Lending Luigi: video games in libraries

Librarian’s creed, photo by Erik Leijon

In news that may either delight or depress you, Montreal’s biggest library has just opened its new video game lending section.

In truth, the Grande Bibliothèque on de Maisonneuve and Berri already introduced a video game section for kids last March, but their new 14-and-older racks — currently 1,000 games strong and mostly containing current-day hits of the Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, NHL variety — represent a more serious step into a brave new world where books and games sit side by side in library stacks.

Games are loaned out for three weeks, and in theory can be renewed two more times if no one puts a hold on them. The current collection is made up mostly of donations, many of them from Electronic Arts (who run a trio of studios in Montreal), but in the future, the library will be purchasing games (not sure how their employees feel, as they’ve been without a collective bargaining agreement since June 2011).

The idea of a library allocating money to gaming may be disconcerting, but it’s worth noting that the Grande Bibliothèque has always embraced new media (they even have a sweet manga section), and given their mandate to preserve and offer free access to Quebec culture, one could see how games should qualify too.

“Games deserve their place among the other significant cultural media of our time, on par with television and graphic novels,” says Dr. Guy Berthiaume, CEO of the library’s operator, the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ), pointing out the Smithsonian and MoMA are two major institutions that have already embraced gaming.

“Our hope is that by providing video games, teenagers who come here will understand that all the doors of the library are open to them as well.”

Plus, with new technology threatening the very future of libraries (even the famed New York Public Library is at a philosophical crossroads), at least BAnQ is responding to what young people want. The kids’ gaming section has been a huge success: usually about 75 per cent of the games are loaned out at any given time (“imagine if 75 per cent of the books were taken out, how that would look,” Berthiaume points out).

So here’s hoping teens looking to borrow Call of Duty might be tempted to grab a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front while they’re at it. ■

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