Case Studies: Academic Libraries

Library Technology Reports, September-October 2006 | Go to article overview

Case Studies: Academic Libraries


College Students: The Middle of the Bell Curve

If individuals age thirty-five and under are classified as "native gamers," then today's college students are situated in the middle of the proverbial bell curve. They are not the early adopters (now in their thirties), and they are not the youngest gamers, the ones who merit the early childhood (EC) rating for video games. They have been exposed to video games their entire lives and have grown up with them in a way that no other generation before them has. Video games, to them, are like electricity--always there when needed (especially these days, thanks to ubiquitous WiFi and cell phones).

This description is examined in a study conducted by Steve Jones, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and senior research fellow for the Pew Internet & American Life Project. (1) His study surveyed, via a paper-based method, students at twenty-seven universities in the United States, while students at twenty-five institutions were targeted with an online survey. In-person observations and interviews were also conducted at ten universities.(2) Jones and his research assistants found that 70 percent of the respondents reported playing games "at least once in a while," while 65 percent considered themselves to be "regular" or "occasional" game players.

Although these numbers surprised the researchers--who were expecting higher percentages of those who played games once in a while or regularly--one statistic was stunning. Jones and his colleagues found that every single student respondent had played a video, computer, or online game at some point in his or her life. (3) In addition, only 2 percent of the respondents cited "a lack of resources or access to games" as a factor in non-play (which further highlights how games transcend socioeconomic barriers). Even more stunning was the finding that only one-half of 1 percent cited unfamiliarity with any game. According to Jones, this is a statistical anomaly in Pew's studies, which traditionally have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 to 5 percent.

This data clearly shows just how ingrained gaming is for this generation. Even for those who do not play video games often, they have a frame of reference about games and gaming that other generations simply do not. To at least some degree, they understand the language, symbols, and lessons of video games as knowledge currency, and they can discuss them with their peers in a way that members of older generations cannot.

One further note about Jones's research-for reasons difficult for "older" people to understand (I'm not sure I understand it myself)--the survey respondents did not consider playing games on cell phones to be "gaming," which most likely affected the way they answered the questions. It is quite possible the seemingly low 65 to 70 percent range is indeed low, in part, because generations define gaming differently. Once professionals in the library field recognize that Jones's survey further supports what Beck and Wade and Johnson have proposed, librarians can begin the discussion of how libraries need to adapt or add services for this generation.

Z. Smith Reynolds Library at Wake Forest University

In 2005, staff members at Wake Forest University's Z. Smith Reynolds Library were directed to create and implement a gaming program in a very short period of time (approximately four months). Lynn Sutton, the library's director, had learned about other academic libraries considering offering gaming services, so she brought the idea back to her staff. "When I first heard another academic library director say [the library] had sponsored a Game Night, I was immediately entranced with the idea. I came home and said what all staff [members] hate to hear from their director, 'They are doing XYZ at institution ABC, why can't we do that?'" (4)

In June, Sutton directed her staff to put together a plan for a gaming program. …

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