The Harbinger Online

Johnson County Libraries incorporate video games

Perusing gameinformer.com for reviews of video games like “The Beatles: Rock Band” and “Madden NFL 10” may seem unconventional for a librarian.

But since 2007, when the Johnson County Library system first incorporated video games into its selection, it has been a normal part of Youth Collection Specialist Debbie McLeod’s daily grind.

The goal of expanding the library’s collection to include video games began as an effort to bring more kids through the library doors.  McLeod said that around the age of 11 and 12, kids, especially boys, begin to lose an interest in reading.

“Boys are more action oriented,” McLeod said.  “Girls’ language development is ahead of many boys, but boys’ motor skills are more advanced than girls’.”

Putting video games on the shelves, along with the more recent development of hosting gaming tournaments at Johnson County Libraries, makes the library a more appealing place for all audiences in McLeod’s eyes.

East Librarian Chris Larson also believes video games are a good way to lure kids to public libraries.  However, she does not think it would work at East because they would disrupt the school learning environment.

“It’s a different area of the brain,” Larson said.  “Hand-eye coordination is great to develop.  There are certain skills and careers that are based on that.  But I don’t think there is any substitute for reading.”

Back in 2007, video games were first put into the Lackman branch, soon followed by the Blue Valley branch.  The collection has since been deemed “floating,” meaning that games are spread throughout the Johnson County Libraries by where they are checked out and returned.  Like books, the checkout time for video games is currently at 21 days.

McLeod’s budget for video games is $40,000 this year, which is about one tenth of her budget for printed materials.  It is up from 2009’s budget, which was $25,000.  So far, the library system has accumulated 1,821 games.

The games are purchased on the basis of demand, popularity and rating.  Originally, she bought four copies per title on three platforms (XBOX 360, PS3 and Wii).  Last year she expanded to eight, and now it has been upped to ten.

Although games such as “Call of Duty” and “Halo” are popular among children and adults across the nation, McLeod stays away from these types of “shooter” games that are rated “M” for mature audiences.  Only “E” for Everyone  and “T” for Teen rated games are accepted.  She uses Web sites like gameinformer.com and esrb.org (Entertainment Software Ratings Board) to decide whether content is appropriate.

“Everyone knows when kids have fun they learn,” McLeod said.  “It does give kids an idea of storyline.  All video games have some sort of a storyline.  It’s more free-flowing than you will find in a book.  Younger kids sometimes can’t stick with that linear stuff; they like to go all over the place.”

To further attract kids into libraries, the Johnson County’s Central Resource Library hosted their latest gaming tournament on Dec. 29.  Sixty-four competitors faced off in “Mario Kart” for the Wii system. In the past, as many as 128 gamers have competed in the tournament.  According to Johnson County’s Young Adult Librarian Kate Pickett, the Central Resource Library usually hosts three gaming tournaments per year over fall, winter and spring breaks. Other games that the library has used for tournaments include “Super Smash Brothers,” “Soul Caliber 4” and “Madden NFL 09.”

Like Larson, English teacher Debe Bramley is a proponent of video games being available for checkout at libraries.  According to Bramley, the idea becomes more important when it brings in reluctant readers, who may never set foot in a library without a catalyst like video games.  Even then, Bramley reiterated the importance of books.

“There’s something so intimate about sitting down with a book and getting lost in your own imagination,” Bramley said.

Freshman William Barbour has no dislike for reading, but prefers a good video game to a good book.   On a typical school night, he games 4 to 5 hours.  His favorite type of game is the aforementioned “shooter” that the Johnson County Library system does not stock.

“Video games are a media that is more interactive than books,” Barbour said.  “If you’re trying to be creative yourself, books are the best choice.  If you want to be immersed in something more visual, I would definitely pick video games.”

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