Library patrons paint up some of the miniatures donated to the program.

Today’s guest article is a joint venture of Gnome-In-Chief John Arcadian and Lori Caskey-Sigety of the Middlebury, Indiana library. Lori reached out to us about the possibility of donating to their gaming program, so we donated some books and some miniatures to the program, then we pulled Lori into helping us write an article about why library and community gaming program donations are important.

It is no secret that I’ve always been a fan of libraries, especially when it comes to gaming. Libraries are a great place to use the community rooms and play games at, and the trend of libraries hosting gaming programs is awesome in my book. Any type of gaming that occurs out in public and in support of the community can only help bring in more people to gaming. Community centers and libraries running gaming programs adds an extra tone of community service to gaming and can help highlight the incredible benefits that gaming can have in terms of building up social engagement and helping teens (especially) get into gaming. I’ve written about all this stuff here. Today, let’s tackle a different aspect of gaming at the library — donating to and helping library gaming programs prosper.

Why Supporting Programs Is Important

The standard library gaming program probably doesn’t have a lot of funding behind it. I’ve worked in libraries and I know the process of program starting and budget requests. It’s grueling. Every library handles it differently, but it usually starts with a Teen Services Librarian feeling that they have a group of teens that might be interested. They then go through the process of proposing the idea to the director or board, defending the utility and benefit to the community in multiple different ways, submitting a budget and finding time in the schedule, sometimes putting it before a community review board, finally getting approval, being given ½ to ¼ of the budget, purchasing as many books as they can with that, and then finding people to run the game.

Think about how many core rulebooks, players’ handbooks, dice, maps, and miniatures your average group uses to do this as a hobby. Now think about how many resources a program that might have 3 to 5 tables running at the same time need. Now think about how that would work if there were a large community to serve and there is no local gaming store in the area. This is what some library programs need to deal with to get off the ground, and this doesn’t even get into the issues of finding Game Masters to run the various games as the program grows.

Helping these kinds of programs out helps people find gaming. For the kid who uses the library because they aren’t the most social or who needs a place to go after school that isn’t their home (I’m definitely referencing myself here, the local library was my safe away space when I was young.), this is another venue for them to discover Tabletop Role Playing Games, and kids who discover it in this way are the ones most likely to get the benefit out of the program by being able to socialize with people who are as nerdy as they are.

I’m going to stop talking about my experiences with libraries and gaming, and I’m going to hand it over to someone far more experienced. Lori, the Teen Services Librarian at the Middlebury Community Public Library is in charge of her gaming program and can tell you about it from the trenches.  – John Arcadian

Intro to Middlebury Community Public Library (MCPL) Program

Lori unboxes donations of miniatures to the gaming program.

First of all, thanks to John and the staff at Gnome Stew for the generous donations! I was thrilled to open several boxes of painted and unpainted figures, games, and Monte Cook Games gaming books. We are grateful for the kindness, and we have already put some of the gifts to good use, using them as giveaways at programs, and putting them in a D&D display at the Schurz Library at Indiana University-South Bend that features the Pathfinder game. The rest are stored to be used for future gaming programs.

Let’s talk about the library’s program. The Dungeons & Dragon Club at MCPL was formed in October 2016. I asked staff and tweens/teens at the library, and viewed other public library websites and their teen pages to see what programming trends existed. I found that many public libraries hosted a D&D club, so I thought, why not? We tried it in October on a Saturday morning, and we were pleased to have 10 people in attendance. As of this writing, MCPL has had 6 sessions with 76 people in attendance! The students who play refer to each other by their character names. We will have one more session in May, will take June and August off, and will have a character creation/painting figures program in July, then host 4 sessions from September-December.

Our program, originally designed for tweens and teens ages 12 and up, but expanded to include adults. It has been a joy to watch the players bring their parents to the programs.

A Better Look at How Library Programs Run

There are a lot of steps in pulling off a successful library gaming program.

  • Ask the Director for permission.
  • Plan the times and dates. How long is the program going to last? (Ours is a three-hour session with a break for lunch.)
  • Make sure there is adequate desk coverage.
  • Book the meeting rooms. Publish them on the online calendar. Have online registration.
  • Make sure there are enough Gamemasters to run the games.
  • Write the blurb. Send it to your marketing person, if you have one. If you don’t, you’ll have to do the marketing.
  • Print out fliers and/or publish the program on the website.
  • Ask librarians to promote it at the schools.
  • On the day before the program, call, text, or email players as a reminder.
  • If refreshments are advertised, then make sure there are refreshments available and plan a budget for acquiring those for each session.

How a Library or Community Program Uses Donations and the Process of Donating

How a library or community program uses donations varies depending on available funds and resources. For D&D and other library programming, funds are used for materials, presenters, prizes, promotions, and refreshments. Mountain Dew and pizza can be expensive–and for gamers, or a long running program, food is a necessity. Funds can also be used for operating expenses like keeping the lights on so we have space to play! Any community oriented gaming program will be grateful for donations.

The best way to find out what a library needs is to simply ask! Despite the stereotype of being cranky curmudgeons, librarians are usually friendly and open to ideas, especially if patrons are wanting to assist. If the person you are asking doesn’t know, they will most likely redirect you to the right person.

There are several ways a person can assist with programs and/or donate to a library gaming program:

  • Friends Groups and Monetary Donations: Library-sponsored gaming programs are usually funded by the Friends of the Library (FOL). Joining the FOL or a gaming-sponsored group will help defray the costs of food and supplies. You can also directly assist with funding the specific event. Ask for the person in charge of the event. Check with that person to see if they can accept cash, check, and/or credit cards. Sometimes there are honorariums for featured presenters.
  • Time: Volunteers make a gaming event successful, especially if you are a seasoned GM. Offering to run a single game or a longer campaign will help you hone your storytelling craft as a GM. The event is more fun if there are enough GMs for the amount of players. Groups of 4-6 are best, I believe. From my experiences, smaller groups are easier to run, and PCs have more interaction and play. Also, if you are an experienced player, you can sit next to a newbie and assist that person during the game. (That helps the GM, especially if s/he is has a large party.)
  • Materials: There is a list of materials needed for running a D&D game. These include books, character sheets, dice and dice bag, figures, graph paper, paper for taking notes, pens, pencils, and maps. (If you want to be fancy, a vinyl battlemat is often used for campaigns.)
  • Refreshments: Gaming and food go hand-in-hand. So, you can help by donating beverages and snacks to the event. Have the good soda pop handy—2-liters of Coke and Mountain Dew are gaming favorites. Also, providing chips, a veggie tray, and contributing to a pizza fund are helpful.

So Go Donate and Help!

John here again, with a call out to you — go find a community or library program to donate some time or money to. We all come to gaming through different means, but helping the programs that are putting gaming into the public spotlight and getting it out there to more people is incredibly important. It is especially important to reach out to communities where discovering gaming may not be as easy. Rural libraries or libraries and community centers in more impoverished parts of the city are great ways to reach out to kids who don’t fit the suburban gamer mold. Go see if you can donate some time to run a game, some money to help a program buy supplies, or see if you can start your own program in your area.

What programs are running in your area? What libraries or community centers are around that you could run one at? What are your best stories about gaming in public programs?