Specials: Can't you just picture the head librarian busting a move to Dance Dance Revolution?
Kelly Czarnecki is the Teen Services Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois and she has a dream. She wants to put on the greatest video game presentation in a library ever!
OK, maybe not, but Kelly is no stranger to teens, video games and making one amazing program out of it at the library. With the help of Matt Gullett from the library's Information Tech Services department, Kelly created GameFest, a quarterly program where teens get together and play games, chat and eat pizza. The last GameFest was held on July 15th with a trio of game tournaments: Battlefield 1942, Mario Kart Double Dash and Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix. I had a chance to talk with Kelly and Matt about what makes GameFest tick and how libraries and games can co-exist for a long, long time.
If you would be so kind, could you introduce yourselves for my readers?
Kelly: I'm Kelly Czarnecki, Young Adult Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois. I've been here for 3.5 years. I always get last place in Mario Kart Double Dash when playing with my friends.
Matt: Oh, I'm Matt Gullett, the Information Technology Services Manager/Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois. I've been here for over seven years now. I've always played games of all sorts: Baseball, Basketball, Football, Tennis, Atari's Pong, Coleman's basketball and football, (I'm a bit of a Dinosaur), etc. Currently, I'm a big Katamari Damacy player. Occasionally I'll play Grand Turismo or Need For Speed Underground with my son.
How did you first get the idea for GameFest and when was the first one held?
Matt: I had been interested in interactive media within libraries ever since graduate school, but it wasn't until I had a few staff on board that were avid computer/video game players that I thought we might be able to create a program in the library about it.
Kelly: The first time Matt mentioned having a gaming program for teens, I knew I wanted to be a part of the event. Most of my previous programs had low turnouts and I thought this would definitely attract more young adults to the library. I was right. The first fest was held in October 2004 which was during a day off of school-we had one in the morning and one in the evening. For our first one it was a good set up since it attracted teens that just walked into the library and didn't know about it and many came back that same evening. We have had them quarterly and our fifth one is coming up this October.
What made you choose the games Mario Kart Double Dash, Battlefield 1942 and Dance Dance Revolution? Where other games considered and if so, what were they? I'd think Super Smash Bros. would be a natural pick for something like this.
Matt: We started with Battlefield 1942 because it was relatively inexpensive to put in a lab setting of 17 computers, plus it was a first person shooter with a Teen rating that we could turn off the blood and graphic violence too. DDR was chosen because we knew that females may not be all that interested in playing a World War II oriented game, plus it is also a nice social and much more physically active game. Mario Kart Double Dash was chosen because of its ability to have play with 8 simultaneous players. It is also relatively inexpensive now to put together if you can find the systems and pieces that are needed. We found out about Mario Kart from the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan who also runs a rather successful program. Yes, we've thought of Super Smash Bros. We just like things that can keep over 50 kids active while they are playing or waiting to play, so the more players at once the better.
How did you obtain all of the gaming equipment? Were there any technological problems setting it all up?
Matt: First off we had the 17 computers located in our Technology Room that was part of a grant project that constructed the room and equipped it with technology. We then purchased the DDR stuff and the Nintendo Game Cubes with left over grant money. We also received some assistance and discounted merchandise and prizes from various vendors (EB Games, Acme Comics & Best Buy) that has helped.
How did parents respond to the program?
Kelly: So far it's been very positive. One mom regularly brings her son that lives over 30 miles away because he enjoys the event so much. Last game fest, a parent brought their teen from Chicago suburbs which is about 150 miles away. He did win first place in DDR! Other parents have expressed relief that their teens can be out of the house AND get fed dinner on a Friday evening (and at the library!!)! We did have one parent express that her son felt other teens were taking up too much time on DDR and it wasn't very fair. Fortunately he did come back (and won second place on DDR). I haven't heard any parents question the types of games we're playing or the relevancy of them at the library (knock on wood).
How have the teens who attended responded to the program?
Kelly: Wonderful-numbers keep increasing each time and especially new people-one's that I haven't seen at the library before. Competition is friendly though intense at times. We've gotten helpful feedback too such as ?these DDR mats stink' (we have the RedOctane one's now), or ?more pizza'. (we're thinking about that one). Some teens have responded that there are too many young kids there (which means middle schoolers)-so we've tried to be more strict about the ages (12-17) and make sure no one younger is coming in-and working on opportunities for younger/older to have their own fests. We haven't had any discipline issues (save for the bathroom incident which won't be mentioned) since the teens are so focused on the spirit of playing and just hanging out and having a good time. We've found the more we can structure it to give all a maximum amount of playing time-the better for all.
Was the local media at Gamefest? How did they report on it?
Kelly: Not yet! A lot of librarian's blogs have picked up on the event though. We also had a presentation for local librarians on how they can set up their own game fest and that attracted people from around the U.S. since we had the software to set this up. The presentation is at: www.bloomingtonlibrary.org/gamefest
. We've been able to establish great partnerships with local stores including Acme Comics, EB Games, and Best Buy that have been very helpful in promoting our fests and donating prizes.
Matt: We actually just had the local media in yesterday and they are going to try to make it sometime in the next month or two.
Do you have any plans for the next GameFest? Any radical changes or will it follow the same basic game plan?
Kelly: Of course! We've organized the games into tournaments-before we just did all open play but we wanted to increase the competition a bit and recognize the good players. We have a few more GameCubes and might bring in D&D for the first time. The radical part is that our library will be going through an expansion process during our game fests that are scheduled for the spring. This might be a great opportunity for us to partner with a place in the community (movie theatre, community college, etc).
I noticed that GameFest is a strictly teens-only program? Why isn't the GameFest for all ages? Do you have plans for an all ages program?
Kelly: We do have our first family game fest scheduled for the beginning of November. This will be open to children 11 and younger with parents/guardians. We would like to eventually have an adult only program as well. We haven't had an all ages program yet since the skill levels, social skills, and appropriateness of games is so varied with kids/teens/adults. We want to design a program that will fit each of their needs in the best way possible.