I was first introduced to Jenn, the Boardgame Librarian, at the first Connecticut Festival of Indie Games Mid-Year Event in 2016. She's best known for her work starting up a boardgame catalog at the Manchester Public Library, which as led to speaking regionally and nationally about gaming in libraries.
Jenn also co-chaisr the Gaming Roundtable through the Connecticut Library Consortium, and is a columnist for Library Journal, a nationally published trade publication for librarians. She's also part of Favorite Game Friday on Instagram, runs the "Ssh! Quiet in the Libary" blog, and most recently started a segment on The Dice's Tower's Board Game Breakfast called "From the Page to the Table."
Tell everyone a little about yourself, and what you do.
Oh, hard to say in a few short words! Jenn Bartlett, librarian at Manchester Public Library, CT. In the board game world my tagline is Board Game Librarian.
That's like a super brief version of me!
You manage a rather awesome collection of board games at your library, do you not?
Yeah, it's the biggest in the state of Connecticut. The vast majority of my initial collection started out via donations from publishers, brand new in the packaging. When I launched the collection in October I had totaled the amount donated by publishers to roughly $3000.
Today the collection stands at about 180 games, and now includes a teen gaming section, launched on Monday.
Wow, that's amazing! How did the whole thing get started? What was it like putting it all together?
Getting the collection together? Oh geez it was a ridiculous amount of work.
Getting the whole program together.
I started off by going to Gen Con in 2015 with business cards and cold hitting companies there. Response was mixed, but I had a wonderful experience with Rio Grande. When I told Eric, the gentleman at the booth about my project, he was like, "Wait, hold on, I'll be right back." He wandered into the booth, grabbed three games, and handed them to me. Right then and there.
Didn't even want to wait to get back to the office, just no questions asked gave them to me.
Those were the first three games I got for the collection.
Rio Grande has been overwhelmingly generous to libraries, and when I went to Gen Con this past year, I saw the guy and told him the story (I didn't expect him to remember me), and how important that generosity was.
So what does he do?
Gives you more games!
He goes back in the booth, grabs two more games, and hands them to me!
I've met a bunch of awesome people like that in the industry.
I spent an inordinate amount of time filling out forms, e-mailing companies, calling, resending e-mails.
So much time, I would never want to calculate it.
But, it paid off in the end.
And I would agree, there are some super generous people in the industry.
Did you just decide one day that your library needed to lend out games, being a fan of tabletop games yourself? Was it hard to get the idea off the ground, or was it well received from the start?
So all of the games I had gotten as donations languished downstairs in our basement shelving for 2 years and were only brought out when Silk City Board Game Group (the group I run at Manchester Public Library for adults) met.
So once a month for a specific period of time.
And one day I was ruminating on it and was like, this is ridiculous. These need to go out.
They are just sitting there, sad and lonely (LOL!) when they could be played in someone's home.
I talked with my boss, who has been incredibly supportive of my work, and he loved the idea.
I had never done a project like this before- it was starting and spearheading a brand new collection for our library.
A huge task.
A lot of decisions to make- how long do they go out, can they be renewed, can non-Manchester residents take them home, can people put them on hold?
And logistics of- who is counting these bad boys when they come back?!
(Me was the answer to that question)
Baggies? Rubber bands? Labeling?
That's a question I was going to ask! What's it like to keep track of not just the games, but all their pieces?
How do you catalog everything?
Work getting them in the catalog, oh man.
Some person somewhere, whom I want to hug, had cataloged a huge portion of games that we had already. So that required me going to a world-wide website, pulling the information and directing it to our catalog (librarian boring talk right here.)
But the games that were not cataloged were a big problem. I have to create brand new records for these games, measure the boxes, detail items in the box. One easy game can take me 10 minutes. A hard game with a lot of pieces- 20-30 minutes.
I spent a lot of time thinking about the pieces. Some libraries have used a scale to weigh games, and no one has had good luck with that. It had to be yea-old-counting.
This was a team effort, so another staff member inventoried all of the games, and on the inside of each box cover is a detailed list of all of the components.
Is there some sort of fee to the borrower for lost/damaged parts of a game?
I have overall had outstanding luck with people returning them completely.
In the 1% of the time that there are pieces missing, people have either found them, or I have contacted the company and they have replaced it for free
Which is wonderful. There was one company that shall not be named that wanted me to pay for 1 single component and the envelope it was coming in, and the postage too.
Which was not cool.
That's a bit excessive
So I created a replacement myself! In one instance one company couldn't replace components because the game was out of print, so I had to charge the patron with the replacement fee, which they knew about and were ok with.
You said you host a game night for adults. Have tabletop-based programs expanded at the library since you've started lending?
They have. I am starting a teen version of the adult one I do on April 16th, and our children's department is talking about in the fall doing something with games.
The adult program itself keeps growing, and growing, and growing. Which is a great problem to have, but I'm going to run out of chairs for people to sit in!
Have other libraries followed your lead? Have you thought about how you could help others get similar programs started at other libraries?
They have, and I do!
A couple times a month I get phone calls or e-mails from other librarians across the country with questions.
I co-chair the Gaming Roundtable through the Connecticut Library Consortium and have spoken both locally, regionally, and nationally on gaming in libraries.
Tomorrow I even have someone coming to take a look at how I processed and cataloged my collection here because they are at that step in their own.
In my blog, I do Chapter posts, and they are focused on gaming in library topics.
But, I stress to librarians, please incorporate games in your library because you think it is a useful service to your community. Because your community wants it and will use it. Don't just do it because it's "popular".
Let's talk about you as a gamer for a bit. What go you into the hobby?
My husband. All his fault! I kid, I kid.
OK. So I have, on the record, that it's all your husband's fault. Got it.
Really though, back when we were dating, we were both in to pirates, and he got me that Pirates of the Spanish Main game, where you build the ships and then battle each other.
Board games though, we have been doing together since 2010 when my mother bought Matt (my husband) the 150th Anniversary Edition of Battlecry. We spent a lot of wintry nights playing.
Not a gamer growing up. I'm an only child and absolutely loathed playing Monopoly with my cousin. She was vicious. But Mancala was my jam!
I used to win Battlecry too until Matt got a Master's in Military History and then it was all downhill from there... LOL
He's got that amazing brain that just sees military strategy and can see ten moves ahead. That's never been my strong suit.
That's OK. I lose all the time to my kids.
That's cool though! I love when people say that.
I don't love it!
So fast-forward 8 years and you've got both a basement and a public library filled with games. What are some of your favorites?
Well, War of the Ring is my all-time favorite.
Which for a chick, I guess is very unusual.
Five Tribes (Mancala!), Voyages of Marco Polo, Freedom: The Underground Railroad, Happy Salmon just makes me smile and laugh.
I will play just about anything, which is also unusual. A friend of ours called Matt and I dirty omnivores.
That's a great quality in gamers!
I can go from Lisboa to Star Wars Armada
It's probably also why our personal collection is cough cough so huge cough cough.
I know absolutely nothing about having a large game collection.
Or about how they spill over into every inch of the house.
Yours is pretty big, right?
It comes with being a reviewer.
I joke that these are all good problems to have.
They most certainly are
Now you've been on The Dice Tower recently, right?
Yeah, that ended up kinda being a fluke?
Is it going to be a semi-regular thing, or was it a one-time deal?
It's a regular Board Game Breakfast spot. So every week.
And every Monday morning I wake up nervous, waiting to be roasted! Ha!
People though have been overwhelmingly positive and feedback has been wonderful.
Wow! That's pretty great. How's that experience been? How did it come about?
Well, I had gone up to Tom Vasel at The Dice Tower booth at PAXU to thank him for letting Roy Cannaday do Favorite Game Friday (which I am a part of) and what a wonderful experience it has been. For the pure fact that at last Gen Con, people I had never even met before were stopping me and talking to me about gaming and libraries. One guy, stopped me in the middle of a crosswalk in Indianapolis!
I was just very thankful. In terms of exposure, Favorite Game Friday was, and is great.
So Tom looks at me and goes, would you like to do a longer segment? !!!!
And I went uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
Yeah, it was, but it was also that moment where you go, oh man, this requires editing skills I don't have!
It took a little bit to get my rear in gear, develop the idea, but I'm a regular now!
I'm also super thankful to my husband who figured out how to do basic editing so this could be a reality.
Sounds like you guys live a busy, boardgaming life!
Thanks for taking the time off of your day to chat a bit. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you'd like to add?
Flipping some pages...
No, I won't do that.
Other than how thankful I am to be able to do what I do and share it with the greater public.
Some days I see the direct impact of my work, and it's one of those feel-good moments we all strive for in our careers and lives.
And a huge thank you for letting me blather on!
About the Nor'easter Series
Nor'easters is a series of articles spotlighting a different tabletop game designer, publisher, or content creator from the Northeastern United States each week. The series was inspired by all the amazing people in the industry I've met over the years in my home region of the US.
Make sure to come back every week and see who is spotlighted next! To see a complete listing of the series' articles, click here.
Media personality Rob Kalajian has been a staple in the board game world for many years. As a former writer for Purple Pawn and the owner of A Pawn’s Perspective, Rob focuses on board game reviews, events, and news. A self-proclaimed geek, Rob loves all things toys and games and even helps raise his four kids in his spare time.
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