Libraries let patrons check out board games

By Igor Studenkov For Chronicle Media

Some of the board games available for checkout at the Gail Borden Library District’s main library

Step into your local library, and chances are you’ll be able to walk out with a board game.  

Board games have been a regular fixture of children’s and teens sections, something young patrons could play with but not check out. However, during the last 10 years, the approach changed. Libraries are not just adding games in-house, but letting patrons of all ages check them out the way they would a book or movie. 

The librarians who spoke to Chronicle Media said they are simply responding to the growing patron interest. The past 10 years saw an increased interest in board games and tabletop role-playing games, something that only increased during the pandemic. They argued that borrowing games works well for the patrons. They can try a game out before buying it or pick it up for special occasions such as family gatherings.  

Chronicle Media reached out to the Illinois Library Association to get a sense of just how common it is for libraries to lend board games. Becca Boland, content and development manager for ILA’s summer reading program, said she was hard-pressed to think of any Illinois library that wasn’t either lending games, offering games for people to play in the building, or looking into doing one of those things. 

Boland has been a librarian since 2006. In the early years, the board games were mostly offered in-house, and libraries saw them grow more popular over the years. When she joined the northwest suburban Ela Area Public Library District in 2016, she found that the teen area had board games, but “they were kind of old and they were missing some pieces,” so they didn’t get much use. Boland got new, more modern games for the in-house collection. 

Board games available for checkout at the Downers Grove Public Library

“Those were used pretty well, and because they were used well, I was able to work with our collections department to create a circulating board game collection,” Boland said. 

She said that, in her experience, there tends to be an overlap between libraries and gaming enthusiasts, so it isn’t a hard sell for many libraries. Boland emphasized that those efforts wouldn’t have gotten anywhere if patrons didn’t check the games out. 

“It’s becoming a regular part of the library offerings,” she said. 

Boland feels that there are several factors driving the growing interest in board games and role-playing games. The last 10 years saw a growing number of independent publishers taking board games in new directions, drawing in new players. Shows such as Stranger Things brought them into popular conscience, and video-sharing platforms such as YouTube and TikTok are awash with tutorials, recommendation videos and recordings of game sessions. The pandemic made many people pick up the old board games and see what else might be out there. 

“Now that people can go and do these sorts of things in person again, and libraries can have game nights, I think it started people on that track,” Boland said. 

Chronicle Media reached out to two Chicago area libraries that offer board games – the west suburban Downers Grove Public Library and the Gail Borden Public Library District serving Elgin and parts of the nearby suburbs and unincorporated sections of Kane County. Both offer a mix of classics such as Monopoly and Clue, and more complex strategy games such as Catan. Gail Borden Library District’s main branch lends card games and even Rubix cubes. When pieces or cards go missing, both libraries do their best to replace them.  

Both libraries have long expanded their collections beyond books and audiovisual materials, letting patrons borrow anything from art supplies to recording equipment to learning kits for kids.  

Joan Hull, Gail Borden’s director of collection services, said that the main library started lending board games in November 2017. She didn’t elaborate on why the district decided to include them but said that the decision paid off. 

“Games are quite popular,” Hall said.” People are happy to be able to try out a new game or to be able to have games on hand when they are having friends or family for a visit or for a game night.” 

According to Gail Borden spokesperson Denise Raleigh, the most popular game is Elginopoly, the Elgin-based take on Monopoly, with the classic Monopoly being the most check-outs. The Exploding Kittens card game was number 2, Clue number 3 and Sorry number 4. 

Downers Grove Public Library spokesperson Cindy Khatri said the library’s board game collection grew out of their own collection of unusual materials, the “Anything Emporium.” Patrons who found out about it started asking if they could borrow board games – but because of the disruptions caused by the pandemic, the library wasn’t able to follow through until about 2 1/2 years ago.  

Khatri said that the collection includes “over 50” board games for kids, teens, and adults. Patrons can check them out for up to three weeks. 

“[This way], people really have time to learn the game and get in a few plays before they have to return it,” Khatri said. 

The board games proved to be popular enough to not only keep the collection going, but to add puzzles and tabletop role-playing games. They are shelved directly behind the board games display. The RPGs include mainstays such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, as well as more niche titles such as Girl By Moonlight, an RPG that takes inspiration from “magical girl” Japanese anime such as Sailor Moon. Patrons can check out dice, but not the maps – those can only be used inside the library.  

Khatri said that, as part of the library’s broader effort to have materials that are accessible to people with disabilities, they offer braille dice. 

Downers Grove Library also offers opportunities for patrons to play together. It holds Drop-In Board Game events from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Fridays, where patrons can play board games the library has on the shelves or bring their own. 

“We have regulars who come every week, and people who drop in sporadically,” Khatri said. 

She said that the library also hosts a D&D players group that meets twice a month. The group meeting dates and times are listed on Downers Grove library online event calendar.  

Khatri emphasized patrons can always suggest games the library should purchase using the online Materials Purchase Request Form. 

“We always love getting recommendations, since it’s such a popular collection,” she said.