Starting a Circulating Board Game Collection: Things to Consider

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about libraries starting or refreshing circulating board game collections for their patrons. (Check out a previous HLS post from Macy Davis about board games in libraries here!)

These days there are so many options available in the board game world, from quick and fun party games to immersive story-based epics and everything in between.

After dabbling for some time with in-house board game use, my library is currently in the process of preparing the rollout of a new circulating collection. In working on this project I’ve learned a lot through questions and predicaments that have arisen, as well as through exploring information online from other libraries that have worked on their own circulating board game collections.

The following are some considerations to keep in mind if you are looking into beginning your own board game collection at your library.

Pitching Board Games as a Collection

First thing’s first, if you haven’t already gotten the green light to go ahead with starting a board game collection at your library, you need to start winning hearts and minds! Ensure that a board game collection fits your library’s plan of service. Take a look at the vision, mission, goals and action plan objectives outlined by your library and consider how board games might be aligned with these. There are a vast variety of board game types and styles available for all ages and abilities. Board games are known to be fun, and they may also foster reflection, creativity, social activity, problem-solving, connection, storytelling, learning, literacy, and more.

Initial Budget

Introducing a board game collection will mean an investment in not only the board games themselves, but also potentially things like sturdy storage boxes, lamination supplies, replacement pieces, and more. Figure out how much money your library is willing to invest in this new collection, and where it will come from. If money is tight, you could consider doing a call-out for donations of new and barely-used board games from your community. Some game publishers have been known to give donations or offer discounts to libraries, too! Also consider what this collection will be classified under for budgeting purposes: you may find that it falls under an existing category in your fund breakdown such as “kits”, or you might want to create a new budget category specifically for board games.

Game Selection

This is the fun part: what board games should you pick to start off your new collection?

Every community is different, so consider what kinds of games your community would enjoy. You may consider doing a formal or informal survey with community members to ask what kinds of board games they’d like to see in the collection. Are there any board game clubs in your town, or board game cafes? Ask them what’s popular, too.

To create a balanced collection, consider the following factors when choosing board games for your collection:

Explore online and you’ll find lots of lists and recommendations about board games in libraries. Here are a few to get you started:

You can also check out sites like boardgamegeek and r/boardgames to get inspired and keep tabs of what’s going on in the board game world.

Game Storage

Now that you have your games, will you circulate them in the original boxes or process them a different way? My library has previously offered in-house games and found that the original boxes soon became torn and worn, so for our circulating collection we decided to order plastic bins in various sizes.

Plastic storage bins for game storage

We also got sturdy plastic cases and zip bags for game pieces, and laminating supplies for game rules.

Clearly labeled cases and zip bags

I labeled each pouch or case clearly so that it’s easier for patrons to see if they’ve missed anything, and easier for staff to count pieces during check-in.

Housing and/or Placeholders

Now that you know how you will store the games, where will you put them? Some libraries will keep the games in a public area, but other libraries have had issues with boxes being opened up and items being damaged or going missing. If this is a concern, you might consider housing the actual board games in a staff-only area and putting placeholders (such as DVD cases labeled for each game) out for the public to browse; that way they can still browse what is currently available.

If you are putting the actual game boxes on display, make sure to choose shelving that is tall and deep enough to facilitate a wide range of game boxes. Boxthrone shelving is one option designed specifically for this purpose. H-band elastics can also be used to keep boxes securely closed when not in use.

Another factor to consider is whether you will house your games/placeholders all in one area, or separate them in some way (for example, by suggested age range).

Cataloguing Considerations

How will you catalogue your board games in your library system? This affects how easily searchable the collection will be for patrons and staff, as well as the ease of pulling up circulation statistics and information about the collection down the road. You’ll want a unique identifier for this new collection. My library created a new collection type, “board games”, and included this collection under our existing material type “kit”.

Circulation Policies and Procedures

Board games require special consideration for circulation because of all the potential pieces. Counting pieces may be time consuming, so consider which pieces need to be counted in their entirety every time (such as vital and unique pieces) and those that might not require such diligent counting (such as large stacks of cards that don’t impact gameplay when only a few are missing). Some libraries even use weighing scales to compare the expected weight of a returned board game to the actual weight.

You’ll also need to decide on loan times, limits, and renewal allowances for the board games in your collection.

Replacement Planning

Consider how you will replace pieces that inevitably go missing or become damaged. Some game pieces may be unique or special designs and be difficult to replace without repurchasing the entire game, but other pieces may be more generic. It’s a good idea to order some basic replacement items to have on hand so you can replace pieces quickly and keep your games circulating. Dice, meeple, and dry erase markers are some items that can often easily be replaced with generic substitutes. Some libraries 3D print their own replacement pieces in-house.

Replacement meeple, dice, and dry-erase markers

If you do need to replace unique pieces, you can try contacting the game publishers directly to see if they offer replacement pieces individually. You might get lucky and not have to replace an entire game just for one vital piece.

When gameplay instructions for a particular game go missing, they can likely be found online through a web search. Many games also have gameplay how-to videos on YouTube.

Rollout and Marketing

Finally, decide whether you want to begin adding board games one by one in a steady trickle, or prepare a larger selection to start the collection with a bang. If you will do a big rollout all at once, consider your timing; spring break or the beginning of summer might generate more hype than the height of exam season, for example. Also consider how your new board game collection might work in conjunction with new or existing library programming; if you run a board game program you could cross-promote by talking up the new board game collection during the program and including leaflets or QR codes about the program in your circulating board game boxes.

Shauna Murray has worked at Wood Buffalo Regional Library for over ten years in Reference and Information Services roles. She is currently completing her MLIS online through the University of Alberta, where she also obtained her Bachelor of Education with Distinction in 2015. She is passionate about critical literacy, community-led programs and services, fact checking, and diversity in collection development. Don’t talk to her about graphic novels unless you are ready to hear her wax poetic about the versatility of comics and how they are a format, not a genre! Her hobbies include needle-felting, printmaking, cosplay, and going on adventures with her dog Tegan. You can find her on Twitter and other social media @HideNGoShauna.