Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Children's Librarianship in Toronto is 100 years old this year.

This tidbit about librarianship was passed on to me by a co-worker.  I found it interesting, and wanted to pass it on.

100 years ago, the Toronto Public Library hired Lillian Smith - the first professionally trained children’s librarian in the British Empire.

Miss Smith was the first to actively select children’s books for young patrons and was instrumental in developing library programs just for children.  Storytelling became an integral part of the library staff’s work, and according to Miss Smith, “the story hour is unquestionably one of the best methods of attracting children to books.”

From the Canadian Children’s Book News, Winter 2012

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I did on my summer vacation.

 Creative Commons BY  Ceru Andrei
I never had to write a “What did you do on your summer vacation” essay as a student. Maybe it was because I didn't do all that much back then. Baseball, playing with friends, exploring forests and beaches at camp or a cottage, playing in the sprinkler and the occasional video game were the staples of my childhood summers. As a teenager and university student, my summers were filled with jobs: some in retail, some in manufacturing, and some in libraries. I am happy to say that this summer was more like my childhood than teen and adult summers! I was able to take almost two months off, and enjoyed every moment of it!

One thing that I did not do was worry about work or professional development. I would have liked to say I was on the ALA's boat with Annoyed... but I was more often at a beach, cottage, or stay-cationing.

Not keeping up with my RSS feed (and this blog) was a mistake that I will not make again! I have almost 70 library and IT blogs on my RSS feed, as well as a few web-comics. After a month and a half of not looking at my feed, there were over six hundred unread articles! I would have gone insane trying to read and retain all of the information in those blog entries, but my “Read it later” add-on for Firefox was used a fair amount. After two weeks, I feel I am caught up in what is happening in library land, though not prepared to offer comments on it.

That said, I have not been totally cut off from what has been happening in library land. Due to my involvement on Facebook, and listening to CBC Radio, I am well aware of what Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is doing with branches of the Toronto Public Library – namely, closing them in an attempt to save money. (I say attempt to save money because, let's face it, governments rarely have records of keeping money in their coffers when they can spend it – especially when the money doesn't actually exist. Yes, I followed the deficit issues in the USA too.) Of course, Ford and his brother Doug were democratic about what they wanted to do. They asked “the public” what they wanted. They even had a Facebook page dedicated to it! Unfortunately, “communists” were not allowed to post on that Facebook page. Who's a communist? Well, according to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti – a member of Ford's executive - anyone who “wants anything for free” happens to be a communist! Libraries give things away for free. Therefore the people who support libraries are communists. I guess that would include most municipal and provincial governments that provide funding and support for libraries.

In an aside, Margarate Atwood – a prolific and iconic Canadian author – spoke out against Ford's plan to close libraries, but she is an unknown entity in the minds of the Fords. That's right. One of Canada's literary giants criticizes the Toronto government, and the Fords don't even know who she is!

I guess we should have seen it coming. Canada's flag is, after all, red. Sure, studies have shown that library use has increased over the past few years all over North America, and their returns are worth the cost. But apparently, for Ford, but the bottom line is the bottom line.

With Ford and Harper being buddy buddy, I am rather nervous about what will happen with the upcoming provincial elections.

I was much better at the game aspect of being a RPG Librarian. In fact, I think I may have gone a bit overboard! I wrapped up a Shadowrun game (though, it will be played again in winter, if not sooner), played a teaser for an upcoming Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, took part in a friend's long-awaited Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition RPG, took part in another friends long-awaited Big Eyes Small Mouth RPG (loosely based off of the anime .Hack//SIGN); and took part in three FATE system RPGs. And, of course, meeting with my friends from high school to play a game about pirates on the high seas, or playing a game of Magic the Gathering.

This does not include some of the other games that I have ideas for: a super-heroes game, a “play the bad guy” game, a game set in OZ where Dorothy never left Kansas and a play by post game involving ghosts.

Of course, my summer wasn't filled with fun and games. (Well, okay, it was, but I did things that are fun aside from gaming.) Several weddings occurred. I bought a new musical instrument and am learning how to play it. I helped with home improvements, including painting and re-flooring. I'm working on techniques to be a better story teller. And, of course, I read books for my own entertainment, books that my patrons would like, as well as listened to audio books.

Looking back on the number of things I did over my summer vacation, I am glad to get back to work.

I need a rest!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A response to "Darkness Too Visible"

I started gaming when I was 4 years old. The game was “house” and it involved my kindergarten's house center, and a few other friends. I am pretty sure I was the Daddy, my friend Cheryl was the Mommy and my friend Karen (who was shorter than Cheryl) was the kid. This was play-based learning at it's finest! We got to pretend to be adults, and learn how to be adults through our playing. What did adults do? Cook dinner and do the dishes. (It was a very small house with just one room: the kitchen.) Sure, it didn't have any lessons in mathematics or grammar, but it was still learning: learning about how life worked. The funny thing is, we would keep to these roles. I, being male, would always be the Daddy. Cheryl would always be the Mommy. Karen would always be the kid. It was good, wholesome, 1950's style fun at it's finest. It also didn't leave much variety for trying other perspectives.

I remember that this lack of perspective echoed throughout all of my childhood games. No one wanted to be the bad-guy. Every boy wanted to be the cop, not the robber. Every boy wanted to be the Autobot, not the Decepticon. During our in-class “performance” about Micky Mouse's 50th birthday party, there wasn't a cartoon villain costume to be seen. No one wanted to be the odd person out when we played P.I.G. No one wanted to be the Cheese who stood alone.  The only times we were the villains was when it was Halloween, and even then, we looked more like the Munsters than monsters.

Fast forward to the teenage years. Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine's Fear Street (sometimes) replaced books by Robert Muntch and Anne M. Martin. Movies of choice would (usually) not be about Aladdin, but about Jason. With the onset of puberty -- or maybe it was just high school -- the world became a darker place, and our choice of passive entertainment reflected it. Even one of my favorite televisions shows as a teenager, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, for all of it's campiness and humor, was symbolic of the things that teenagers go through. The giant praying mantis woman that nearly ate Zander reflected what happens when you get a crush on the teacher. The Invisible Girl showed the effects of being completely ignored (in some ways, worse than being bullied). Angel turning into Angelous is a metaphor for when a guy has sex with girl and than turns into a jerk.

This article from the Wallstreet Journal, discusses the influx of dark materials within modern young adult fiction. Although, perhaps “influx” is the wrong word. As I just wrote, darker fiction has been part of adolescence for as long as I can remember. Perhaps it has gotten a bit more graphic, but so has fiction and television for adults. (Isn't it awesome how they show how the bullet entered into the brain of someone, and bounced around in that episode of CSI? Or how about 1000 ways to die? Or the existence of HBO?)

Parents are worried that these works of fiction are inappropriate for their impressionable teenagers. Maybe the fear is that by reading books with darker themes, the teens would be more willing to do these things. Maybe they are worried about desensitization – the more you are exposed to something, the smaller it's impact upon you.

Intellectually, I can understand why.

From a purely biological perspective, what you learn changes the physical makeup of your brain. By making synoptic connections, what we learn, literally, lays a biological pathway that makes certain attitudes and behaviors easier. This is why many Protestant Christian denominations encourage people to read the Bible: the more you read it, and the more you learn it, the more likely you will act in accordance with it. That is the theory, at any rate.

Now, reading realistic fiction with darker themes is not necessarily a bad thing. For a person who is dealing with issues such as death of a friend, suicide, drug abuse, sexual abuse (or sexual feelings), gangs and violence; reading about how the protagonist deals with these issues in a fictional world may give the person tools and strategies to deal with those issues in the real world. (It would, of course, be best to talk to someone who could provide professional help when dealing with these situations rather than just reading about how someone else dealt with them.)

In terms of role-playing games, things are a bit different. You are in control of your character. This removes a level of ... for lack of a better word... safety. With television and print, the only thing you control is if you want to continue watching the show or reading the book. And what is that saying? “Actions speak louder than words”? Well, in role-playing games, your words are your character's actions. Maybe this is why certain groups are fearful that role-playing games lead to deviant behavior. Sure, these groups say, you aren't actually firing a gun at a real person, but you are imagining firing a gun at someone, and that leads you one step closer to actually doing the deed. Or, maybe you go insane and loose the difference between fantasy and reality all together! The only thing to do is to not play those games, to pull those books from the shelves and burn them! Think of the children we are to protect!

I became interested in role-playing games (complete with dice and official rules) when I was a teenager. I'll go on a limb and say that is when most gamers become interested in role-playing games. And guess what? Most RPGs have some level of violence in them. In fact, most have an entire chapter on combat. Conflict and combat are important parts of role-playing games, because without them, there would be no plot, no story, no fun for the players. How you, as a GM or as a player, portray that conflict makes a difference. Do you say “I shoot him” and then roll the dice, and mechanically state how many hit-points are removed? Do you go into detail about where the bullet hit and how the person should now be on the ground, in pain and bleeding? Both styles of gaming are legitimate, and depending on the group, can be appropriate.

The key word is “depending on the group”. Are you running a game for 13 year olds, 17 year olds or 21 year olds? Those four years of growth, learning and maturity make a difference. And, frankly, there are some stories that I would run with a 21 year old that I greatly adapt when running a game with a 13 year old, no matter how mature the kid is. Furthermore, be aware of where you are. Are you gaming in a private room in your library, an open room with other patrons around, a gaming store with other patrons around or your friend's place? Reading is a private activity, but role-playing games are social and vocal. Other patrons in the library may not understand what is happening when they hear you talk about picking pockets or defusing bombs. When they talk to someone at the reference desk about what is going on at your table, it may take some explaining. (Even being in the privacy of your own home may not make you immune to the “What are they talking about?!” factor. In a post-apocalyptic game, one of my friends made a comment that had his mother come running into the room, shouting “What do you mean 'Who's Hitler?'!!” That took some explaining...)

The point I am trying to make is this: do not be afraid to run your games or tell your stories; but be aware of how you do so. Take the skills that you would use for Reader's Advisory and apply them to the creation of your own stories.

I also offer the following advice.

Parents, follow the advice given by The Insane Scribblings of a Madwoman, YA Books: Too Dark or Hitting Too Close To Home?Trust your kids. Talk to them. Read with them. Read before them if you feel you have to. Don’t criticize an entire genre just because they’re exposing reality for what it is through artistry and fiction. And mom, thank you for trusting me with my reading.” Also, get in contact with the person who is running the game. Ask questions. Maybe even arrange for a game with other parents so you can see what your kids are doing.

Players, give your GM feedback. Let him or her know what you want to see in your game.

Game Masters / Librarians, ask your players what they want. Ask if there are any topics that they are uncomfortable with (and provide a few examples). Ask if they want to play a game that is action filled, political, or mystery-based. Be aware of where you are playing.

I started this post with by discussing how everyone wanted to play the hero when we were little. Sometimes, it is fun to play a game where you play an anti-hero, or even a villain. Even when you are playing a hero, don't make him lilly-white. The most memorable characters have flaws that they deal with.

Finally, have fun. It's a game.

If you would like to read other librarian's responses to "Darkness Too Visible", please click on the following links: The Light and Dark of Lit by the Censored Genius -- It's Pretty Dark In a Closed Mind from Agnostic, Maybe -- and There's Dark Things in Them There Books! by School Library Journal's Liz B, which includes links to many twitter comments as well as other blogs.

Picture References

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG Cover"  Found on June 12, 2011.

"Lord of the Ring Comic 38a"  Found on June 12, 2011.
"Wolverine" Found on June 12, 2011.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Selecting Your Game: Dungeons and Dragons

One of the sayings in library-land is “give'um what they want”. Usually, this means popular fiction, DVDs, music, free computer time, wifi, and upcoming technology such e-books. In terms of RPGs, giving your potential players what they want is usually the same thing as giving them the most popular games and the equipment needed to play them.

In 2008, asked what the most popular RPG was. Although they didn't actually define what “the most popular” actually meant (How often people play? Most sales on Amazon? Liked the most?) the results were both consistent and inconsistent.

In every opinion presented, except for one, Dungeons and Dragons was rated the top RPG. This makes sense for several reasons. First, they were the first RPG to be created and marketed. Second, they seem to have a loyal fan-base who is welling to purchase their books, adventures, and minis. Third, the name “DnD” seemed to combine all of that particular game's incarnations – everything from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons to v3.5 to the latest version.

Dungeons and Dragons has definite pros and cons. A pro is the brand name – many people at least recognize the name Dungeons and Dragons. In fact, DnD has celeberty power as well as many novels, several movies and a television show from the 1980s. The rules can be as simple or as complex as one wishes, depending on the whim of the Game Master. It can be played by children as young as 12, but if you want to include even younger children in your games, there is a rules-light version for children as young as six.

Unfortunately, DnD can be more about combat and dice rolls than about acting and story telling. Some players may like this, while other players may find it annoying. I have heard it said that because of how the powers of version 4.0 have been created, Dungeons and Dragons now resembles a table-top game of World of Warcraft. The skills are greatly downplayed, the character's roles are similar, and even the races are similar.  (Because I do not play WoW I am making this comparison based on the experiences of several friends.) If this is true, this quality may appeal to some players and drive other players to distraction. A large number of maps, miniatures and dice are “required” to play Dungeons and Dragons. Home-made versions of miniatures using pieces of cardboard could be substituted, as can graph paper for maps. However, if one decides to purchase official minis and map tiles, lost pieces may become an issue. Finally, Dungeons and Dragons has had some very bad press, particularly from religious objectors who see it's violence, use of magic, demonic artwork, and fictional pantheon of gods as “spiritually dangerous”. Related, there is also (an unfounded) fear that fantasy role-playing, as personified in Dungeons and Dragons, leads to mental instability. If you choose to run a game of Dungeons and Dragons at your library, you may need to deal with these negative connotations.

Dungeons and Dragons is a system that has stood the test of time. With the amount of new books that are being published, it still has a loyal fan-base, and seems to be attracting new players. Although only the Player's Handbook (and maybe the Dungeon Master's Guide... and the Monster Manual...) is required to play DnD 4th edition, supplementary books* contain new options for players and game masters alike.   A traditional high-fantasy dungeon crawl using one of the oldest RPGs may be the way to kick off your RPG program.

*These supplementary books, the Player's Handbook II and III, include character classes that were iconic in previous editions of DnD, such as the monk, the druid and the bard. Please note, in the 4th edition, the bard doesn't suck. This is a good thing!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

World Events

For the last few weeks, I have been distracted by politics. There is a lot of things going on in the world, including things that effect me personally and on a day-to-day basis. Here are a few of the items, and how they can relate to RPGs

The Royal Wedding.
I am not a royalist. Yes, my country is part of the commonwealth, and yes, I respect the royal family as being the figureheads of the commonwealth, but I am not one to examine every move the royals make, follow articles, or indulge in pictures. That said, the Royal Wedding was on every television station, every radio show and every fifth internet-news site that I visited. Furthermore, there was all-day tea and costumes at work. It was hard not to get caught up in the pageantry and the hype of the wedding; especially since there is a lot of bad news happening in the world.

How to use the Royal Wedding in your games? Well, it could be an event. If your characters were invited to the wedding, or to one that was similar, your game could include a great amount of political intrigue and etiquette. This may be a challenge for characters who enjoy drawing attention to themselves. W|hat if the bride (or the groom) was kidnapped? Obviously, the kidnappers would have to go through security, and the player characters would be the ones with just the right skills to solve the crime (much to the embarrassment of Scotland Yard). Of course, this is assuming that the characters are rescuing the royals. An interesting twist would be if the characters were hired to kidnap / rescue the bride. What if aliens had touched down at that exact moment? What if a member of the wedding party was turned into a vampire? If either of these things happened, the characters may need to deal with the aliens / vampire in a way that does not interrupt the ceremony. What if Kate's gown or tiara was stolen 24 hours before the ceremony and the characters had to find a way to get it back? In one of my games, a necromancer who was against the wedding used the ghosts of old royalty to steal the crown jewels; and the characters had to get the jewels back as well as stop the necromancer before it became an international incident and embarrassment.

The Canadian Federal Election

When the radio wasn't talking about the wedding, it was talking about Canadian politics. For those who do not know, last year Canada had a conservative minority government. The government was put on hold for the Olympics, and the first order of business was to get a new budget passed. It didn't pass. This triggered an election filled with the usual politicking on all parties. The results, however, were anything but normal or expected. First, the Green party actually got a seat in the house of commons! Second, the Liberal party (centre) did not do very well, the NDP (far left) became the opposition party, and the Bloc Quebecois (separatists) only got four seats. Finally, the conservative party gained a majority government: 60% of the seats with less than 30% of the votes. And while this type of result may be common in Canadian politics, the results of this majority will be unveiled at the end of 4 years when there will be another election. In the short term, the budget that caused this election will go through without any changes.

With regard to how we can use the election in some games, it depends on the kind of story you want to tell. If you want to write stories about the rise of a leader, look to Jack Layton and what happened in Quebec. If you want to talk about a return to power (or recurring villain, depending on your political preferences), take a look at Harper. If you want to look at young people in politics, start to follow the career of Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who, at the age of 19, is Canada's youngest ever member of parliament. The characters could work for a young politician, to ensure his success, downfall or that the status quo be maintained. If you want to play a game where the rights of the people are systematically being removed (and no one is noticing, caring, or thinking that it is a bad thing), look at the workings of the Canadian government for the last 10 years. If you want to see the effects of a Big Brother Law on a country with free speech, stay tuned.

Bin Ladin's Death
Right on the heels of the election came the news of Bin Ladin's death.

I am not sure what to say on this matter. Am I glad he (and hopefully his organization) is no longer a threat? Yes. Was there another way that it could have ended in a satisfactory manner for capitalist countries? Doubtful. Am I celebrating the way certain people are? No. I think my reactions are typical of Canadian's. However, one week after the event, I am very tired of this man's name being thrown all over the media like he was a saint. He wasn't. Let history forget his name (though not his deeds). Instead, please give short biographies of the fire-fighters who were in the Towers, and of some of the soldiers who are fighting.

On the other hand, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. What will be the reaction to his death? How will the relationship between the United States and Palestine be affected throughout the years? How will people react to scenes like this? Again, maybe it's just because I'm a Canadian who has participated in an election with very interesting campaign promises that I am thinking about these things.

I am not even going to touch how this part of history could be inspirational or useful in a game. I feel that, at this time, it would not be in good taste.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

RPG Collection Development - Genre

Wikipedia launched a list of different role-playing games by name. While scrolling through the list, I thought “that is a LOT of games...” And while I would gladly applaud any library that manages to collect all of these books, realities such as budgetary constraints and public interest would keep such a thing possible. Role-playing game books can be expensive. Many hard-cover books with over 200 pages can cost almost $50.00. Certain out-of-print books can cost over $200.00, while other “gently used” copies can be had for $25.00. As a result, most wall-o-books that contain just RPGs are in the hands of individuals. 

(No, this is not my room. But every single book on those shelves are RPG books, so I wish it was!)

But, like I mentioned in a previous post, not everyone is able to Therefore, if a public library is to create a collection of RPG books for their patrons, they should carefully consider what books to collect by determining which books would get the most use, and which books would fit into their collections.

I'd like to present two ideas for choosing RPG books: genre and market share (or popularity). In this post, I will focus on genre.

 (This picture is from the Great Fables Cross Over, by Bill Willingham and Matthew Sturges; part 3 of 9, pages 5 and 6.)

As librarians, we all know about genre fiction. For better or for worse, genre fiction has infused the book world and has brought us some works that are mediocre, some that are good, and some that are absolutely amazing, and some that have caught the public's attention. Genre uses the same types of short-hand in role-playing games that it does in fiction. Conventions are used. So, you would be unlikely to find a space ship in a western game, or magic in a post-apocalyptic science-fiction game. (There are, of course, exceptions – the Serenity/Firefly RPG is a western with space ships, and RIFTS is a post-apocalyptic game with magic.) The players roughly know what to expect in a game of a particular genre. So, look at your statistics. See what fiction books are circulating and use that to find different games that fit the genre. Fantasy-based role-playing games seem to be the most popular genre, followed by science fiction and horror games. Does your circulation of novels follow the same pattern? 

You could even look at specific series within a genre and see if they have an equivalent RPG. Do your Doctor Who DVDs disappear from the shelves as fast as they come in? Than maybe the Doctor Who RPG has a place in your collection. Do you have an extensive collection of superhero comics? Maybe Mutants and Masterminds could be included, or the latest version of the DC Adventures RPG, which uses the third edition rules of Mutants and Masterminds. Is political fiction flying off of the shelf, like George R. R. Martin's A Game Of Thrones? Than the RPG version of his story, A Song of Ice and Fire, may be perfect. If fantasy novels circulate like hotcakes - especially those by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – pick up a version of Dungeons and Dragons.

Of course, there are also generic RPG systems that are not dependant on genres. GURPS (Generic Universal Role Play System) and Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) are two such systems. Generic RPG systems allow the players to use the same system for a variety of settings.

Unfortunately, you can have many different games in a single genre, and not have have the desire or budget to get all of them. Furthermore, since the collection is for the patrons, it may be best to give the patrons what they want – or at least what they have heard of. In my next post, I'll write about the more popular games and publishers.

Selected References

Game of Thrones picture from Daemons TV.  Referenced April 19, 2010.

Jason C from Belleville (2011).  Pictures of the Room of RPG Books.  Taken on April 15, 2011.

Willingham B and Sturges M.  Picture of the Genres.  The Great Fables Cross-over : part 3 of 9  Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Song of Ice and Fire picture from Lons Lair.  Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Wikipedia.  "RPGs by Genre."   Referenced April 19, 2010 from

Wikipedia.  "RPGs by Name"  Referenced April 17. 2010 from

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why should libraries care about RPGs?

In my last post, I defined what an RPG is. (At least, I have defined what my idea of an RPG is. Other people may give different definitions). The next question is, so what? Why should the library care? After all, there is already enough going on: story hour, the new computer classes, tax season, a reference list half a mile long, a local performer, teen video-game night, the art show, and the movie night? Not to mention the usual library duties like cataloging, shelving, reference, circulation and helping patrons find what they are looking for.

One answer is in the School Library Journal. Cason Snow (2009) wrote an article about role-playing games in the library. She was looking at gaming from the view of a school librarian, and their value in social education, ethics and literacy:

"A strength of RPGs is that they allow players to examine real issues within the context of a game.  By playing these games, students can develop many important life skills, such as teamwork, leadership, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and math and literacy skills.  RPGs also engage players directly in the experience, making them active rather than passive participants." 

In other words, a role-playing game can be used to apply certain knowledge that is being taught in the class room (i.e. Math and literacy) and to encourage traits that are encouraged in the classroom, but not easily taught.

What about people who are not in a school environment? The public library is “the people's university”, and the library's main goal is to provide the population with information, typically the kind that one learns in a classroom. Does that mean the library has a duty to educate people in the things that cannot be easily learned in the classroom? I don't know.

The point about education may not even matter, since RPGs are, first and foremost a form of entertainment. Public libraries provide entertainment in the form of novels, movies and video games. The resources for role-playing games could be made available as well, especially since the two easiest resources the library can provide are space and the books themselves.

rpg table

Original Source: Dungeons & Dragons on Freebase, licensed under CC-BY 
Found on: Dragonlite's Top 5 RPG Lists

An appropriately sized table and a room are the only things that gamers need in terms of space. Preferably, the room would be separated from other patrons, so that they would not be bothered by the sound of rolling dice, discussing rules and groaning when someone botches. If public libraries can lend space to community groups, clubs and people playing the Wii, surely there could be some space for a group of table-top gamers.

The books themselves are a more complicated issue. There are many different RPG books that have been published, and choosing the right books for your library will be the topic of future posts.

Picture and Quote References:

Dragonlit (2011).  "Top Five Table Top RPGs" Accessed on April 9, 2011.

Lambert, Steven (2011).  "Free Vector Clipart: Library Book Cart"

Snow, C (2009). “Tabletop Fantasy RPGs” School Library Journal. Jan 1, 2009.  Accessed on March 3, 2011.