Don't Just Roll the Dice: Simple Solutions for Circulating Tabletop Game Collections Effectively in Your Library

By Robson, Diane; Phillips, Jessica et al. | Library Resources & Technical Services, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Don't Just Roll the Dice: Simple Solutions for Circulating Tabletop Game Collections Effectively in Your Library


Robson, Diane, Phillips, Jessica, Guerrero, Steven, Library Resources & Technical Services


An increase in tabletop game collections in all types of libraries has led to questions about library practices related to these materials, specifically preservation, processing, and circulation. Research related to game collections in libraries is also growing, but there is still a lack of information specifically related to tabletop games. The University of North Texas (UNT) Media Library began collecting games in 2009 to support campus curricula and student engagement. The tabletop game collection has expanded in the past few years to 580 games. When the collection was small, it was restricted to campus use only with limited circulation. The growth of the collection resulted from student funds that required reducing restrictions and allowing regular campus circulation. A research project was developed to determine best practices and standards for preserving and processing tabletop games for circulation in the UNT Libraries. Some of the unknowns that the library wished to examine were the potential longevity of a tabletop game, preservation processes that might increase this longevity, and processes that might ease circulation time and limit loss. In 2015, the availability of a UNT Grant made it possible to investigate these unknowns.

Project Description

At the beginning of the project, the UNT Media Library tabletop game collection consisted of 175 games in closed stacks for campus use only. The authors, a preservation librarian, cataloger, and circulation desk manager, proposed a research project to assess different preservation methods for tabletop games to ensure their longevity as a circulating collection. This project was also conducted to determine which circulation processes and procedures were necessary to reduce the loss of pieces without causing undue burden to circulation desk staff.

This project is beneficial to libraries because there are no comparable studies available to determine the best practices or standards for tabletop game collections. Currently, most of the information related to the subject of preserving games is anecdotal and posted on Facebook or game forums.

Literature Review

The published literature about game collection management is sparse. Nicholson's "Go Back to the Start: Gathering Baseline Data about Gaming in Libraries" included a question about game circulation but none about processing. (1) A more recent survey about tabletop collections, "Arranging the Pieces: A Survey of Library Practices Related to a Tabletop Game Collection," included questions related to barcoding and processing. (2) Survey responses indicated the need for best practices to help guide libraries with tabletop collections. Libraries Got Game: Aligned Learning Through Modern Board Games by Mayer and Harris includes a section on how they manage and loan their collection at Genesee Valley. (3) In his paper "Dungeons and Downloads: Collecting Tabletop Fantasy Role-Playing Games in the Age of Downloadable PDFs," Sich briefly discusses the circulation of roleplaying publications and ensuring completeness of a set. (4) Another paper, "The Protean Challenge of Game Collections at Academic Libraries" by Cross, Mould, and Smith includes a summary of the reasons why tabletop games can be difficult to collect. (5) No concrete practices are discussed or evaluated in any of these papers.

While the authors did not find anything in the professional literature concerning the preservation of actively circulating tabletop games, there is a wealth of suggestions from non-professionals found in blog posts and gaming forums. Some suggestions, while excellent, are not options that a library can easily implement for a circulating collection. These include the use of acrylic sheets to cover maps and delicate boards, which would be unwieldy to store and transport, plus implementing strict no food or drink policies, which would be impossible for the authors to enforce. (6) Another recommendation was to apply a layer of contact paper to the surface of game boards to serve as a barrier against wear. …

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