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Libraries look to an unlikely savior: video games

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The library isn’t especially high on the list of cool places for kids to hang out.

But the increased integration of video games in the lending catalog -- and the practice of letting kids actually play games on site -- is breathing new life into old libraries. And it just might help save the system.

Funding cuts and quickly changing media forms have dealt many of the country's libraries a blow. To attract teens and other easily distracted patrons, many libraries are now offering gaming events in the library itself, reports NPR, and that's driving up interest in books.

"It's a primary part of our service that we offer, and it results in a 15- to 20-percent increase in the circulation of books," says Sandy Farmer, manager of Central Youth Services for the Houston Public Library.

Libraries have long had their eye on the gaming market. Many patrons, they say, come to the local library because they don't have internet access at home. Those people often bring their children, who might get bored easily. Games, they found, offered a way for kids to get engaged, which would sometimes steer them to other learning methods in the process.

As a result, several of the nation's biggest cities have incorporated games into their library ecosystems. In Baltimore, there's a weekly Xbox program. Houston libraries have four Nintendo Wiis, four Xboxes, several Nintendo DS systems, a few PlayStations, and some iPads. And New York's public library system has started the equivalent of a book club for games.

"Gamers can come in, they can play games and they can also talk about them and engage in an analytical discussion: talk about strategic methods for winning and really sharing ideas and thoughts about how the games work, their structure and so forth," says Kevin Winkler, director of Library Sites and Services.

A study published in Library Journal last year found that roughly 15 percent of the nation's libraries currently lend out games, but even more are letting patrons play there. And with that simple twist, the stacks are no longer solely the domain of bookworms.

"I have a room full of teenage boys that are happy, and the library is the coolest place they know," she says. "And video games are a part of that."

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