Thursday, January 8, 2009

Vidya Games at the Lieberry

The Edmonton Public Library has started carrying video games for the Wii, XBox 360, and Playstation 3 consoles. As far as I can find out, this wasn't advertised except through the EPL blogs. I found out from the signs posted on the hold shelves stating that video games were being held at the information desk. They have about 150 game titles, fairly evenly split between the three consoles. At this time, they're limiting the collection to games rated Teen and younger.

My immediate knee-jerk reaction is "oh noes! lie-berries are for books!!11!eleventyone!!". But my snobbery is beaten out by what an interesting idea this is. It's been more and more common for public libraries in the UK and other parts of Europe to have video game collections and it's working well for them. I'm sure there will be squawking as there was when they introduced theatrical films (as opposed to only documentary, educational, and culturally important films) and then more recently graphic novels (as opposed to "real" books) into the collection. There's an archaic but still sometimes present line of thinking that libraries ought to be stocking only what people "should" be reading or viewing, things that will make them better, smarter, more moral members of society. Boo-urns to that, I say.

It's mostly common now for public libraries to subscribe to the Freedom of Information side of things. Libraries stock what patrons want and pass no judgement upon them for it. As I understand it, the library is taking the position that video games can be considered forms of art (both visually and musically) and recognizes that games are increasingly heavy on storytelling. Really, why not branch further away from more traditional forms of art, storytelling, and education? The only caveat I would add is that money shouldn't be taken away from the book budget to buy video games.

This knee-jerk reaction was also tempered by how this benefits me. I was never much of a gamer until recently, but I'm still wary of trying new games. Now I can try same games for free to see if I want to take the plunge to buy them. I don't know how much I'll take advantage of the collection, but I like that the potential is there.

The second reaction was wondering how they're going to combat theft. Video stores frequently won't let customers rent video games without a valid credit card on file. If you don't have a valid credit card, they won't rent games to you without enough information to send you to collections should you make off with their stuff. Sure, I can steal two bestseller novels from the library which would cost as much as a new video game brand new, but the resale value on used books versus used video games is quite different.

I don't think there's much need to be concerned about existing cardholders who know if they want to keep borrowing stuff from the library they have to return things and can't rack up their fines beyond $15. No, I think the people who check them out are fairly likely to return them. The problem is the people who steal items without checking them out. I asked at the information desk about the games since David and I couldn't find them in the AV section. The librarian told me that the first day when they put ten games out at this branch, all ten were stolen. They're now switching to holds only, so the games remain behind the counter and a hold must be placed and processed as normal. There's a limit of one game at a time per account, they may be checked out for one week, and the overdue fee is $2 per day.

I'm interested to see how this works out.

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