“You play Minecraft at work?” Sometimes my friends get jealous, so I explain: “Yeah, I play Minecraft at work, but I’m usually running around the lab helping people, and there’s more to it than just playing the game – it’s about building community.” Playing Minecraft at the library is a way to get kids in the door and create connections. That I’m a fan of Minecraft outside of work serves as another layer of common ground.
I’ve been playing Minecraft in our computer lab with groups of kids and teens for about two years now. We’ve done a lot of different things with the game: free play, adventure maps, working together to survive, player vs. player battles, redstone circuits, pixel art. At times we’ve played every other week, sometimes once a month, sometimes once over the summer. I’ve gotten to know my Minecraft kids pretty well. I know that they are creative and knowledgeable about the details of the game. I know who loves to explore, who is a fearless monster fighter, who can give me a porkchop when my food meter is low, and who knows how to build a shelter where no zombie will ever find us. And they know me this way as well. They know I probably have a secret shelter hidden somewhere, that if they need a place to hide they can come in, and that my avatar is probably standing there doing nothing because I left myself logged in while I got up to help someone at their computer.
By providing a space for kids to play, we have explored building communities in the game, and we have created a community outside the game based on our shared interest.
I hear a lot of talk about how Minecraft can be used educationally to teach STEAM skills, executive functioning skills and social skills like sharing and cooperation. I agree that all of these opportunities are available with the game, but the truth is that sometimes in the middle of a program, things can get pretty chaotic. Sometimes I’m just running around the lab trying to help kids learn crafting recipes, or mediating between disputes. I knew I had strong connections with a lot of kids because I know them from Minecraft, but I wasn’t thinking about the way that these connections might go beyond the computer lab until recently.
The other day a couple of my regulars, twin brothers, came in to the Children’s room. I marveled at how tall they were getting. They signed up for the next Minecraft program, next month, near their birthday. They will be 11. I have known them for over a year. In addition to wondering when the next Minecraft program was, they were also looking for books for school. They had reports to write. The topics: roller coasters and locksmiths. We looked for books and I walked them back to the stacks to show them how Dewey Decimal call numbers work. We found some books, but we had to put others on hold from libraries in our consortium. I explained that with a little notice, we could get books that they could use for their projects from libraries across the state. Then, I showed them around the databases.
It turns out roller coaster is two words and locksmith is one. This is something I wasn’t entirely sure about when I went to type in search terms and it gave me a concrete example to show that database searching is specific and you need to try rephrasing your terms when you aren’t finding the information you’re looking for.
I explained how they could access the databases from home and told them they could always call the Children’s Room or send me an email to if they needed more help.
This ten or fifteen minute interaction had a lot of positive outcomes: The twins got the resources they need for their projects as well as an in-depth reference interview from a librarian they know cares about them. I got to see two enthusiastic Minecraft adventurers in the context of fifth grade students. I also got a feeling of satisfaction along the lines of that quote from Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Connections made by gaming translated into a connection to the more traditional resources the library has to offer. So, not only do these two kids know I’ve got their backs when there’s a zombie, they know that the library will support their information needs for school projects with a variety of resources.
It was a moment I wanted to share.
Do you have an anecdote about making connections in your library? Share it in the comments!
YALSA Blogger Erin Daly works with babies, teens and every kid in between as the Youth Services Coordinator at the Chicopee Public Library in Western Massachusetts. You can follow her tales of library life and the occasional cat picture on Twitter @ErinCerulean