Librarians Report: Big Program, Small Budget

Passion, dedication, and persistence are three characteristics anyone who plans library programming possesses. To produce a program with little to no budget, one needs those qualities and more. In the case of TableToppers, I have passion, dedication, and persistence in spades.

Tabletop game collection
Tabletop game collection at the first TableToppers meeting – September 2014
Photo by Dalene Schrier

Spring 2014: Inspired by Wil Wheaton and my love of tabletop gaming, I approached my supervisors at Bentonville Public Library (BPL) about starting a tabletop gaming group. To my surprise, they agreed albeit with a caveat: I had to get everything donated. There was no extra budget for games. Luckily I like a challenge! After thinking about the best way to get games donated, I immediately began researching game publishers. Why not go directly to the source? With the assistance of the library’s wordsmith, we prepared a letter that was sure to get game donations. While some publishers did post their address online, some had online request forms. Using the same text from the letters we had multiple avenues for requesting support.

Local game stores in Northwest Arkansas showed enthusiasm about a library gaming group but were unable to donate materials to the program. Their support came in the form of promotion, which was needed and appreciated.

I began looking for other libraries that had tabletop gaming programs. To my surprise, I didn’t find many.  I spoke with a couple of libraries that had active programs. Compared to those libraries, I was at a disadvantage with no budget. But I wasn’t going to give up.

A couple of weeks after the first round of letters, I received a response, not just from Rio Grande Games, a major game publisher, but the founder of the company! He was going to send me a package of demo games for our collection! I couldn’t believe it! Soon, more boxes arrived with more games. At this point, the only money spent was on paper, envelopes, and postage.

Fast forward to September. The room had been configured for optimal gaming space, the games were available for participants, and I was ready to play games! Of course, I was nervous. Who wouldn’t be? In the end, there was no reason to worry. Eight patrons came to play games! This was a brand new program, featuring unheard of games, targeting adults with a niche hobby, so eight participants was a great start! TableToppers was a program with room to grow. And grow it did!

By the end of December, it was obvious TableToppers was a successful and sustainable program. We had multiple patrons suggest we change from a bi-weekly meeting to weekly as it would be more frequent and offer more opportunities to play games. The patrons spoke and I listened! Starting January 2015, TableToppers began meeting every Monday evening starting at 5 p.m.

International Tabletop Day 2016 Photo by Dalene Schrier

TableToppers was going great! We received more donations of games and our weekly meetings had a steady crowd with an average of six participants. Around March 2015, after several patron suggestions, we decided to add Wednesdays to the schedule. At this point, TableToppers was a self-managing program with limited staff involvement. Still, BPL had not spent any money on TableToppers. 

Around the same time, we decided to add Wednesdays to the schedule, I came across International Tabletop Day presented by Geek & Sundry, a geek collective. Founded in 2012, Tabletop Day is a celebration of all things tabletop gaming. With little time to spare, we planned to stream the event in California, hold open gameplay, and offer door prizes. Surprisingly, we had 24 total participants! Tabletop Day was a successful event supported entirely by donations, including door prizes. 

With the relative success of Tabletop Day, I searched for other game days and found International Games Day @ your library, an American Library Association initiative that escaped my initial searches. When I saw that there was an event sponsored by ALA just for gaming, I was excited! I immediately started planning my events. Games Day was going to be bigger and better than Tabletop Day. I was on a mission and my goal was clear: bring together the gaming community and the library.

Game It Forward 2016 – Day 1
Photo by KT Photography

While planning the Games Day event, I was contacted by the founder of GlitchCon, a local geek and anime convention, about having the Library’s game collection in the game room. This was the perfect opportunity to reach a large group of regular gamers. We took our game collection and used the opportunity to promote our graphic novel collections. We also partnered with a local charity gaming event, Game It Forward Northwest Arkansas, to provide our game library for their inaugural event. Both events created great community connections. 

November arrived too soon. Gear Gaming Store of Fayetteville partnered with us. They sponsored a Smash Up! tournament and donated door prizes and games. Lunch was provided by Marco’s Pizza. We scheduled gaming events and open gameplay for all ages. Having a designated area for family games was a big hit! With the limited success of International Tabletop Day, an unexpected 150+ participants played games until the very end. International Games Day @ your library was here to stay! All BPL had to purchase were cups and beverages for this event. 

BPL’s Tabletop Game Collection – May 2016 Photo by Dalene Schrier

In two years, BPL has spent less than $100 total on TableToppers. All games in our collection, giveaways, and other related items have been donated to BPL with the exception of playing cards, a pound o’ dice, and bags for game components. Currently, BPL has more than 125 games in its collection and is valued at nearly $4,000.  Bentonville Public Library has received great patron feedback and positive media attention. 

It doesn’t matter if you have an endless budget or just a few dollars. If you are determined to put on a program, you can and will find a way. Chances are there is someone just as passionate as you!  Your patrons will appreciate the effort, and your library will benefit from you thinking outside the box.  

Dalene Schrier is the Technology Specialist at Bentonville Public Library in Bentonville, Arkansas. She enjoys tabletop gaming and is an all-around geek.

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