Gaming in Libraries: How We Got a PS4 and How It Transformed Our Teen Space

First of all, don’t panic!

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No, you do not have to have a PS4 to incorporate gaming in the library.  Gaming is something that you can do with practically no budget (which we’ll be addressing in further posts).  But, if you want to go with a gaming system, but are worried people will say that it’s going to turn the library into an arcade, hear me out.

Was I a tad worried about getting an expensive game system and putting it in the Teen Space?  Uh, yeah!  Coming from a background in circulation, I am mildly paranoid about everything being stolen (and it’s been done quite creatively) so I wanted to security tag every piece of that bad boy.  Eventually, we settled on a rolling cart with a locking cabinet, and this has worked out just fine.  Miraculously, none of the controllers have wandered off either.  I originally wanted to check them out like we check out laptops and iPads, but our ILS is rather … unique, and it would cause more problems than it would prevent.  So for now, it’s totally on the teens to be responsible.  And they’re doing a really, really good job.

So how did we get this in the first place?  Well, the budget for our teen space had been approved by our Friends of the Library group, who would be providing the funding, during my predecessor’s tenure.  I fell into the project and ended up working with my supervisor on budgeting so that we could purchase essential furniture and still have room for some gaming equipment.  One of our smaller branches already had a Wii that was available for kids to use, and the Friends approved our proposal to purchase a gaming system for the larger branch where the teen space would be located.

My supervisor and I compiled a list of games we wanted to purchase to start out with, and submitted our choices to our tech guys.  About a week later, I walked into our shared office and there was a giant flatscreen on a cart and they said, “Here’s your PS4!”  Why in the office?  Well, one thing to make sure of before you actually get any of the gaming equipment is that you have somewhere to plug it in. Whoops.

We did a soft start for the PS4, just wheeling it out there and putting up signage.  I also posted on Facebook about it, but nothing too flashy.  At first, the teens who came over to the service desk couldn’t believe that they could play games in the library.  They tried giving us their library cards, and when we said they didn’t need them, they offered school ID.  They really, really, really wanted to play.

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At first, it was just a small group of regulars who would use the PS4.  I got really jealous every time I walked past and they were playing Injustice, because I wanted to be playing Injustice.  Alas, I am not a teen.  A gaming system is pretty much its own advertising, however.  Teens would be browsing for books and I’d hear one say, “Hey, did you get that controller here?”

I think we can all agree that middle school is pretty much hell on Earth.  It’s when cliques become CLIQUES and hormones hit and everything goes topsy turvy.  It can be a really delineated experience: you are in this group, but not allowed in that group.  You can talk to her, but not her or him or her.  But, ha HA!  The library is not middle school.  We’re a safe space where you can (gasp!) actually talk to a member of another group or grade without fear of reprisal.

By far, the heaviest users of our PS4 are middle schoolers.  And they ask to play in with each other.  With total strangers.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard one teen say, “That looks cool, but I don’t know how to play,” and the teen playing will say, “I’ll show you.  It’s easy, look…” Thus proceeds a lesson in the best moves to use in Injustice while playing as Batman.

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They’ve also devised ways of letting more than three people (that’s the number of controllers we currently have, and most of our games are 2 player) play at one time–it’s kind of an elaborate tournament system based on points or who lost to whom in a certain period of time–but it totally works.

Often, I’ll walk in after school, and there will be the kids who have the controllers, but they’ve amassed a crowd of spectators from the kids who were there doing trig homework.  It’s just a very cool vibe and clearly marks the space as being for teens.

The last hugely positive thing about the gaming system is that it allows teens who might not be able to play new video games at home play them for free.  Some teens come in with group homes or with big brothers or other mentors, and they don’t have the means to get an expensive PS4 for home.  But they can get it at the library.

I’ve only once had to tell teens that they were not allowed to play anymore, and that was a brother/sister spat (I’ve been there; I know).

If I were ever challenged about having a gaming system because “it rots your brain,” I’d argue that it teaches teens valuable social skills and fosters a sense of community.  Plus, it ups the awesome appeal of our teen space by a gajillion.

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