Gaming Librarian Spotlight: Joshua Pikka

Tell us about yourself. In a nutshell, who are you and what is your role at your library?

My name is Joshua Pikka and I am the Circulation and Technology Librarian for the Minot Public Library in Minot, North Dakota. I am a 2011 graduate of Wayne State University’s M.L.I.S. program. I spent my first 4 years of librarianship working in a theological library. I now have a very diverse job in a public library. A typical day could see me doing things like replacing computer hardware, editing a website, supervising library assistants, working the reference or circulation desk, or purchasing board games for our board game collection.

In my personal life I am a father to my 4 week old son Copper James. In my personal time I like to play hobby board games with my wife.

How would you define a gamer?

To turn this question around, I guess I would have a problem identifying someone who isn’t a gamer. We all have games that we play. Although when we think of a gamer we might think of a young person playing Fortnite or something like that. However, when you think about it you realize that games are a big part of most people’s life. It’s just that everyone has their own type of game that they like. We don’t think of the 50 year old man who has a poker night as a gamer, but he is. We don’t think of the Grandma who plays Candy Crush and Solitaire as a gamer, but she is. The group of people playing a D&D session are just as big of gamers as those bikers who are playing pool at a bar.

Games are something ubiquitous in our culture, we just all play different games in different ways. Some of us like to play games with others while others like to play alone. Some of us carve out time out of our schedules to play our games, while others do it while they are waiting for 5 minutes in the doctor’s office.

I always like learning to play new games and learning what their games say about the people that play them. If you get a chance, I challenge you to play Hearts with a senior citizen or have your nephew tell you what he likes about Roblox. Everyone is a gamer in their own way, and it can be interesting to learn what makes each gamer unique and what makes them similar.

Does your library have a gaming collection? If so, tell us a little bit about it.

Yes. Our teen librarian does have a video game collection that she curates, and myself and another librarian have started a board game collection that I curate.

When we started the board game collection, we were open to catering to all kinds of people from the world of tabletop games. We had war games, train games, and role playing games as well as most other types of games that you could think of. But, I realized that we had “cast too wide of a net”, our patrons were not mainly war gamers, they were casual gamers. While it’s nice to have some of the more rare and clever games, most of our patrons just wanted to play Sorry and Cards Against Humanity.

As we shifted from focusing on omni-gamers to casual gamers we saw our circulation increase many times over. Our average patron right now is someone who is under 18 who just wants to sit down with their parents and play a Disney themed game. While we do still cater to people of different tastes, the casual family games are the games that check out the most.

I find that one of the hardest things in curating the board game collection is learning to keep your own tastes away from it. Personally, I love hobby games which are for a more niche market. Casual games do not appeal to me as much, but those are the games that circulate the most. I would like to buy the games that I like, but I know that buying the newest game that has a Pikachu or Mario on it will circulate more than I am attracted to. I really got better at purchasing for the collection when I studied the circulation numbers and found what was circulating rather than choosing games that had good reviews or had won awards.

What value do games or gaming bring to you, personally?

Personally, games, especially board games, mean a lot to me. They are my preferred ways to socialize with people. Growing up I was the last kid in my family and the older kids in my family didn’t always think it was “cool” to hang out with their baby brother. But sometimes I could get my parents or older siblings to play a game with me and I could spend time with them that way. Games really became the way that I interacted with other people. Although I didn’t have memories with neighborhood kids, I do have memories playing Mario Kart and Goldeneye on my N64 with my brother in law as well as family memories playing 500 Rummy with my parents.

As I moved on with my adult life I made friends in college when I played the Pokemon Trading Card Game and when I got into hobby board games with my current gaming group. I just seem to connect better with people with the shared experience of playing a game then I do having a conversation. Games bring everyone together for me in a way that other things could not.

What would you tell someone who wants to bring game programs or collections to their library?

This is a question that gets asked a lot of times in public libraries, “how should I start my collection?” In the past libraries had gotten donations from game publishers and used that to start their collection. Our library did a similar thing. However, if I could go back and change it I would. I found out that game publishers usually sent us games that fell into 1 of 2 categories:

1) games that didn’t sell very well and weren’t very good, and

2) games that were good but were part of a smaller niche. Neither of these were valuable to us.

Instead of getting games that were of were not popular with our patrons I do wish that I had just started a smaller collection of games that we purchased. Our collection would have seen more early use if I had started the collection small using a little money to purchase games that our patrons actually wanted instead of having a lot of games that patrons didn’t really care about. It was very nice that those companies donated the games to us, but I don’t think that we were the best place for those games to go.

Thank you to Joshua Pikka!


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