VGL Classic: The Bloomington Public Library and GameFest

This article is from the original batch of Video Game Librarian articles I wrote for Gaming Target between 2005 and 2007. It was originally written on August 26, 2005.

Kelly Czarnecki is the Teen Services Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois and she has a dream. She wants to put on the greatest video game presentation in a library ever!

OK, maybe not, but Kelly is no stranger to teens, video games and making one amazing program out of it at the library. With the help of Matt Gullett from the library’s Information Tech Services department, Kelly created GameFest, a quarterly program where teens get together and play games, chat and eat pizza. The last GameFest was held on July 15th with a trio of game tournaments: Battlefield 1942, Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix. I had a chance to talk with Kelly and Matt about what makes GameFest tick and how libraries and games can co-exist for a long, long time.

If you would be so kind, could you introduce yourselves for my readers?

Kelly: I’m Kelly Czarnecki, Young Adult Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois. I’ve been here for 3.5 years. I always get last place in Mario Kart: Double Dash!! when playing with my friends.

Matt: Oh, I’m Matt Gullett, the Information Technology Services Manager/Librarian at the Bloomington Public Library in Illinois. I’ve been here for over seven years now. I’ve always played games of all sorts: Baseball, Basketball, Football, Tennis, Atari’s Pong, Coleman’s basketball and football, (I’m a bit of a dinosaur), etc. Currently, I’m a big Katamari Damacy player. Occasionally I’ll play Gran Turismo or Need For Speed Underground with my son.

How did you first get the idea for GameFest and when was the first one held?

Matt: I had been interested in interactive media within libraries ever since graduate school, but it wasn’t until I had a few staff on board that were avid computer/video game players that I thought we might be able to create a program in the library about it.

Kelly: The first time Matt mentioned having a gaming program for teens, I knew I wanted to be a part of the event. Most of my previous programs had low turnouts and I thought this would definitely attract more young adults to the library. I was right. The first fest was held in October 2004 which was during a day off of school-we had one in the morning and one in the evening. For our first one it was a good set up since it attracted teens that just walked into the library and didn’t know about it and many came back that same evening. We have had them quarterly and our fifth one is coming up this October.

What made you choose the games Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, Battlefield 1942 and Dance Dance Revolution?

Matt: We started with Battlefield 1942 because it was relatively inexpensive to put in a lab setting of 17 computers, plus it was a first person shooter with a Teen rating that we could turn off the blood and graphic violence too. DDR was chosen because we knew that females may not be all that interested in playing a World War II oriented game, plus it is also a nice social and much more physically active game. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! was chosen because of its ability to have play with eight simultaneous players. It is also relatively inexpensive now to put together if you can find the systems and pieces that are needed. We found out about Mario Kart from the Ann Arbor District Library in Michigan who also runs a rather successful program.

Were other games considered and if so, what were they? I’d think Super Smash Bros. would be a natural pick for something like this.

Matt: Yes, we’ve thought of Super Smash Bros. We just like things that can keep over 50 kids active while they are playing or waiting to play, so the more players at once the better.

How did you obtain all of the gaming equipment? Were there any technological problems setting it all up?

Matt: First off we had the 17 computers located in our Technology Room that was part of a grant project that constructed the room and equipped it with technology. We then purchased the DDR stuff and the Nintendo GameCubes with leftover grant money. We also received some assistance and discounted merchandise and prizes from various vendors (EB Games, Acme Comics, and Best Buy) that has helped.

How did parents respond to the program?

Kelly: So far it’s been very positive. One mom regularly brings her son that lives over 30 miles away because he enjoys the event so much. Last game fest, a parent brought their teen from Chicago suburbs which is about 150 miles away. He did win first place in DDR! Other parents have expressed relief that their teens can be out of the house AND get fed dinner on a Friday evening (and at the library!!)! We did have one parent express that her son felt other teens were taking up too much time on DDR and it wasn’t very fair. Fortunately he did come back (and won second place on DDR). I haven’t heard any parents question the types of games we’re playing or the relevancy of them at the library (knock on wood).

How have the teens who attended responded to the program?

Kelly: Wonderful-numbers keep increasing each time and especially new people-one’s that I haven’t seen at the library before. Competition is friendly though intense at times. We’ve gotten helpful feedback too such as “these DDR mats stink” (we have the RedOctane one now), or “more pizza.” (we’re thinking about that one). Some teens have responded that there are too many young kids there (which means middle schoolers), so we’ve tried to be more strict about the ages (12-17) and make sure no one younger is coming in, and working on opportunities for younger/older to have their own fests. We haven’t had any discipline issues (save for the bathroom incident which won’t be mentioned) since the teens are so focused on the spirit of playing and just hanging out and having a good time. We’ve found the more we can structure it to give all a maximum amount of playing time-the better for all.

So GameFest is a strictly teens-only program? Why isn’t the GameFest for all ages? Do you have plans for an all ages program?

Kelly: We do have our first family game fest scheduled for the beginning of November. This will be open to children 11 and younger with parents/guardians. We would like to eventually have an adult only program as well. We haven’t had an all ages program yet since the skill levels, social skills, and appropriateness of games is so varied with kids/teens/adults. We want to design a program that will fit each of their needs in the best way possible.

Was the local media at Gamefest? How did they report on it?

Kelly: Not yet! A lot of librarian’s blogs have picked up on the event though. We also had a presentation for local librarians on how they can set up their own game fest and that attracted people from around the U.S. since we had the software to set this up. The presentation is at: We’ve been able to establish great partnerships with local stores including Acme Comics, EB Games, and Best Buy that have been very helpful in promoting our fests and donating prizes.

Matt: We actually just had the local media in yesterday and they are going to try to make it sometime in the next month or two.

Do you have any plans for the next GameFest? Any radical changes or will it follow the same basic game plan?

Kelly: Of course! We’ve organized the games into tournaments-before we just did all open play but we wanted to increase the competition a bit and recognize the good players. We have a few more GameCubes and might bring in D&D for the first time. The radical part is that our library will be going through an expansion process during our game fests that are scheduled for the spring. This might be a great opportunity for us to partner with a place in the community (movie theatre, community college, etc).

Do you have a circulating game collection? If so what consoles and games have you added and which games do you plan to add?

Kelly: We don’t but we will very soon. We plan to add games that are E and T rated probably for all the consoles. If we carry M rated games, which there is no plan too, children and young adults would not be able to check them out (library policy and Governor Blagojevich’s law). We plan to take the teen gamers shopping with us on our first trek to EB Games for our circulating collection.

Do you have certain criteria for which games you want to add?

Kelly: The rating (E and T), popularity, and cost. Our biggest support will come from the teen gamers-what they recommend that we purchase and want to play. We’ll secure them in the same cases that we use for DVDs.

Does the current political backlash over GTA: San Andreas worry you about introducing games into the library?

Kelly: Not at all-I think it’s a great opportunity to educate people on the positives of video games and the importance of parents monitoring what their children are reading/viewing if they can. I’m more worried about the games walking out the door and never coming back!

Are you big gamers yourselves? If so, what do you play?

Matt: I’m not a big gamer. I have staff that are, and I tend to get involved either by playing, watching or learning with my kids as they play anything from Sims to Star Wars to Katamari Damacy.

Kelly: I’m not an avid one… yet.

How do you think libraries should introduce video gaming to their patrons?

Kelly: Wow-there’s so many ways! I think it depends on the climate of the community and support from administration on where to start. If there is opposition or uncertainty from the community, perhaps planning some educational discussions on the benefits of gaming would be a good start. If there is uncertainty from library admin, start out small and work to establish the support of the participants to keep returning.

If there’s unfamiliarity or hesitation with coworkers, hold an in-service day to watch the most curmudgeon worker participate in DDR. Game cheat guides and books about gaming (fiction and nonfiction) are also a good way to start within the collection. Listening to what patrons are asking for in relation to gaming-or if they’re not-survey a group. I’ve talked to many teens that want to research gaming as a career and have put together a guide for that.

If support from community or admin isn’t too much of an issue-the sky is the limit! Invite a representative from a college that offers a program in Game Design, 3D animation, etc. Don’t forget seniors-if you already teach a computer class to this group, video games are a great way to engage them (and their grandchildren). Getting the support of local organizations including schools, community centers or even movie theaters to hold an event, demo DDR, etc. Tie events in with school breaks for kids. Create opportunities for adults too-tied into the sporting events or book clubs for example. Check out for librarians wanting news and information on gaming at the library-it’s a great resource.

What place do you see games having in the library of the future?

Kelly: I think video games can be an activity that bridges gaps between age, gender, and ethnicity. Since libraries strive to be a place for equal access, games fit into this standard. The library has always been more than just a place that houses books. I anticipate that more teachers will find the worth in having students create projects that require interactivity and the multiple readings of texts, visual media, etc. I am hopeful that the skills gained from playing video games (social, strategy, identity, etc.) will be more valued as useful and intelligent and therefore libraries need to provide those resources.

Matt: For me it is a medium of interactivity and storytelling that we need to be a part of. We as a library profession need to look seriously at how this changes readers, listeners, culture and service to our communities. It is something that is capturing the attention and disposable income of millions of people, so it should mean something to us. The academic community is starting to come around to the fact that this is definitely something that needs to be paid attention to. The entertainment industry most certainly has been paying attention to it as well. We need to insert ourselves as the collectors and facilitators of culture that we are.

Finally, do you sneak in a few games of during work hours? We’re all librarians here, you can tell me.

Kelly: I can’t tell, my supervisor will be reading this!

That’s All!
My sincere thanks go out to Kelly and Matt and if you live in the Bloomington, IL area (or are anywhere within 150 miles), the next GameFest will be held on October 7. Anyone interested in dropping Kelly a line about anything can get a hold of her at

Finally, A Pair of Book Suggestions
If you’ll recall, last month I talked about a few books that should be on every gamer’s reading list. Obviously I forgot a few as a few suggestions trickled into my email box.

Our own Adam Wolcott suggested Lucky Wander Boy by D.B. Weiss. Lucky Wander Boy tells the story of Adam Pennyman, a twentysomething slacker (been there) who dreams of the favorite games of his youth while bored at work (so been there). He works through this boredom by writing a book about those favorite games (are we sure I’m not Adam Pennyman?).

Finally, my favorite video game librarian, Beth Gallaway, has suggested Gamers: Writers, Artists, and Programmers on the Pleasures of Pixels edited by Shanna Compton. Gamers offers up 24 essays by 24 people on their love of video games 24 hours a day. Personally, I was sold by the description from the book’s website: “Witty, widescreen views of how video games have become part of the cultural landscape.” Awesome.

Needless to say, both of these books have been added to my reading list. Now, I just have to find them…