Part of the modern board game narrative is focused on the growing appeal of board games, on how more and more people are playing board games and on how board game sales are soaring year-on-year. Board game cafés get a lot of the attention, and rightly so: in the past few years board game cafés have sprung up everywhere and are thriving. We talk so much about the social appeal of modern board games it makes sense that people are talking about board game cafés.
We talk less about the fact that libraries are slowly opening their eyes to the potential of board games. Let me emphasise that this is a very slow process. The lack of libraries embracing board games is both to-be-expected and somewhat surprising. To-be-expected because the board game renaissance of recent years has gone under the radar a little, and because board games still have something of an antiquated, out-of-date image in some quarters (“who’s still playing Monopoly?” say the naysayers). And just consider that the public image of board games is out of keeping with what the public expects from its public library services. Traditional library patrons have a hard time seeing games as anything other than frivolous wastes of time for children. These same people have an equally hard time seeing public libraries as anything other than silent moratoriums for books. And backwards-looking higher-ranked executives in charge of libraries see them as expensive, pointless antiquities with no place in modern society (“Who reads books?” say these ironically out-of-date executives). And when you factor in my own library service’s failed past attempts to embrace games — which ended shortly after the first PlayStation 3 was stolen and sometime around the first complaint of children making too much noise — it’s little wonder that libraries are reluctant to embrace games.
But it’s also somewhat surprising because board games and libraries are in many ways a perfect fit. Modern board games are about social inclusion. They’re about spending time with people, about enjoying the company of friends and family. And people who play board games have a kind of evangelical need to promote games, to get more people playing games together. And what are libraries if not places that seek to foster an atmosphere of community, of inclusivity? Things are slowly starting to change. Libraries are waking up to the potential of board games. But it could be better. Much better.
This is where International Games Week comes in.
Started by the American Library Association and the Gaming and Games Round Table group, International Games Week is a global initiative which this year takes place between October 29th and November 4th and is built around one theme. IGW seeks to
reconnect communities through their libraries around the educational, recreational, and social value of all types of games.
In a time when libraries are under increasing pressure and threats, when they’re facing financial cuts and closures, events like IGW serve as a timely reminder of why we have libraries and why they’re important. IGW is also a great opportunity to showcase the social importance of board games and to promote the sense of community that is at the heart of games and public libraries.
Last year nearly 2000 libraries across 53 countries took part in IGW. That’s great; that’s tens of thousands of people visiting and discovering libraries and learning all about why games are so great. But it could be even greater, which is why I’m doing my own small bit to promote IGW and to encourage other people to get involved.
If you live in or around Newcastle upon Tyne you are cordially invited to Newcastle City Library on Saturday 4th November for an open day of board games and card games. In the true spirit of IGW, we’ll be introducing people to the joys of modern board games and showing people exactly why games are for everyone and why everyone should be playing. If you’re feeling generous and would like to help, or if you just have board games you really, really, really feel other people should know about, get in touch with me through this site’s contact form.
But the support we get for this event goes beyond IGW. Our IGW event will be one small toe in the water, a small test to see if there’s an appetite for more board games in our libraries. A successful IGW event could pave the way for future events, for board game groups, maybe even for a board game collection in the library.
If you don’t live anywhere near Newcastle, there might be events happening close to you. Visit the IGW website for more information. And if there’s nothing happening near you, why not make something happen? You don’t have to work in a library to take part in International Games Week, you just have to want to help out. So get in touch with your local library and ask them if they’d be interested in helping you organise a board gaming event. With your help and support we can show people why board games are good and why libraries are good and why they’re both necessary components in our communities.