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Circulating Video Games at the Library

Editor's Introduction

As we noted in our recent Library Technology, 2018 Year in Review, circulating nontraditional materials is certainly a trend. Want to add something to your "library of things" collection that will be an instant hit with your millennial patrons? Megan Keane reports in her Hack Library School blog post that it took a couple of tries before the Burlingame Public Library in California developed its first video game collection. The library trustees needed time to get on board with the idea and approve some funding. The library's circulating video game collection was an instant hit as soon as it launched — with almost no marketing.

The First Time Around

Several years ago, it occurred to library assistant Tiffany Nacion that it would be terrific if people could check out video games from the library, just like they might a DVD or a music CD. An avid gamer herself, Tiffany was often curious to try a new video game but was frequently daunted by the high price tag on individual games. It was hard to justify spending the money for a new game unless you already knew you enjoyed playing it. With this idea in mind, Tiffany pitched her idea of a video games collection to library trustees during its call for funding initiatives. Although her proposal wasn't funded the first time around, the trustees encouraged her to try again. A year later, Tiffany reapplied and got funding for the Burlingame Public Library (BPL)'s first video game collection.

"I think the timing was there the second time around," Tiffany explained. More public libraries were starting to circulate nontraditional library materials — mobile hotspots, toys, safety kits, and so on. With a growing gaming market and greater cultural acceptance of video games, it appeared to be an opportune time to experiment with the idea.

How to Start a Video Game Collection

The initial budget to start the collection was small — $1,000 — but these constraints helped keep the project manageable, especially in the beginning. Tiffany started out by accepting donations of video games in good condition but also by purchasing a number of new games for the major platforms in use, including PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch. She also solicited input from local video game players to help determine which games to add to the collection.

"A big part of the initial rollout of the collection was putting together justification for the purpose of the collection. We wanted to have research to back up the value and benefits of gaming beyond just the enjoyment factor, especially if we received any kind of skepticism or pushback from parents or other community members," explained Tiffany.

How to Circulate Video Games

Another part of the initial setup was figuring out the practical and logistical details about the circulation of the new collection. What kinds of circulation rules applied to the video games? How long were loan periods, and were items renewable? Should circulation be restricted to BPL patrons only, or would patrons within the library consortium also have video game borrowing privileges? Additionally, staff had to consider loss prevention and the security of the collection. The library decided to lend video games consortium-wide; circulate games for three-week periods with no renewals, and keep only the cases on the shelves with the game discs behind circulation.

Who Needs Marketing?

Marketing for the new program was minimal. "We purposely kept marketing (print and social media) efforts minimal in the beginning as we gauged community reception," said Tiffany. For the soft launch, BPL held a small community game night event to generate awareness and excitement about the new collection. Otherwise, BPL has mainly relied on displays and word of mouth to spread the word.

Feedback about video game circulation has been overwhelmingly positive. Through surveys and anecdotal feedback, community members have appreciated having access to hard-to-find or expensive games. Many also appreciate getting the chance to "test-drive" new games before making purchasing decisions. For others, the games bring up nostalgia for playing childhood video games, and it has been an enjoyable outlet for adult gamers to play or revisit the joys of gaming with their children.


There have been some hiccups with video game circulation. Initially, patrons were limited to one video game per person, but BPL noticed that savvy patrons found ways around this by creating multiple holds. BPL discovered that it had to let go of this circulation limitation. Another challenge was a lack of control over security measures at other libraries in the consortium. Other libraries did not necessarily follow the same security precautions by keeping video game holds behind the circulation desk. Yet loss has been minimal, with a single game theft.

Patrons Are Gaming for More

After about a year into the program, Tiffany is pleased to see its success beyond the initial grant. The collection has seen a slow but steady growth in circulation numbers. In the coming year, Tiffany hopes to grow the program with a marketing push on social media and other communication channels She would also like to put together displays that combine games with related books or other items in the collection related to gaming. BPL is also looking into expanding the collection by circulating gaming consoles. (Yes, that may even mean bringing new life into the Atari 64 sitting in a garage!) While time is always a limiting factor in sustaining and growing the video game collection, Tiffany is optimistic that the slow and steady growth of the program combined with community enthusiasm and interest will continue to have patrons gaming for more.

About the Author

Megan Keane is a TechSoup for Libraries special contributor. She is a longtime nonprofit techie, community builder, and yoga instructor turned librarian. After recently finishing her MLIS degree from San Jose State University, Megan currently works as a public librarian in the SF Bay Area. When not in the library, Megan can be found teaching or practicing yoga, hiking, or curled up with a good book, and she is a self-professed penguin nutcase … enthusiast. Connect with her on Twitter: @penguinasana.