Video games

Teen Services and Technology Coordinator Chris Baker dressed as Super Mario in October to promote a recent influx of video games at Portage Public Library. As of December, the library already has the third-most video game titles in the South Central Library System.

Portage Public Library/CONTRIBUTED

It didn’t take long for Portage Public Library to upgrade its video game collection.

The library currently has 179 video game titles on its shelves — up from just 20 titles in September, when it announced its intentions to boost the collection. That figure is already good for third-most in the South Central Library System, according to Chris Baker, the library’s teen services and technology coordinator.

“It’s neat that a tiny library like Portage can offer such a huge, and hopefully relevant, collection for the public,” he said.

With about 400 video game titles in its collection, Middleton Public Library ranks first out of the 47 libraries in the system, Baker said. The push to add video games in Portage isn’t over yet, he added, estimating the library could offer patrons as many as 300 video games by the end of next year.

Many of games purchased by the Portage location are new to the entire library system. Games titles include both the classics and new releases, most notably for consoles like Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch. Baker expects the library will add about two or three new titles per major console per month.

Is Portage suddenly a leader for video game collections in public libraries?

“I’d say that to some degree we are blazing a trail,” Library Director Jessica Bergin said, “particularly for a library that serves a community of our size. We hope that we may make a name for ourselves within the library system, as a library that’s doing some innovative collection development.”

For now, all of the video game titles have been integrated in the library system, meaning that anyone who’s part of it may check out the games. It is possible, Baker said, that Portage will make a portion of its collection available only to Portage residents, similar to how it does this for movie titles in “Lucky Day Movies.” Consoles could be available to patrons in the future, too.

“This is new to the Portage library — so it’s something we’ll be discovering and adjusting to as we go,” said Baker.

Bergin and Baker are encouraging library patrons to utilize the LINKcat cataloging system, the easiest way to browse for titles. For more information about video games, patrons should visit portagelibrary.us/collection-information or email Baker at cbaker@portagelibrary.us.

Adapting to change

In general, Portage is boosting its collection to “reflect the interests and needs and wants of the community,” Bergin said. To put things simply, Portage residents were asking for video games, so the library “did what it could to fulfill those requests.”

The bigger picture, Bergin said, is how public libraries seem to be slow in accepting video games as a relevant genre. Before September, you might have said that Portage also fit into this slow-to-adapt grouping, Bergin added. “As Portage changes, and as the world changes, we want to be able to change right along with everybody,” she said.

Bergin and Baker recently submitted a proposal to provide an informational session on the subject of video games for a Wisconsin Association of Public Libraries conference to be held in the spring. Their presentation would involve explaining why they made the push to add more games, what the results have been like so far in Portage (“overwhelmingly positive,” Bergin said), and how other libraries might go about adding games.

There was a time, Bergin said, when libraries were slow to accept novels — the idea being that libraries should be places for research and research only.

“We’ve come a long way since then. I think every generation has their own definition of what is good entertainment for them, what they like to do socially,” she said.

“There’s already been a generation that has grown up playing video games, which is mine — the millennials — and I’d consider myself and many others of my generation to be successful.”

The idea that video games stunt academic achievement is false and fading, Bergin said. Bergin herself received a Nintendo Entertainment System when she was 6, playing it with her brother and friends.

“I was also an honor student, and went on to graduate school and became a library director,” she said. “So, as a personal example, video games are just another entertainment hobby, and they can also be beneficial, educationally.

“We do try to be sure that as new things come along, we’re able to address them and not feel stuck in just doing the same things libraries have always done.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau

Portage Daily Register reporter