Teen Librarian, Bemis Library, Littleton, CO
Interviewed by Julie Hornick
Tell us about yourself. In a nutshell, who are you and what is your role at your library?
My name is Emma Embry, and my job is to create awesome experiences for my patrons (especially the teens) at the Bemis Library in Littleton, Colorado. My official job title is Teen Librarian, and I’ve wanted to be a librarian since I was 10 years old so this is kind of the dream job! I have been a lifelong nerd and enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts, singing, making art, telling stories, and playing games of all sorts with my partner Alex and our friends.
What got you into gaming?
My family plays a lot of games, but I credit my becoming a “gamer” to SpringLea Ellorien Henry, my own Teen Librarian when I was young and one of my very best friends. I spent a lot of time at the library and SpringLea encouraged me to join the Dungeons & Dragons group and express my creativity through storytelling and come out of my shell. I owe a lot of who I am today to her inspiration, passion, and unapologetic geekiness. She fostered an environment of imagination and authenticity that was exactly what I needed to learn to appreciate myself as I am, and now I get to create that space for a new generation of kids!
Share a program that you have developed or participated in that you were really proud of or excited by.
Dungeons & Dragons and the monthly Board Games @ Bemis programs are by far my most successful events every month, and I’ve also had a ton of fun running video game tournaments and “larger than life” game events. I’m still really proud of the enormous, literary-themed Monopoly board I created, and all the puzzles and mini-games I develop for the escape rooms I run for the summer reading program.
Does your library have a gaming collection? If so, tell us a little bit about it.
We do! Currently, our collection is about 60 games strong and for in-house use only. I’ve been getting requests from patrons to develop a circulating collection for years, and my goal this year is to make that a reality by partnering with our local game shops and developing official policies and procedures.
How do you get your games?
I make it a policy to purchase from local businesses as much as possible. We have two really excellent gaming stores in the neighborhood (Enchanted Grounds and PlayForge) with knowledgeable staff and diverse inventory. We also get donations from patrons and organizations, including a few games from The Spiel Foundation, and a copy of the role playing game Coyote and Crow (a really excellent futurist-fantasy set in a North America that never experienced colonization!)
What games are popular in your community?
I am very literally begged to run Ultimate Werewolf by participants of our monthly board game night library events! To anyone who hasn’t played the game before, I describe as being like the video game Among Us, but everyone sits in a circle and tries to sus out the werewolves hidden in their ranks before the wolves manage to eat all the innocent villagers. I think it’s popular because as the moderator I make the game very fun by encouraging the participants to name their village at the start of every game (memorable names include Shrek’s Sweaty Swamp Socks, the village of Potato, Sus-ville, and Rampant Arson), give all the players silly nicknames to simplify the accusation process, and really ham it up with the theatrics and gory descriptions (adjusted to age-appropriate levels of intensity depending on the participants, of course!).
What value do games bring to your library community?
I think gaming is valuable to different people for different reasons, and I’m grateful that the library is able to facilitate games in so many different ways to help create that value.
I see a lot of the teen Dungeons & Dragons players using it as an arena to build their confidence, practice overcoming conflicts, and learn to work together. I’ve even had players use it as a way to explore elements of their real-life identity. One of my players asked if would be okay to play as a non-binary character that used the pronouns they/them, and not long after asked if would be okay if we always referred to them with non-gendered pronouns. They told me that being able to play as the non-binary character helped them feel brave enough to come out as non-binary for real.
Games are also a bridge between people and a meeting place for creative engagement with folks they might not regularly interact with. An elderly gentleman (the sort who hangs out at the library all day but doesn’t interact with anybody much) chose to join us for board game night one time, and the teens encouraged him to join in on Ultimate Werewolf! The group accepted him immediately, helped him understand the rules, and really made him feel like part of the team. I don’t think I’d ever seen this patron smile like he did during that game!
What would you tell someone who wants to bring game programs or collections to their library?
I would strongly encourage folks to reach out to the brick-and-mortar game stores (or if you’re lucky, game designers/publishers) in their area to try and partner with them to build your collection or provide support for events. Creating a partnership where game shops encourage folks to test-drive games at the library (either by checking them out or playing them at events) can lead to increased sales and more confident investment in some of the pricier games! Also, don’t despair if you lose pieces: many game publishers will send replacement parts or sell them to you for cheap!
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
We’ve just established a brand new Gaming Interest Group through the Colorado Association of Libraries! The Gaming Interest Group (GIG) has a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/calgamingig, and I hope we’ll start seeing a lot of folks joining to share their experience and learn from each other about how to bring board games, video games, and RPGs to libraries everywhere. I’ve really appreciated the chance to weave my personal love of games and gaming into the fabric of my work, and I’m always looking forward to more chances to connect with people and spread that love of gaming!
Do you know a librarian or library paraprofessional who likes games and/or runs gaming programs at their library that should be spotlighted? Maybe even yourself? Fill out this form! Nomination is not limited to ALA Game and Gaming Round Table members.