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The History of Games In Libraries

August 29 2021

There is a perception among the public (and even among librarians!) that games are a fairly recent advent to public libraries, first appearing perhaps sometime around the early aughts give or take by way of video games. While games are fairly new additions to libraries in the grand scheme of library history, their entrance is not nearly as recent as most people think. Games have been part of library collections and programming for almost 200 years. While this might seem surprising at first glance, the fact that they made their entry into libraries when they did makes a lot of sense when put into historical context.

During the Industrial Revolution, more people had enough money to start attending establishments that provided recreational services, which often included activities that were viewed as immoral or problematic (e.g. gambling). In reaction to this, there arose the belief that the masses needed someplace that provided the "right" kind of entertainment, entertainment that would promote what was viewed as moral behaviour. 

And so it was that, around the mid-nineteenth century, a radical new concept gained popularity: that libraries should support their patrons' recreational pursuits as well as their academic ones. It was at this time that games and fiction books first made their entrance into public librarianship, with the earliest record of games in libraries being a chess club in the 1850s.

It wasn't long before public libraries earned the fame of being "the great equalizers" of society due to their new mandate of providing services to the masses that were previously only available to those who could afford them. Because of this mandate, libraries saw a surge of games in their collections during the Great Depression in an attempt to provide toys for children whose families could no longer afford to purchase toys.

Games and toys at Bon Accord Public Library

Here at BAPL we have a coding caterpillar, crib board, playing cards, Scrabble, and Cards Against Humanity which you can borrow to use in the library, as well as puppets. 

We can also bring in material from other libraries, including things like board and card games, magnetic wooden blocks, construction kits, a marble run set, and more.

To find the toys in our system, type in toys in the search bar and then narrow down the type of material to Kits or Three Dimensional Object.

For board and card games, type in board games or card games and then narrow down the type of material to Kits or Three Dimensional Object. (You can also search for specific games by title)


By Alice Flecha (Volunteer Blogger)

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