Tabletop Games in Special Libraries

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

March 23, 2021

In 2014, I was awarded a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to create a library-based Center for Games and Learning. The Center’s focus was tabletop games.

This included board games, dice, tile-based games, role-playing games, and card games. While I have since taken another job that took me away from the work at the Center, I have continued to teach about games for learning.

Why Tabletop Games

Tabletop games support experiential learning and social activity. They are more accessible than digital games, and they have a longer lifespan than digital games. Moreover, modern tabletop games require players to use skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and communication. Fewer games today are based on luck. This is an important component of why tabletop games are useful for learning; they allow for engagement with a concept outside a high stakes environment. 

Also, there are many tabletop games that fit within a specific curriculum. Depending on your library, there may be a game that would support your users in thinking about concepts in new ways. For example,


Tabletop games create an experience for players. In the experiential learning cycle, reflection is an important aspect. For games, debriefing can be the best method for reflection. This means taking time to discuss the experience and what happened during the gameplay.

  1. Start with learning goals. Discuss what players learned in the game. During this time, listen to create dialog and not just to check off answers. 
  2. Discuss any feelings that came up during gameplay. 
  3. Have players tell their neighbor what happened during the gameplay. 
  4. Compare and contrast the game with other learned content. 
  5. Ask players what modifications they would make to the game to make it more realistic. 

Practical Considerations

When adding games to your collection, what do you need to consider? 

1. Consider how you will process games. I suggest:

  1. Include bags for each type of game piece
  2. Include instructions
  3. Reinforce the box

2. Consider if you will allow games to be checked out. You will need to determine what is best for your library, but here are my suggestions:

  1. Two week check out period
  2. Count all game pieces as the games are returned
  3. Not available for loaning outside the system
  4. Games can be placed on hold
  5. Renewals are allowed

There is a lot of opportunity for special libraries to provide tabletop games for facilitating learning. I hope these ideas gave you a place to start. 

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Central Missouri. Please read her other posts about skills for special librarians. And take a look at Lucidea’s powerful integrated library systems, SydneyEnterpriseand GeniePlus, used daily by innovative special librarians in libraries of all sizes and budgets.

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