October 2016 | Volume XXXIV. Issue 5 »

Battling It Out in Pokémon Go: Libraries Up Their Game

September 14, 2016
Kara Kohn, Plainfield Public Library District

This summer and fall, Pokémon Go, has taken the world, and libraries, by storm. This virtual reality game with an app available for iOS and Android has led many libraries to become designated PokéStops, Pokémon. Although gaming in libraries has been around for some time, this particular game is bringing people in droves to our buildings, something that libraries have been taking advantage of through displays, pub crawls, innovative programming, and much more.


Pokémon Go players receive a warm reception at Alpha Park Public Library District, with signage to greet them as they arrive and also a board where patrons can write which Pokémon they have caught there. In the lobby at Palatine Public Library District, a Pokémon table gladly receives players and informs them of the current gym leader (for Pokémon novices, a gym is where players gather to battle). There is also an interactive dis-play that engages patrons by asking them about the Pokémon they have captured and what team they are on.

Rockford Public Library will soon be offering an official Pokémon League, a Nintendo-authorized event where all ages come to play, battle, and earn official prizes like foil cards, online codes, badges, and key chains, all at no cost to the library. Launching an official league can take time to get off the ground but is worth it, says librarian Sarah Stumpf. After obtaining a player ID number from a nearby league event, the library needs to pass a background check and an online “Professor Game” exam where they are questioned on the intricacies of the game.

In nine short days, Homer Township Public Library District planned and executed a successful Pokémon Go program that featured team buttons, pizza, cupcakes, and raffles. Activities also included a live game of PokéBall that used ping-pong balls in cornhole-like fashion, Pin the Pokémon, PokéBall crafts, and more.


Pokémon Go Safari programs are big hits at several libraries. During these programs, like the one at Glen Ellyn Public Library, Pokémon experts take attendees through their downtown area where lures are dropped at PokéStops along the way. (If you don’t know what a lure is, you need Pokémon 101). Participants are required to have the game preloaded on their device and wear comfortable clothing.

A comparable program at Barrington Area Library was dubbed a “PokéWalk,” where the goal was to take patrons on a walk to various PokéStops while they interacted with each other and explored the outdoors. Besides the walk, a Pokémon shop was set up in the library’s atrium where staff handed out custom pins and stickers. Karen McBride, public information manager, reports that sixty-five kids stopped by to grab swag. “For a program that was spawned by a simple e-mail and planned in the span of five days with only social media coverage, our PokéWalk was successful and enjoyable.”

Using their 3D printer, Indian Prairie Public Library created Pikachu figurines as well as buttons for their Pokémon Go meet-up, and just by being out in their community for this event, they “lured” new patrons to the library. According to Jez Layman, adult services librarian, “just before the program began, I saw someone outside obviously playing for the gym and asked if he was joining us. He didn’t know about it, but was very excited and stayed for the whole meet-up. He didn’t know the library did ‘fun’ programs like this and now plans on checking us out more often.”


In a unique twist, Batavia Public Library District offered a Pokémon program that did not require use of a device, for which parents expressed much gratitude. During their Pokémon Scavenger Hunt, participants picked up a hunting sheet (with tips on where to find the critters) showing silhouettes of Pokémon running loose around the library. Hunters then turned in their sheet with the number of Pokémon found in exchange for a prize.

Grace Martin, teen/tween coordinator at Malta Township Public Library, made sure that everyone could participate in their Pokémon programs, as many children in her community don’t have a mobile device to play. In addition to offering up a charging station and dropping lures, the Pokémon Go parties featured non-device dependent activities such as crafts and scavenger hunts. What Martin found most fascinating about their efforts was that “many of the people who came are not regulars of our library. In fact, there were a couple of patrons I have never seen before.”

Glen Ellyn Public Library is taking it one step further to offer Pokémon programming aimed specifically at adults with a
“PokéCrawl.” Like a pub crawl, participants stop at each restaurant or bar along the crawl to catch Pokémon and order food and drinks. The event was advertised as “BYOD” or bring your own device, and library staff were stationed at each location to interact with patrons. After the PokéCrawl, the group stopped at a nearby PokéGym to fight battles where regardless of the team, everyone was able to receive credit.


Staff made it a priority to quickly immerse themselves in the Pokémon Go world at Deerfield Public Library once they noticed people roaming around the area. In addition to displays, they encouraged participation on social media by asking followers to vote for their favorite Pokémon Go team and have learned that Team Mystic, the blue team, is a Deerfield community favorite.

In addition to their greeter table, Palatine Public Library District also created their own gym badge. According to Kiel Cross, communications and marketing coordinator, “In the traditional Pokémon games, players travel from town to town and battle gym leaders to earn badges to show their status.” Patrons can stop in and pick up a badge to show their sta-tus, and the library has also challenged other libraries to make their own badge to encourage library visits. They have given out hundreds of badges that have been tracked by their #LibraryGymBadge hashtag.

On the staff iPad at Carol Stream Public Library, librarian Allison Porch purchased lure modules to ensure Pokémon were hanging out at their stop for players to come and catch. Through a series of ads on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, she announced when the lures would be dropped so that gamers could get there in time to catch Pokémon,
as the lure is only good for half an hour. Patrons were invited to share pictures they have taken of their Pokémon on Instagram and Twitter during a photo contest at Huntley Area Public Library District.  The winners received a Pokémon-themed prize that included a trainer backpack, hat, and stuffed Pokémon friend.


Carol Stream Public Library has gone above and beyond the call of Pokémon duty to invite gamers into their building. Porch set up a “trainer refueling station” where players could recharge phones; get cold water, free WiFi, and air conditioning; and also displayed information on library materials and shared safety tips for players. What’s more, library security cameras caught footage of heavy amounts of foot traffic outside their building from midnight to 2:00 A.M. with one gamer even having a pizza delivered. To take advantage of the foot traffic that occurred during closed hours, Porch created a dynamic QR code to link to library collections and services. The proof is in the pudding. Carol Stream notes that their Facebook reach and engagement are up 100 percent, adult graphic novel circulations up 5 percent, and video games up 26 percent, all due to their Pokémon Go promotions.

Time will tell if the popularity of this phenomenon will eventually wane, but credit goes to all the Illinois libraries
that quickly put together services and programming dedicated to the Pokémon Go community. Their efforts have paid off, and through the Pokémon Go game, libraries have been able  to extend their reach and engage a slew of new patrons that have now become library followers and users.

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