Hello from sunny Bournemouth; where Bill Bryson cut his teeth as a journalist, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote The Strange Case Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, J.R.R. Tolkien retired, and Mary Shelley is buried. Bournemouth is a busy seaside town on the south coast of the UK, with twelve libraries serving a population of around 180,000.
Our largest town centre library has taken part in International Games Day (IGD) for the last three years, but 2015 was the first year we attempted to run events in all twelve of our libraries. The success of these events was pretty varied. The busiest of our events at our town centre library led to an increase in footfall of 15%. At the other end of the spectrum one of our community libraries had no participants at all.
From our experiences last year we have learned a few things about ways to increase the likelihood of an IGD event being successful.
- Connect the event with existing programming
Those libraries that ran one-off, standalone events were less likely to attract a
significant number of attendees than those connected to regular activities. The “Stay and Play” session that was added to a community library’s weekly “Baby Wriggle and Rhyme” attracted 50 children and parents. By connecting with existing groups you have a premade audience to target. It is also easier to get people to stay in the library than to attract them in the first place.
- Forge links with your local gaming community
In our experience, local games stores and clubs are highly likely to want to help out with events. We are lucky that Bournemouth has a very active gaming community and was able to ask a range of local retailers and clubs to help out. All but one of these responded and all that did respond ran activities for us. The retailers and groups had the opportunity to recruit new customers/members but also brought some of their regulars with them, many of whom were not existing library users.
- Provide staff or volunteer support for visitors
Our most successful events were the ones which had games on open display and staff or volunteers available to demonstrate and advise. The events in which games were on display but had no staff support were still well received but had lower levels of participation. Providing staff support minimises the initial barrier to customers trying something new and makes for a more helpful, welcoming atmosphere.
- Be focussed and know your limits
In our first year of IGD we tried to put on a really wide range of activities and ended doing them all a bit of a disservice. Focussing on one or two specific areas that you will be able to deliver high quality on is better than trying to do everything all at once. Consider how you will cope if staff are sick, or volunteers arrive late, or if you are forced to change the space being used at the last minute. Aim low and exceed expectations.
All of our events were positively received by the public, especially those aimed at children. A number of those attending asked for us to run more regular games and play activities. As a result of last year’s IGD events, one of our community libraries has started an after-school chess group. At our largest library, we have started a word games and logic puzzles group for adults and are investigating starting a Lego club for children.
Darren Edwards is Operations Manager for Bournemouth Library, UK. He has been a tabletop gamer for over two decades, initially wargaming then discovering roleplay and modern board games whilst at University.