119 – Boardgames in Libraries – The Family Gamers Podcast

Episode 119 - Boardgames in Libraries

Our guest this week is Jenn Bartlett, “The Boardgame Librarian”. Jenn works at a public library in Connecticut, and part of her job is to “cultivate a boardgame collection, run a boardgame program, and do a lot of outreach and education too. I get to be an awesome librarian who works with awesome boardgames!”

Have you always wanted to be a librarian?

“I probably should have known… I always had a book with me.” But Jenn originally studied journalism in college. Graduating in 2008, newspapers and journalism were changing a lot, and jobs were hard to find. Jenn had worked part-time in a library while in school, and figured maybe that could work for a while.

“Life is never exactly what we think it’s going to be.”

How did you go from librarian to boardgame librarian?

Jenn credits her husband for getting her started with games. It’s always been a big part of his life, and now it’s a big part of Jenn’s life too. She made it a component of her job, because she approached her director to talk about the power of different things that can change people. Not just books, but gaming and experiences can also bring people together and make connections.

It didn’t start with the collection, it started with running a boardgaming group. Jenn wanted to see if there was any interest in gaming at the library, since her city already has 2 game stores and a large meet-up group. After the group was already quite strong, Jenn and her fellow librarians decided to undertake the task of adding many of the games for general circulation.

(Here Jenn encourages us to reach out to our local library and see about doing boardgame meetups there. We discuss the game scene in our local area… or lack thereof.)

How did you start the gaming group?

About three years ago, Jenn pitched a monthly game group for adults to her boss. “This is happening, and it’s going to be amazing.”

Jenn attended GenCon and pitched her library group to several publishers for donations. Rio Grande Games and GMT were the all-stars, donating several games each.

The very first meeting of the game group had 18 people! They quickly determined that 2½ hours was not long enough, especially if they wanted to play crunchier games.

What does the library gaming group look like now?

Attendance now is normally 25-45 people. The group is very friendly; half the attendees are female and many of them are Millennials.

The library gaming group runs for 4 hours once a month, and is focused on teaching and demos. People generally don’t bring in their own games, since there’s too much risk of damage.

Jenn makes about 5 games available each session, and now she has volunteer teachers to help run games, too. Since all the setup is already done at the library, players don’t have to stress about setup or reading the rulebook. Just sit down and play.

How did you get boardgames into circulation?

Jenn decided with the game collection they had built for the gaming group, it should really be available to the general public.

Besides the processing involved, there were a lot of decisions to be made: how long the games could be checked out, whether they could be returned at other branches, what the fines should be, how many games could a patron check out. The processing also involved lots of bagging and stickers and security procedures. (Security: all the pieces get counted. The circulation staff was not terribly excited at this prospect.)

Jenn reveals that one of the most popular games at the library is Dominant Species – an incredibly hard, incredibly complex game. But it has cute dinosaurs! This inspired Jenn to put difficulty stickers onto all the game boxes. Most of the games that are taken out are gateway, family-weight games (our favorites!) It fits a need she didn’t anticipate, but it’s great.

How do we recommend games to parents?

Jenn’s difficulty stickers are a start. Here at The Family Gamers, we make it our business to help parents find the right games to play with their kids!

All of us advocate playing games to create memories together as a family, as a couple, or with friends.

Do you find many people come into the library and the boardgame wall catches their eye?

Modern games, the boxes are so colorful and attractive. The kids, in particular, will wander over and start picking up boxes, and convince their parents to take a game home.

People rarely start playing games right in the library; they’re much more likely to take the games home.

If a listener doesn’t have boardgames at their local library, who should they talk to? What resources exist?

Jenn gets calls from all over the country to assist other libraries to start a collection. Be specific! Maybe The Family Gamers should offer to host/teach a family game night at our library, at a specific time, with a specific goal. What age range will this bring in to the library?

There’s tons of research on teens or kids playing games and how it helps in other areas of life. Bring some of that research with you to convince the librarian why games are a good idea.

Be persistent if the librarian does not get back to you. Try again! (Most libraries probably have a gamer on staff. Look for that person and form a connection.)

What have we been playing?

We’re really excited by the games we’ve received from Peaceable Kingdom (Gnomes at Night and Catch!). We can’t believe it took us this long to try their games!

As listeners know, we’ve also been playing a lot of Ghost Fightin’ Treasure Hunters… and our kids have been playing Dice Forge.

Jenn has been obsessed with The Reckoners recently; and it’s motivating her to read the books by Brandt Sanderson. She and her husband also play a lot of roll-and-writes while sitting on the couch watching TV.

She’s just starting to try the GMT COIN (COunterINsurgencies) series, starting with Pendragon.

Anything currently on Kickstarter that you’re excited about?

Fireball Island is a huge nostalgia trip for Jenn’s husband, and they’re patiently waiting for it to arrive. They’re also interested in Atlantis Rising, a co-op that’s being republished.

(We’re patiently waiting for Fire in the Library, Fire Tower, Campaign Trail, Re-Chord, and thinking about Tidal Blades.)

Find Jenn (The Boardgame Librarian) online:

Mostly on Instagram: @boardgame.librarian
BGG: @boardgamelibrarian
Twitter: @Boardgamelibra1

Jenn also has a weekly segment on the Dice Tower’s Board Game Breakfast – “From the Page to the Table”

Find us online:

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Twitter: @familygamersaa
Instagram: @familygamersaa

Community: thefamilygamers.com/community

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The Family Gamers Podcast is sponsored by Wild East Games. Find Wild East Games online at WildEastGames.com, or @WildEastGames on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.