Libraries should consider beefing up their gaming collections as a way to keep kids and teens coming, says a new study examining patron use and preferences.
“Clearly, if libraries are serious about attracting younger patrons, games are a medium to be embraced strategically,” says “Patron Profiles: Media Consumption and Library Use,” the final installment of a four-part national study by our sister publication, Library Journal. “If libraries are going to remain relevant in the world of rich media content, they must offer a wide range of digital content products.”
Although the survey’s 2,020 respondents were 18-years-old and above, a section of the report focusing on patron use of video games offers some interesting insight into the behavior and preferences of library users that can help librarians improve or plan their programming.
“Digital games get a lot of attention in Libraryland, especially when it comes to teen programming,” the report goes on to say, but among households with children, only 54 percent were aware that libraries lend them. Of those families, 20 percent indicated a strong desire that libraries offer digital games, while 33 percent had a moderate desire. Of all those surveyed, 65.7 percent said they didn’t know their library lent games.
With only 15 percent of respondents saying they were aware that libraries offered video games, it’s not surprising they ranked dead last on the list of places to obtain them, with only 6 percent of gamers saying they turn to the library as a primary resource. Retailers such as Target and Walmart led the pack, followed by gaming stores, online purchases, and getting them from family and friends. Downloading gaming apps and buying them on eBay even ranked higher than the library as top sources.
But the demand is there. Respondents between the ages of 31-40 were most interested in borrowing children’s games from the library, with 43.8 percent of them saying they would. Meanwhile, an almost equal amount of patrons under age 31 (23.2 percent) and those between ages 41-50 (23.8 percent) say they’re interested in borrowing children’s games.
When it came to games for teens, 27.7 percent of all respondents between the ages of 31-40; 30.5 percent of those 31 years old and under; and 19.9 percent of those between the ages of 41-50 say they’d be interested in checking them out. There was less interest in educational games, with 28 percent of those between 31-40, 23 percent of those between 41-50, and 16.5 percent of those 31 and under saying they would check them out. And, the report says, younger age groups outpace the average by a “significant percentage” when checking out games.
Overall, only about one-third of survey respondents knew libraries loaned video games, which can be explained by the fact that the mean age of those surveyed was about 54, generally a bit older than families with gaming tweens and teens.
If librarians want to compete with other sources and stay relevant, they must understand the demographics of their patrons and monitor any changes in borrowing activity, especially across various media, the report concludes.
“If you aren’t doing so already, offering or programming gaming for families, kids, and teens can entice younger patrons or parents with children,” the report says. “Consider the social aspects of this activity, and enhance the library as a place that creates community in all formats.”
The report goes on to say that young families may be particularly interested in educational apps and games. “Display the library’s curation mastery by developing lists to go home with or offering iPads or tablets preloaded with good apps for a variety of age levels,” the report explains.
“This issue of Patron Profiles is rich with insight into how patrons currently tap media in their libraries,” said Rebecca T. Miller, series editor and SLJ editor-in-chief. “It also points to sleeping opportunity and confronting challenges for libraries as the culture embraces more diverse media and as formats shift.”
Also, the report recommends that librarians include media creation—such as videos taken on Flip cameras—into their programming, especially for teens. “Load the results on to YouTube, and share them on your website and via social networks. Tweet out the links!” the report says.
Although patrons of all ages borrow CDs, younger ones don’t want to wait for them. “This might be an opportunity to offer buy-it-now options for this demographic—especially in the age of the decline in bookstores and other brick and-mortar media outlets,” the report adds. “This may also point to younger patrons’ familiarity with free or affordable streaming services,” such as Pandora and Spotify.
“Patron Profiles: Media Consumption and Library Use” is the fourth installment of volume one in an ongoing research project. Read Library Journal’s full coverage of the report.