Libraries use video games to attract teens

Glowing signs mark the entry to The Metro, the teen department in the Main Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown.
Glowing signs mark the entry to The Metro, the teen department in the Main Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library downtown.

The electronic ding-ding-ding of Sonic the Hedgehog collecting coins became familiar background noise in the teen section of the Main Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public library downtown recently as video games were introduced for young patrons.

Cousins Jojuan Fisher, 15, and Jquan Fisher, 13, were among the first last week to play XBox, one of the three video game systems now available at the main library. The boys tried out the new game Sonic Unleashed.

“It's cool,” Jojuan said of the setup as his cousin directed the blue character toward a row of gold coins.

The noise didn't bother Tony Schafer, the popular/teen library manager at the main library.

“As gaming itself has become a communal experience over the years, this was a great way to draw kids in,” Mr. Schafer said.

He helped create the new program for the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library which offers video gaming in teen areas at the main library and the Reynolds Corners branch. Both locations offer gaming on wall-mounted flat screen televisions within glass enclosed rooms to control — but not totally eliminate — the noise.

“We've relaxed a lot of rules. It's going to be a little noisy,” Mr. Schafer said.

Within the last decade, libraries nationwide have embraced gaming as a way to get teens through their doors, said Linda Braun, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Video games were once criticized by parent groups for promoting violence and childhood obesity. But studies now suggest that video games may have a positive impact by fostering literacy as well as team-building and problem- solving skills in young gamers.

“The literacy aspect is huge,” Ms. Braun said. “Many video games have books related to them. And there is a lot of reading that goes on with actual game play.”

Video gaming in libraries also empowers teens to teach each other tricks of the games in an “environment where adults are around to help discuss behavior and manage behavior,” Ms. Braun said.

Toledo-Lucas County Public Library staff visited other libraries with video gaming for teenagers in Westerville and Cleveland Heights before setting up their own program.

The library system isn't the first to introduce gaming in the Toledo area.

The Monroe County Library System owns several video game systems — two Nintendo Wii, four Nintendo Gamecube, two Playstation2, and one XBox360 — which library branches may reserve for special programs and events.

Since gaming systems were added to library collections four years ago, they have become the main attraction at special teen and after-hour programs, said Kelli Strimbel, a youth services technician for branches in Dundee and Maybee, Mich. Ms. Strimbel hopes gaming will help youngsters rediscover resources available at libraries.

“When I was growing up, I thought libraries are boring and they had nothing to offer me but books. But that's not true,” Ms. Strimbel said. “We have a lot to offer.”

Rossford Public Library, which has more than 250 video games available for check out, about a year ago started an organized game day for teens at least once a month. The video game Rock Band — and a certain 1980s rock group — are a hit for the gatherings in the library's community room, said Kristine Goldsmith, children specialist and public relations coordinator.

“That's the big one here, because they love Bon Jovi,” Ms. Goldsmith said.

Game days allow teens to play video games together instead of at home alone, and Wii Bowling and Dance Dance Revolution give them some exercise, too, Ms. Goldsmith said.

The Toledo-Lucas County libraries will soon introduce similar gaming events, and have purchased a stage for gaming tournaments and other teen programing, said Mr. Schafer.

Bringing teens to the library now will pay off for decades, Mr. Schafer said, as the youngsters grow to have families of their own.

“They're the next generation,” Mr. Schafer said. “They are the ones who are going to bring their kids in for story hours and things someday.”