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More than Mario Kart: games and game-based learning at Carleton University Library

Call of Duty: Black Ops2 is one of the most popular video games in the collection at Carleton University Library.


The dust has settled from the 2012 holiday consumer frenzy and it appears the video games Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 were the blockbuster hits of the season. Black Ops 2 was released in November with a slick marketing campaign and star-studded launch parties in major cities around the world and made $500 million in just 24 hours. This hoopla reflects the central role of video games in the entertainment industry. But do these materials belong in an academic library?

Carleton University Library has a collection of more than 400 video games and 50 board games to support courses in computer game development in the Schools of Computer Science and Information Technology. The library began purchasing games in the summer of 2008, at the request of David Mould, a faculty member in the School of Computer Science who teaches courses in game development. In early 2009, games were added to the library’s collection profile, start-up financing of $13,000 was obtained and funding for the games collection is now an ongoing part of the library collections budget.  Games are not traditional materials for an academic library and the rapid growth of the games collection at Carleton created controversy about both the cost and content of these materials. However, the role of the academic library is to support the teaching and research needs of the university. Enrolment in game development courses has been growing steadily since the fall of 2009, resulting in the hiring of several new faculty members. The initial controversy over games has almost been forgotten as an increasing number of faculty and students are showing an interest in this collection.

It is becoming clear that gaming and game-based learning are emerging fields in higher education. An increasing amount of research examines the use of games in higher education to promote learning. These so-called serious games are for educational purposes and tackle academic subjects such as self-replicating mathematical algorithms and rain forest ecology. In early 2012, Carleton faculty member Shawn Graham received publicity on campus for the “gamification” of his second-year history course, The Historian’s Craft. Using a course website, Graham incorporated popular features of video games such as leaderboards, badges and achievement announcements to allow students to engage with course material in a new way.

While the push for academic libraries to acquire games may have started with courses in computer science, courses across disciplines are starting to incorporate games. A current sampling at Carleton indicates that games are used by a fourth-year course in Communication Studies called New Mechanisms of Control: the Technology of Persuasion and that the School of International Affairs has used board games in several courses to demonstrate and teach strategic thinking. In addition, there is a noticeable increase in academic research featuring games. For example, a recent presentation in the Department of Neuroscience addressed the issue of brain plasticity and the role of video games in altering brain function.

With university courses in game development and increasing interest in games and game-based learning post-secondary teaching and research, discussion around games in academic libraries continues to evolve. Wondering what was the 2012 blockbuster game at Carleton University Library? Since May 2012, our highest circulating video games have been Call of Duty: Black Ops (Xbox 360) and Max Payne 3 (PS3).

Cross and Smith won best poster presentation at Canadian Library Association (CLA) 2012 conference for Power-up! Building a games collection in an academic library: the experience of Carleton University Library.  They will give a presentation entitled The evolution of gaming at academic libraries at the upcoming CLA conference in Winnipeg in June 2013.

Robert Smith invites InsideOCULA readers to catch up on the latest news on games and gaming in the academic world and beyond by following him on Twitter @rosmith11 January 2013.


Emma Cross, a Cataloguing Librarian, and Robert Smith, a Library Subject Specialist, in Computer Science, Electronics, Systems Engineering at the Carleton University Library.

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