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Pokémon Go turns branches into virtual worlds

GPLS News, August 2016

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Pokémon Go turns branches into virtual worlds

In the parking lot of Marietta’s East Cobb Library, a fierce battle raged one recent July day. It was an all-or-nothing melee, with Teams Red, Yellow and Blue in an epic throwdown. Team Yellow prevailed, but the dust never truly settled, and the team’s hold on its vital parcel of territory remained tenuous at best.

This battle — and many more like it — are being waged regularly at libraries around Georgia, as well as an exhaustive list of locations nationwide, as Pokémon Go sweeps the country.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun with Pokémon Go here in Cobb,” said Shannon Tyner, virtual librarian for the Cobb County Public Library System.

Pokémon Go is a free, location-based game that is downloadable to mobile devices through digital distribution platforms such as Google Play and the App Store. It is an augmented-reality game in which one’s view of the real world is altered through the addition of sounds, graphics and other forms of data. Pokémon Go uses a mobile device’s camera and GPS to achieve this virtual world.

Like many Pokémon games before it, such as those for Nintendo’s line of Game Boys, Go creates a world where players, called Trainers, explore their surroundings to catch wild Pokémon (short for pocket monsters) using Pokéballs — red-and-white balls that also house creatures with names such as Pidgey, Slowpoke, Bulbasaur and Pikachu, the ever-popular mascot of the Pokémon franchise.

Once caught, Trainers tend to their Pokémon using in-game items hoping they will rise in power and evolve into stronger versions of the original creature. They are then used in battle against other players, most often to take control of a gym for their team, as with the skirmish at East Cobb Library. A gym is a place where teams can train, battle each other, and use as a sort of base. Notably, gyms are actual public places chosen by game developers due to being socially popular or active, such as public libraries.

All 16 branches in the Cobb system are gyms, as are the branches in Chattahoochee Valley Libraries, Middle Georgia Regional Library (MGRL), Okefenokee Regional Library and Sequoyah Regional Library (where according to staff members, the branches are bursting with Pokémon). All of these systems host activities and eagerly welcome players to duke it out or go on the hunt. To keep the mood lively, MGRL’s Washington Memorial Library in Macon posts regular updates of what team is in control of its gym.

Nola Brantley Memorial Library, the central branch of Houston County Public Libraries, is another gym that is open and friendly to local players, even going so far as to draw chalk Pokéballs in the parking lot, reserving a space for players who can only pop in for a short time.

If a Georgia public library is not a gym, there is a good chance it is a PokéStop. A Stop is a real-world location where Trainers can resupply themselves with extra Pokéballs and possibly find rare or special items, such as Lure Modules and Razz Berries, to respectively attract and feed wild Pokémon. PokéStops include centers for art, monuments and historical markers like the Site of Sam Jones’ Tabernacle marker outside the Bartow County Library System’s Cartersville Main Street Library.

Pokémon Go is not just popular with patrons, but also with library employees — when they aren’t on the job, of course.

This has opened up a fresh dynamic in the customer service experience at many branches, including the Statesboro-Bulloch County Library. “A patron who had a fine to pay joked with me about how it was too bad she couldn’t trade me one of her extra Charmanders to pay it off,” laughed Marion Kuehne, circulation assistant with the system.

Nancy Guinn Memorial Library in the Conyers-Rockdale Library System has two PokéStops directly in front of the library, and employees partake in gameplay during their breaks — a dynamic that cascades to all age ranges. “The kids we’ve encoun-tered are really cool and happy and amazed we have the app down-loaded and are playing ourselves,” said Director Stacy Brown.

Kuehne noticed the same thing: “The younger players really get a kick out of the fact some of the staff plays,” she said.

One overlooked aspect to Go is that, unlike with most video games, players often get physical exercise as they play. At PokéStops, it is possible for a player to stumble upon a Pokémon still in its egg, and the only way to hatch the pocket monster is to  log the specific number of steps displayed under the egg.

This game feature opens even more possibilities for libraries to work with some of GPLS’s partner organizations, such as Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, which encourage Georgia Trainers to use the nature trails spread across 44 parks to hatch rare specimens. Fort Yargo State Park, General Coffee State Park, High Falls State Park, Lake Blackshear Resort and Golf Club and others have events scheduled for budding hikers, naturalists and xenobiologists.

Pokémon Go provides libraries yet another opportunity where they can reach out and connect with patrons in a positive and inventive way, said Wendy Cornelisen, assistant state librarian for library innovation and collaboration.

Branches, such as the Powder Springs Library in Cobb County and the Washington Memorial Library, have people who may never have visited before coming through their doors asking about Go or looking for other Pokémon materials.

Acting in true library fashion, Angelica Torres, young adult specialist at Washington Memorial, uses this opportunity to engage new patrons by inviting them to library events and programming with the goal of fostering lifelong learners who will find more reasons than the ability to capture a sleeping Snorlax to visit their local public library.