After getting requests from patrons and working to bolster its youth services, the ultra-popular Ramsey County Library system has added video games to its list of items available for checkout.
But not Halo, or other violent or mature games, says Susan Nemitz, director of the library system.
“The Library Board had some concerns about this, so we’ve been very conservative on the selection process,” she said. “We’re not buying games with mature content and are focusing on youth-oriented games,” she said.
The addition of video games comes at a time of record use for Ramsey County’s seven-branch suburban library system. Circulation hit a record-high in 2008, according to its most recent statistics, with 4,589,151 items checked out, an 8.9 percent increase from the previous year. Visits were up 5 percent, too, topping 1.8 million, it reported in its most recent newsletter.
Such steady growth was a big reason for the current expansion under way at the Roseville Library, which is scheduled to open July 10. Nemitz, saying that work there is progressing nicely, noted the popularity of the old Roseville site, which often finished No.1 in usage among all libraries in the state.
The popularity of many of its offerings has influenced the way it now handles its collections.
“It’s our philosophy to provide everything, at least once, for free,” Nemitz said. But the high-demand items, with long waiting lists, now are offered for rent at a small charge.
They already have some video games available for checkout and, later this month, plan to start a video game rental service, charging $1 per day.
That’s similar to the way the libraries offer movies: They have a large collection of free movies but also a section of newer titles that can be rented for 50 cents a day.
Bestselling books, too, are available in both formats: free checkout — but often with a long waiting list — or for rental at 25 cents a day.
And it’s those rental operations — funded by the Friends of the Ramsey County Libraries — that are providing the money to buy the video game collection. That way, the libraries can say no tax money was used to pay for the games.
Other libraries, including the Dakota County system, also offer video game checkout.
Nemitz believes video games serve a legitimate function, have many positives and fit the library system’s mission: “Video games are stories and information, presented in new formats. Libraries are about stories and information, not just books. We’re in the content business.”
Public libraries, she said, have a mission to provide cultural, recreational, and entertaining materials, as well as informational and educational materials.
Also, games encourage literacy activities like reading, writing and creating content, Nemitz said, and meet the developmental needs of teens established by such groups as the National Middle School Association.
She noted, too, that libraries nationally are developing “brain fitness” programs for senior citizens that make use of gaming technology and the necessary thinking skills.
More system enhancements
When the new Roseville library opens, it will feature a new radio frequency identification system that will be added to all the library materials during the transfer.
The RFID system will replace the bar codes on the books and other materials, making it easier to keep track of items and easier for patrons to use self-service checkout and check-in, Nemitz said. Volunteers will help with the massive effort.
Eventually, books, DVDs, video games and other materials at the system’s six other libraries also will be changed to the RFID system, she said.
During the rebuilding process at the Roseville site, the system opened a temporary library north of Rosedale. When the transfer of materials to the new building begins in early May, the temporary site will close, except for rentals and pickups.
Although the temporary location has only 70 percent of the space of the old library, Nemitz said it has been heavily used and should end up being in the top 10 for circulation among state libraries.
Joe Kimball reports on St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County politics.