Patron Complaints: Firsthand Experience

So, something happened to me recently that I have heard tell in my many library school classes, but I hadn’t actually had first-hand experience with. Now that I HAVE, I feel as though I am in the position to offer advice, as (in my humble opinion), the interaction went about as ideally as it could have. I present to you:

The Patron Complaint

Yes, it’s true, I had a patron complain to me about a book I had recommended to her and her daughter. Here’s how the situation played out:

  • The patron, a mother with three young children, comes to the desk to ask for recommendations for her daughter (who is not present with her this day).  She tells me her daughter has been reading Raina Telgemeier’s books, and particularly enjoyed Drama, and is looking for a read-alike to those books.
  • I’m not told how old her daughter is, but based on that, I recommend to her three books: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, and This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki.
  • Can you tell where this is going yet?
  • Three days later, the patron comes to the desk, This One Summer in hand, to tell me in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t believe I had suggested it, should it even be in the J Graphic Novels, maybe her daughter should just avoid the graphic novel collection all together.

She wasn’t mad, or at least she didn’t give the impression of anger. I think she was more taken aback and disturbed that I thought it was an appropriate recommendation (which I’ll get to in a second). She could have rolled in with righteous fury and demanded the book be taken off the shelf – she didn’t.  She could have asked to speak to my manager. She didn’t. In terms of handling a patron complaint, it was basically an ideal first experience for me, and this is how I handled it:

  • I apologized. Not for the book’s existence, but for the fact that she had had a bad experience of which I was partially responsible. I apologized that I had made an inappropriate recommendation.
  • I assured her that the book in question was on the high end of the maturity level for that section, and assured her that other recommendations could be made that would be more in line with what she considered appropriate (I didn’t say it like that. I was much less eloquent – my actual words were more like “I know we can find something else that you and your daughter will enjoy more.”)
  • I asked her not to write off the section as a whole, and recommended commonsensemedia.org if she was concerned about content in graphic novels her daughter might choose to read in the future.
  • I ran a plot synopsis of Zita past her to make sure it was more of what she actually wanted to be reading with her daughter.

Here’s the thing. Yes, I’m aware that This One Summer deals with more mature things than many of our other J graphic novels (I have a copy in the YA section, also).  But I also stand by my original assessment, that it’s an in-between book; we consider our tween audience to be ages 8-12, and our teen audience to be ages 12-19.  So you can see immediately that we have at least one year of overlap in actual numbers, and a couple of years of overlap in terms of reading level and interests.

Here’s the other thing. She told me that her daughter is seven, which falls well outside of that overlap I was talking about, and had I known the age of the reader in question I probably would not have recommended the book.  But based on the context I had (reading those Telgemeier books), I stand by recommendation.  I also never apologized for the book’s presence in the collection; I do the collection development for both graphic novel sections, and while I thought long and hard about the book’s placement after this encounter, I ultimately decided that it should stay on the shelf.

Patron complaints, especially in the graphic novel collections, have a lot of bad history.  Since I took over development I’ve been bracing myself for a concerned parent to question a book in the collection; I’d be lying if I said it didn’t influence my purchasing decisions somewhat (not too much, though, I’m still a librarian).  I got lucky in that the first one I dealt with was pretty lowkey and had no lasting consequences, but it did remind me that I need to carefully consider the recommendations I make and who I make them to.  It always pays to be mindful, especially when working with parents.

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Games for Tweens

Let’s talk about games.

I just wrapped up an incredibly awesome weekend at GenCon, one of (if not the) largest gaming conventions in the world.  I’ve been an attendee for the last five shows, and I love it – not only do I get to play tons of new games, but I get to see what’s new and what’s coming. This is always interesting to me personally, but recently it’s also become seriously interesting on a professional level; I’m bringing in gaming on a much larger scale to my library, with the whole-hearted support of my supervising staff, so attending the show this year got me SUPER excited to introduce some new stuff to our patrons.

At the show, I was chatting with a friend of mine who mentioned he’s been enjoying my write-ups of the teen programs we’ve done for summer reading. I thanked him, and we got to talking about his niece, who’s 10 years old and just starting to discover games more complex than Candyland (she’s also started reading a bunch of new comics – I feel like this girl is going to be cooler than me when she grows up).  My friend mused about what some good choices would be for her, that would be complex enough to be interesting but not too long or crunchy.

After much thought, I’ve picked five games that I think are excellent choices for the tween gamer set.  I settled on some basic parameters, based on my understanding of this age group: generally simple but not easy, with shorter play times (average about 90 minutes), 2-5 players, and fun themes.  I’ve also tried to include a wide variety of kinds of board games.  Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything great!

1. Forbidden Island
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 30 minutes
Suggested Ages 8+

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This was the first title that popped into my mind.  It’s a fairly simple cooperative game, where you work as a team to recover artifacts and escape a landscape that becomes more treacherous by the turn: the waters rise as you hunt for artifacts and shore up barricades. Players take on different roles with different skills that help the group, and the group wins when all artifacts are recovered and everyone escapes from the helicopter pad. You lose if too much of the board sinks under the water.  The board is made of tiles with different locations on them, and artifacts are recovered by drawing cards and collecting four of a kind.  The thematic sequel, Forbidden Desert, is largely the same but with a few mechanical variations that make it worthwhile to own both versions.

2. Takenoko
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 45 minutes
Suggested Ages 8+

Takenoko

Cutest board game ever (or at least in the top five). In this game players are cultivating plots of bamboo by irrigating them, while satisfying the appetite of the Emperor’s Panda who wanders the board.  Players draw cards with different objectives on them (growing bamboo to certain heights, collecting segments of different colors, etc.) and collect points when they complete objectives.  Colorful, cute, and a good introduction to resource management.

3. Mice & Mystics
1-4 Players, but best with 3-4; Playing time est. 90-120 minutes (includes ongoing play)
Suggested Ages 9+

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Mice & Mystics is a good way to test the RPG waters with a kid – it’s a little bit board game, a little bit role play, and a lot of fun.  Unlike a lot of games of this type, there is no gamemaster; players all take the roles of mice in an adventure party (they didn’t start life as mice, but the story is a very strong element of the game so no spoilers here!).  Major party roles are represented, with cleric, warrior, wizard and rogue, as well as a few extras, being options.  Players work as a party to fight rats, bugs, and the occasional cats, collect loot, and accomplish missions. If you’ve played Wrath of Ashardalon, it’s similar in feel, but a little simpler mechanically.

4. RoboRally
2-8 Players, Playing time est. 60 minutes

Suggested Ages 10+

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Originally I had a paragraph here about the game Labyrinth, which I still think is a brilliant game that belongs in every library, but the more I thought about it the more I decided I wanted to include something that was a little more complex, a little more unusual. RoboRally is a great game that flexes your spacial reasoning by using the best device possible – frantic robots in an abandoned factory. Players navigate their robots with cards that have movement printed on them, trying to hit multiple checkpoints on the board. The tricky bit is that the board and the other players are all ALSO moving and changing, and sometimes what you think is the perfect path ends up being an explosive disaster.

5. Gloom
2-4 Players, Playing time est. 60 minutes
Suggested Ages 11+

Gloomcardgame

I sat on this one for a long time before making a decision (hence the delay on me actually publishing this post).  I wanted this list to be representative of games of all kinds, so I wanted to make sure I included a card game of some kind on here.  I got stuck because I don’t actually play that many card games!  I got some great ideas from fellow gamers, but not many I had experience with, and I wanted to be able to personally recommend something I had experience with (and I’m sorry, but while some of you might have gotten started playing Magic: The Gathering at this age, I can’t in good conscious include something with such a high monetary commitment attached to it).

I’m going with Gloom for lots of reasons – it’s a great storytelling game, which lets the players spin as detailed a story as they want to…or no story at all.  It’s very flexible in terms of how much players want to engage with the stories that they tell with their cards (each person has a family that they try to make as miserable as possible by playing different event cards; you can play happy cards on other people to sabotage them, and the person with the saddest family at the end wins).  It’s a fun, hilarious, intuitive game (the cards have transparent spots to show how many points they’re earning just by stacking them).

I struggled a little bit with this list – was I picking games that were too basic?  Too simple?  Was it a boring list?  And yes, these games are easy to play – but what it ultimately came down to was, they’re good games.  These are all games that I would and have played myself; with the exception of Labyrinth, they’re games I have in my own home library (and that’s just because my mom won’t let me take her copy).  These are all great ways to introduce a kid to games outside of what they might normally be exposed to, but they’re also great family-play games and great for kids who already know they love to game.  In short: these are good games.  I hope you get a chance to enjoy them!

GenCon 2015 and Gamification in the Library

GenCon is the biggest gaming convention in the world. I love it and I’ve been going regularly for five years now – my husband and I go for a weekend of games, whether that’s tournaments, hours of RPG sessions, playing new games late into the night or demoing stuff that’s so new it hasn’t been released yet. This year was particularly interesting for me, since I was there not only as a gamer, but as a librarian – a librarian whose library has a growing interest in games and gamification.

We started introducing gamification elements into our summer reading program this year (the badging was part of that; the kids’ program also has a badge component, and achievements to earn), and there’s a lot more we can build on for our programming both next summer and in this upcoming school year. I spent Friday attending different panel events specifically on gamification in the classroom to see what elements of that we could purloin for the library, and was not disappointed.

Jon Cassie of Game Level Learn led the two workshops I took part in: The Magic Circle of the Gamified Classroom and Using Board Games in the Gamified Classroom. My big takeaway from both of these was how to look at the mechanics of games, break them down into their component parts, and figure out how to apply those to groups of kids and specific activities. We discussed the value of competition and merit-based play, and how setting up a gamified environment encourages kids to take control over their experience.

We’ve seen this with our summer reading program as well: for the kids’ program, they have a game board with spaces to be filled in for every day that they read. In theory, a kid can only do that over the summer and still hit the prize spots and still complete the program; however, we also have spaces for badges and achievements they can earn in addition to the basic board. We have seen way more kids get excited about hanging on to their board to finish all the badges, even when they’ve finished the reading spaces and could turn it in for their last prize – the prize becomes secondary to the experience, and to the feeling of really having completed their game.

(I also learned that boardgamegeek.com lets you search for games by mechanic, which means that they have a list of fifty-one different game mechanics you can examine. Super helpful!)