So You Are Looking to Start Your Library Board Game Program…

By Ashleigh Hvinden

In my experience of becoming a librarian, I have realized that 89% of program success is based on luck. As a library staff member, whether a librarian or not, you most likely spend hours doing some variation of the following:

  • Writing a program proposal to convince your superiors why you should offer the program.
  • Developing a social media strategy to advertise the program.
  • Creating flyers to post in-house
  • Spending time getting buy-in from staff so they sell your program to patrons.

Despite all of your hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm, sometimes there are factors you cannot control: environment, weather, community engagement, time, space, concert events, conventions and countless others. How do you create a tabletop board game program when you have external competition? Why create a program in the library when people can have events in the comfort of their own home or play games online in their pajamas?  Well, why not? People are always looking to make weekend plans or have a unique experience. Capitalize on it and offer something unique for patrons! Sounds pretty simple right? Yes – in a way! Here are some things you may want to consider when you are developing a board game program that works for you:

Why a board game program? Board games teach critical thinking, strategic skills, offer social opportunities for participants, keep minds sharp and are just plain fun. Offering this unique program can often attract an audience that may have never visited your library before. Tom Vasel of Dice Tower, an insanely popular YouTube Board Game star, states that board games are experiencing a type of renaissance (much like Disney films and Television). This is constantly being proven by retailers such as Target and Walmart upping their board game supply, Forbes covering board games and even the New York Times interviewing board game developers (See the article about the Wingspan phenomenon here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/science/wingspan-board-game-elizabeth-hargrave.html).

Board game groups are also for people of all ages. For me in California, our organization offers  one adult board game group, “Library Got Game”  that attracts 25 year-olds to 70-year-olds and one Teen board game (Game, On, Teens) which is intended for teens in grades 6 to 12.  

How did you start your program? We started our “Library Got Game” program in 2016. My supervisor suggested the program and I jumped in because I have always loved board games. We offer the program twice per month (one on the weekends, one on Monday nights). It took two of us for scheduling. We learned some of the games together and relied on patrons to teach us others. My supervisor did a ton of legwork including talking to local game stores and reaching out to game groups on Meetup. Now, I the program is my responsibility and I am constantly looking for new ways to increase exposure to our program.

How do you run the program? Honestly, I let the group decide what we are going to play and try to keep my opinion out of it. I encourage new attendees to select a game that interests them. If they have no idea where to start, I will pull out a game that I know is easy and that people can pick up fast.

How did you acquire games? Our library was lucky enough to get money from our Friends of the Library group which enabled us to purchase our games. We have also grown the collection by making contacts with local game companies. Our collection is not a circulating collection. It is an in-house collection that is stored in our office cabinet.   

Where do I start learning about the games? In this instance, YouTube is your best friend. Here are some of my favorites that include reviews, discussions on game mechanics and actual playthroughs.

The Dice Tower
Game the Game
Watch it Played

Some other resources that are worth exploring:

  • Visit your local Game Store.
  • Go to local conventions and make contacts. I attended WonderCon in Anaheim, California the last weekend in March for one day and there were at least four panels dedicated to tabletop board games on Saturday.
  • Check out Instagram Hashtags: #boardgames #boardgameaddict #tabletopboardgames #boardgamesofinstagram #boardgamer

What games would you start with? These are the ones that we began with. For adults:

For Teens, I started with The OP’s (formerly USAopoly) Thanos Rising based on the Marvel superhero films.  

How do you advertise your program? Meetup, Twitter, Facebook, Facebook events and e-mail lists. We only use email to remind past attendees about upcoming board game events.

What are some of the challenges?

  • Keeping the same attendees.
  • Growing the program.
  • Determining what day of the week is the best fit for the program.
  • Learning the different mechanics of the various games.
  • Ensuring all participants are engaged and are having fun.

Having a board game program is completely worth it! It is an amazing and worthy opportunity. I am so glad I am lucky enough to be part of a library that offers a unique program. Do you have a board game program at your library? What are your challenges? I would love to hear from you! Happy Playing!

Ashleigh Hvinden is a Reference and Teen Services Librarian with the Carlsbad City Library in California. Ashleigh loves IP board games and started developing a collection in 2016. In college, Ashleigh was the one who had all the board games and would make her friends play Disney Scene-It so much so that they would refuse to play. Her favorites include Chess, Monopoly, Splendor, Lords of Waterdeep, Thanos Rising, Ticket to Ride, and Farkle. Ashleigh is always looking for a brand new game to play and listens to way to many Board Game Podcasts.

One comment

  1. Oh! One of my biggest challenge are the parents who thinks games are for kids. We support all ages. We have already divided teens games from children’s. We’ve clearly told parents that they can not leave their children with games on tables. I’m just so dispirit cooping with these parents.
    We have gaming program’s every thursday. They’re not Board game exclusives. We enjoy playing local multiplayer PC games as well (on big screen), such as 12 Orbits, Soccer Physics, Flat Heroes, Party Golf, Starwhal and KarBOOM.
    We did have Senior gaming programs on Wednesday, which were only board games. We used to read books and do some coloring after playing games. I believe using other activities can help make sure everyone is enjoying the program.

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