Walk into the Regina Public Library’s Central branch and it’s a different entity from 10 years ago: Computers are the centrepiece of the main floor, music and DVD rentals have their own sizeable section on the second floor and the children’s branch has touch-screen computers and a green screen display.
And with the introduction of video games into its catalogue, UFC, NBA, Transformers and Duck Dynasty have a larger physical presence in the library.
The initiative began at the Saskatoon Public Library. Since then, it has expanded into Regina, Moose Jaw, North Battleford, and Prince Albert.
The Queen City’s foray into the experiment began two years ago when the Regina Public Library’s Regent Place branch introduced video games to their catalogue. Branch head Jason Hammond remembers the selection was small, and the demand was huge.
“They were one of our highest circulated items,” he said.
“I walked in and there were five video games on the shelf because they were so popular.”
It was difficult for Hammond to pin down the most popular game.
“I can tell you what the least popular was,” he said.
“(It was) the dancing games.”
The library originally shied away from violent M-rated games and focused on more family friendly titles, like those based on the LEGO franchise.
“There’s been a loosening up, but my understanding is they were going to purchase some of the more adult games . . . Halo, or something like that, where you’re killing aliens and not humans,” he said.
There were issues with games not being returned to the library, however, so the central branch took on the video game collection and used their own sorting policy to keep track of the games.
Despite such issues, Hammond didn’t see any opposition to the inclusion of video games.
“You might expect that you would get a certain contingent of people that would say ‘video games in a library? That’s terrible!’”
“I never got those complaints,” he said.
University of Regina English Masters student and parent Michelle Jones welcomes the inclusion of video games.
“We go (to the library) a lot already because my son loves going, but if he found out there were video games there, I'd probably end up there on a daily basis,” she said.
Jones has even seen the positive effects that video games have on her son’s academics. She notes that her seven-year-old son is “at the top of his class academically because his reading and problem-solving skills are so developed. He finished The Hobbit entirely on his own.”
“A lot of these games also come with a narration, too, which gets them interested in reading -- especially if it is a game that has been developed from a book. My son and I are reading The Hobbit right now, and that's because of the video game,” she said.
Ultimately, Jones sees the times changing for the better.
“I would define (a library) as a place that gives you access to any number and type of learning materials, whether it be books, e-books, toys, or video games. All those things have learning potential, so they are something that everyone should have access to,” she said.
Other scholars are seeing the benefits of video games, too. A 2013 study by the American Psychiatric Association found that playing video games, particularly violent shooters, “may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.”
Additionally, the APA noted that children who spent more time playing strategic games “improved in problem solving and school grades the following year.”
RPL Central Adult branch head Navee Blair said video games can serve as a gateway to other library services. Games as well as the RPL’s music and movie streaming services are seen as necessary methods for engaging modern patrons. Blair sees the library itself becoming a venue for learning and entertainment.
“People visit here, exchange ideas...it’s an exciting place to be,” she said.
“I think we’re increasingly becoming a place where people can meet . . . It’s no longer the quiet place you used to think of years ago,” Blair said.