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Towson

County libraries use Pokemon Go to attract patrons

Players of the popular mobile app game Pokemon Go who visited the Towson Library on Friday caught digital monsters resembling a bat, a caterpillar and a fox.

Librarians caught three college students.

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The Ready, Set Pokemon GO! Poke Crawl, hosted by the Baltimore County library system, enticed players to all 19 libraries throughout the county, with the goal of drawing in people who don't regularly visit the branches. Every branch in the system is either a Poke Gym — where participants in the game, which is played on a smartphone, can challenge one another — or a Poke Stop, in which players can pick up digital rewards.

The game, which launched earlier this month, quickly became one of the most popular mobile games of all time. It uses augmented reality to allow players to walk around in the real world while viewing a digital world through their phone screens that is filled with monsters they can catch and grow.

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Library officials saw the game's popularity as a chance to draw patrons to their local branch, especially those who might not have visited a library recently, said Julie Brophy, the library system's programs director. While countywide attendance of the event wasn't counted as of Friday afternoon, 126 people said on Facebook that they planned to attend the crawl.

"Libraries today are different than they were ten years ago," Brophy said. "The idea of a librarian shushing is no more."

Pokemon GO has been popular with millennials, or that generation born in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many people in that age group grew up playing with Pokemon video games and trading cards, so the game elicits a feeling of nostalgia. Some people haven't been to the library since they were children, so the crawl is a throwback to both experiences, said library marketing department member Josh McCready.

"It's a good way to remind people what free services are available at their fingertips already at the library that they've often lost track of or didn't even know about," McCready said.

The three college students who came to the event in Towson on Friday all were familiar with and frequent visitors to the library, they said, adding that they appreciated the library hosting the event.

"I really like the game," said Lutherville resident Breanna Fedor, who is a student at Wheaton College, in Massachusetts.

Towson University student Alex Gordon, who lives near the college, said he's happy that the crawl included all of the libraries in the county system.

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"I like exploring different places and traveling around, and I can do that with the game," he said.

Brophy and McCready are thinking ahead to other ways in which to incorporate the game or similar technology into library services. The game has designated geographic locations where players can pick up benefits, or challenge other players to win over a location.

Those places, which are chosen in the game by a computer algorithm, often are historic sites or other landmarks, Brophy said. Thus, there could be a Pokemon Go "crawl" of landmarks, she suggested, which would allow players to learn about history as they play.

"You could take a mini-Poke crawl right around Towson, and maybe do a discussion of what happened — Why is that a historical spot? What was here then? — to get a better sense of our own history," Brophy said.

The game also uses augmented reality to make it appear, when looking through a phone screen, that the creatures are present in the surrounding real world.

That type of technology could be useful in the future, Brophy said, citing as an example completing a science experiment virtually, with no risk of harm.

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"It provides opportunities for experimentation and trying things in a different way," she said.

The technology could even help bridge the gap between library branches across the county, she said, imagining a scenario in which a librarian in one branch who possesses a certain expertise could sit down with a patron who is at a branch on the other side of the beltway.


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