcane acronyms and initialisms like OPAC, MARC, ILS, IMLS, RDA, YALSA, ACRL, and more. You’ll see them jockeying in line to be first to get free books even though they work in a place where free books is kind of what they do all day. What is this place? Why, it’s a librarian conference and specifically last week’s Public Library Association (PLA) Conference in Denver!
The American Library Association and its various sections, like PLA, provide support, training, advocacy, and more to librarians all across the U.S. and the world. The large umbrella association of ALA is probably the number one professional association we have. There are tons of sections that address everything from children’s services to reference to cataloging to LGBTQ Roundtables and associations for people from underrepresented groups like the Asian/Pacific American Librarians Association. Conferences are a way for ALA, PLA, and its affiliates members to get together to share ideas, network, and party. Yes, party.
There’s a lot of free food and booze from vendors, publishers, and distributors, so you can do pretty well for yourself if you’re willing to make some small talk about linked data and a library’s web presence for some mini macaroons and champagne.
My library was nice enough to send a coworker and myself to the conference this year. We were excited because PLA is all about public libraries. No academic, special, corporate, or law libraries in sight! And archives? Forget about it. You may not know about the coming librarians versus archivists war, but soon you’ll be asked to choose a side. They put things in BOXES, and they just make up their own cataloging systems! Crazy! I digress…
The value of having all public librarians together in one place is that we get to see what has worked and what hasn’t in similar libraries. And within public libraries there are still a wide variety of programs to attend. I’m a teen librarian, so I got to go to all of the fun programs about STEM crafts, summer reading programs that won’t make you want to die, and school and library collaboration.
All of the programs were awesome, and I think I got good ideas from every one that I attended, but my favorite was called “Dragons in the Library: Tabletop Gaming and the Public Library.” We recently bought some Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition books for my teen room, and when I brought them out the teens were asking when we were going to run a game. I’m playing in two D&D campaigns (a Tiefling Fighter who also owns a whaling ship and a Dwarf rogue who is on the run from her mob boss father), but I’ve only been playing for about a year and a half. And I’ve never run a game. So I knew that this program could help me.
It was fascinating and so exciting. The Fresno County Public Library system created a tabletop gaming convention at the library and ran D&D games, hosted game premiers, and had a ton of people. They play tabletop games, deck-building card games, and role-playing games. Last year they had over 300 people over two days!
It started when one of the librarians started running D&D games for teens and adult on a weekly to monthly basis at the library. Then people starting asking about more roleplaying games and tabletop games. Then one of the patrons who had been attending the games started a game store in the area. With the pull of the game store and the library working in collaboration—one of my favorite things ever is library and local business collaboration!—they decided to start Bookwyrm, one of the Central Valley’s first conventions and maybe the first focused on role playing games.
The convention is this weekend (April 16-17) and while it sounds like a ton of work, it also sounds super rewarding. Some indie game designers have chosen to debut games at the library’s convention instead of more traditional game conventions or stores. That is so cool . Plus, the library gets to see a whole range of people who may not always come into the library. From what I’ve heard, they have all ages and especially the coveted and magical-unicorn-like demographic of the 18 to 35-year-olds. Unfortunately, once a lot of people graduate from high school they may not come back into the library for programs until they have kids. But where are the 18 to 35 year olds in Fresno? They’re at Bookwyrm!
It was fascinating to hear about how this library and others were using gaming in their programs. I asked a question about D&D one shot adventures and got lots of suggestions and helpful ideas. I also mentioned that my library is working with a local Meetup group to host drop-in tabletop gaming monthly and that we had a list of basic games that are working well. After the program, half a dozen people came up and asked that I email the list because they too wanted to host gaming and even circulate the games at their libraries. Honestly, their excitement and passion was heartwarming and maybe even a little inspiring.
Basically, librarians who game—whether tabletop, video, role-playing, or whatever—are my new favorite people.
While not every city of town has a game store or a board game cafe where you can try out new games and meet new people, most towns have a public library. Check out yours! (Check out … Get it? Library humor!) They may very well have a board game or video game collection that circulates. Or maybe they run programs or would be willing to do any of these things if their patrons asked. We love it when patrons give us suggestions! As long as your suggestion is reasonable and not having to do with asking the librarian out on a date, then we will consider it.
Obviously, not every library can purchase some games or is willing to circulate them, but I would guess that most libraries are willing to try if there is interest. And if you’re in that magical unicorn age group? The library will fall all over itself you to try and get you into the building.
The “Dragons in the Library” program was the last program I attended, and I’m still so enthused about gaming at the library. I can’t wait for next month when I start my D&D game with the teens! I’m hoping that they will get as excited about role-playing and tabletop games as I am. If anyone has a local library that goes gaming programs, I’d love to hear about them!
*Stereotype? Yes. But also are librarians mostly white and female? Yes, they are, overwhelmingly.
I love books and playing games, and as a black women growing up in the south I had no idea that library science was even I thing I could go to school for. It’s a bit of a bummer. But I do have to say, you make being a librarian sound fun and engaging!
Thank you! It’s a really fun job and mine especially since I get a lot of freedom to try different, maybe non-traditional library programming like gaming. And yes, the lack of diversity in the profession – across all kinds of libraries, not just public libraries – is a really big problem. 🙁