Cross-posted from the ATLA Newsletter, the blog of the American Theological Library Association. Article submitted to the ATLA by Keegan Osinski, public services assistant, Vanderbilt University Divinity Library.

Much of theological librarianship lies at the intersection of church and library. And as of July 8, 2016, something else has popped up at that intersection: the mobile gaming app Pokémon GO. Based on the popular video game and anime from the late ’90s and early ’00s, Pokémon GO is a location-based game that uses Google maps to bring Pokémon into the real world. Players explore their neighborhoods and cities looking for monsters to catch and battles to fight. The important landmarks in the game — PokéStops and Gyms — are often located at public art, historical markers, and churches and libraries. Both libraries and houses of worship are finding that Pokémon GO can be a fun way to interact with their communities.

Here are some ideas for engaging with your Pokémon trainer patrons, whether your library is a stop or not:

  1. Lure students to office hours. If your library is a PokéStop, you can use a “Lure” to draw Pokémon to the stop for 30 minutes. A flurry of pink petals signals to players that a Lure is active, and they’ll congregate nearby to take advantage of it. Then chat them up: ask what they’re catching, who’s in their Pokédex, and what classes they’re taking and what they’re working on.
  2. Encourage friendly competition. If your library is a gym, set up a leaderboard of sorts. Post which team is in control of the gym, and keep it updated as it changes hands.
  3. Crowdsource a library Poké. Put out a white board or piece of butcher paper and markers and have patrons write down what Pokémon they’ve caught in the library. Even if your library isn’t a PokéStop or a gym, it probably has Pokémon roaming about. Help patrons share their intel.

The key here is not the old “Pizza, pizza, book” scheme, by which librarians use programs and gimmicks to trick people into using the library. Rather, it’s about participating in the life of the community, building relationships, and creating points of access for further engagement. Our students (and, let’s be real, probably faculty too) are playing Pokémon GO, and showing genuine interest in their interests is not just a mark of relevance but of real relationship.

This past Wednesday, a student I previously had only had passing interactions with came into my office. We talked about Pokémon for about ten minutes — which ones we’d seen around campus, which ones were the strongest on our roster — and then he asked me, “So what exactly do you do here in the library?” He left with a little more knowledge about the library and how it works, and made a connection so that next time he has a library-related need, he knows whom to ask. All because of Pikachu.

Cross-posted from the ATLA Newsletter, the blog of the American Theological Library Association. Article submitted to the ATLA by Keegan Osinski, public services assistant, Vanderbilt University Divinity Library.

Image Credit: BagoGames