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21 July, 2016

Pokemon Go in the Library? Yes Please.

If you've been anywhere on the internet for the past two weeks, you'll have seen at least one post about Pokemon Go. The cellphone based app has surpassed Tinder in number of downloads and Twitter in numbers of daily logging on, making it one of the largest apps to ever hit the market. In the first week of it's release alone, the App raised Nintendo's stock by 120% since it's release in the U.S. though recently it did drop with the postponement announcement for the Japanese release.

I won't say the release has been perfect - constant server problems, game 'breaking' glitches, and less than stellar tutorial has left many fans and new players frustrated with what's happened. Overwhelming popularity has also lead to many people getting caught in strange or awkward situations ranging from finding dead bodies to meeting an unfortunate end due to trespassing into places they shouldn't be. Those, however, are only a subsection of the stories coming from this phenomenon. For every story I've seen putting down Pokemon Go, I've seen positive stories about the app giving a common footing for children with Autism, children in the Shriner's Hospitals, and just a positive impact in general.

What makes the app so popular though? Yes, there's many of us (including myself) who have been waiting for something like this since the popularity of Pokemon soared in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Even with all the closeted fans coming out of the woodwork, the popularity lies not with a resurgence of older players but with the fact the game is very socially based. The map overlay for Pokemon Go comes from an older Niantic game called Ingress, where the 'portals' of Ingress line up with where the stops are. This is important to know since many of the 'Poke-Stops' are in fact landmarks, public buildings like churches and libraries, and art installments. 

My library, though not a stop, has one stop that's located right next door and can be accessed from inside the building. Even when it's raining fans could stop by and be able to access the stop and catch any Pokemon that might turn up. There's also a gym nearby, though the free WiFi doesn't reach it, that changes hands pretty frequently. My goal is to be able to take it over the gym for purposes of promoting the library and the area. Without the battle system in place to battle each other directly, having the gym would allow for the idea of 'battling a librarian' without actually having to disrupt the flow of the library for the battle. Already this week I've discussed Pokemon Go twice in two days, once to a local radio station field reporter who was looking for the public perspective on the game which allowed me to plug my library branch, and to the assistant director who wanted to capitalize on the game more.

Libraries are, by most thoughts and definitions in the modern age, community centers. Gone are the days of shushing and chaining the books to shelves, and instead we've opened the floor for more possibilities. Meeting rooms that can be used by the public for events, story times and other themed events for ideas (example, I'm planning a Harry Potter movie themed series leading up to the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find them) to invite the public inside. We contact schools, church groups, and other entities trying to set up times for them to come or us to come to them. In essence, the library has become a community pillar in many places that allow for people to socialize and mingle without having to pay (generally at least) to do so. 

In the interview I was asked what I'd noticed when I'd started playing Pokemon Go, and my answer was I had noticed more people out and about socializing while playing the game. I, myself, have had a hard time in the two years I've lived in Montgomery socializing due to both work restrictions on time and just social awkwardness. In one Monday evening, I spoke to more people than I normally do outside of work and held actual conversations with them about the app and the Pokemon games in general than I have in a while. While the place I work only has the one stop and gym, I can still check in multiple times a day on breaks to take advantage of that one Poke-Stop. I had a patron yesterday who'd been playing the game and happened to be playing when I came back from lunch. It was nice to be able to interact with a patron who might otherwise not want to talk to a librarian.

The Librarian groups I follow on Facebook have been abuzz with ideas as well. I've seen many libraries creating custom signs to let patrons know they're Poke-Stops and ideas for everything from bug catching contests using the app to scavenger hunts with Pokemon that have been hidden around the library that don't require your phone. Libraries have been embracing the change and using it as a positive way to bring in more patrons and broaden the expansive services already offered by the library. 

That isn't to say it's been without those who don't understand. I've seen many things putting down the use of the app since it is a 'commercial based' entity, it leads to people trespassing on private property, and that people should just 'get a life'. Honestly, I could say the same things about Sports, but that'd be just as judgmental of me and would be wrong of me to do. I'll admit people should be cautious when playing the game since Pokemon will turn up in private yards and no you shouldn't go chasing them in there. Common sense should be used when chasing any kind of Pokemon and please, don't do anything illegal to get them. 

While it may not be the most original way to bring in patrons, Pokemon Go is here to stay along with the augmented reality applications. Overall, I think we'll have to wait and see how the app develops and what features might be added (such as trading, friends lists, and easier methods of battling or finding team mates), I think librarians have little to fear in embracing being a Poke-Stop or a Gym. 

On a last thought, if your library is a Poke Stop, think about possibly making a library account and perhaps investing in a few Lure Models to help boost your door count.

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