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Shimmin Bloeg

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Libraries are terrible at roleplaying games, you can help

Shimmin Beg


So recently I've been merrily cataloguing my vast collection of PDFs on LibraryThing, adding them to my existing list of printed books. One of the thing I noticed, particularly with the PDFs but also with the books, is that as soon as you start on roleplaying materials, you're pretty much on your own.


LibraryThing lets you tap hundreds of existing catalogues and import their records to your own library. This is incredibly useful, because it saves you putting in all that information - even title and author takes time, and I like my records pretty good. I am, after all, an ex-librarian. If you got them from a decent source, like a proper library, the records will be extensive and very accurate, so you also avoid introducing your own typos, which is very helpful later when you're trying to find something in your library, and the book you entered as "Calk of Cuthlu" doesn't show up.


But libraries are terrible - completely terrible, unacceptably terrible, potentially even terrible to the point where they're breaking their legal obligations - at collecting RPG material.


See, major national libraries usually have instructions to make near-complete collections of everything published in their nation. Ideally, they should also make extensive collections of international works, because only having your own stuff is very limiting for researchers. In the UK, for example, the copyright libraries are supposed to collect every published work. Most publishers just sent things automatically, but otherwise the library has a year to claim their free copies (if I recall correctly). However, RPG publishers are generally small operations, and big official institutions historically take minimal notice of fringe hobbies like roleplaying, and the end result seems to be that nobody actually collects this stuff.


I did a quick bit of research to check this hunch.


British Library

In theory, London has historically been the research centre of the world. So they should be pretty good at collecting stuff, right? Especially all that material put out by, say, Cubicle 7.


Call of Cthulhu materials: absolutely none whatsoever.

Dungeons and Dragons: not bad. Core books for 3rd and 4th edition, a few random splats for 4th, at least 20 splats for 3rd. There's Basic D&D, the AD&D Monstrous Manual and Deities and Demigods. There are more books about early D&D than actual early D&D books.

Traveller, both Steve Jackson and Mongoose editions

Judge Dredd, for some reason.

White Wolf: Vampire the Masquerade, Changeling the Dreaming and Mage the Ascension. No new editions, no core WoD, no splats.

GURPS: a copy of GURPS for Dummies, but no rules.

Shadowrun: lots of tie-in fiction, no rules.


...and out of interest:

Cubicle 7: Clockwork and Chivalry rulebook, and for some reason, Grim War: a wild talents sourcebook (catalogued incorrectly, as Wild Talents is a proper noun in this context, although I suspect by RAW it will forever be "Wild talents" to cataloguers). No Call of Cthulhu publications, no One Ring or any of their other books.


Library of Congress

You'd expect a library that serves an entire continent run for the most powerful government on the planet to be pretty good, right?


Call of Cthulhu: 1989 edition, Masks, Walker and The Great Old Ones. Almost all CoC materials are published in this country. Appalling.

D&D: there are hundreds of books here, many of them about D&D rather than part of it. There's no good way to accurately filter the search down, as the cataloguing of rulebooks seems rather shoddy and inconsistent. It seems a relatively complete collection, though I'm not sure about the early stuff.

White Wolf: Vampire the Masquerade and a couple of splats, Changeling the Dreaming, Werewolf the something I've forgotten and Mage the Ascension.


They don't have GURPS or Shadowrun, though.


So apparently nobody has cared to bother collecting this stuff. I think it's a huge shame. A whole hobby is essentially not being archived, and it's a highly social one that's based heavily on books - ideal for collecting, right? There are historical changes, games inspired by current social trends, the influences of social change are visible as both individual games and the gaming market shift over time. I'm sure it's of value to researchers. Tough luck, though, because nobody has any decent kind of collection that would make it viable to study any of that.


Similarly, I've noted before that despite hundreds of Actual Play and RPG-related podcasts and blogs existing, almost none of them archive any of their material. Those are fascinating records of genuine social interaction, in a unique and little-studied context with lots of linguistic and pyschological points of interest, which will fade away rapidly. It's tragic. Okay, to a librarian, it's tragic.


So hey, if you're a published, send some copies of your work to national libraries, okay? Most of them will take electronic these days, it won't cost you a thing, but paper is always good (send both!). Send your whole back catalogue. The electronic stuff won't allow piracy - believe me, I know how tight the lockdowns are on those things.


If you have some gaming material you just don't need any more, and you don't need the money from selling it off (or it's not worth the time and postage), donate it to a major library. Ideally, a national copyright one, because they can't get rid of stuff, while your civic library might well decide to chuck it.


If you have a podcast or website, archive it. Put recordings on archive.org. Take a copy of your site or MP3s, put it on a CD and send it to the British Library or whatever. Include a note saying what it is. It'll help with the cataloguing: titles, your name, your podcast/website name (that's the publisher, see?) and all that. Put in as much detail as you like, especially if it's in a text file so someone can copy-paste. Not only will you be doing a big service to the hobby, and to future researchers, but you should even earn your very own official "Subject Heading" from the Library of Congress! Oh hey, include your date of birth with that. It helps disambiguate all those John Smiths. Ask Me How!


If you're not any of those people, you can always email the British Library and point out that they haven't claimed copies of whatever UK publication (they're entitled to). Not sure how it works with the Library of Congress, let alone Finland or Japan or anywhere less familiar to me.




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The UK copyright libraries (which includes the British Library) have copies of Lovecraftian Tales from the Table. Here's the entry in the National Library of Wales catalogue for example: LTftT DVD-ROM


The British Library also holds an archive copy of this web site (from a few years ago).

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The UK copyright libraries (which includes the British Library) have copies of Lovecraftian Tales from the Table. Here's the entry in the National Library of Wales catalogue for example: LTftT DVD-ROM


The British Library also holds an archive copy of this web site (from a few years ago).


I really should have mentioned this, because I actually discovered YSDC and started playing Call of Cthulhu due to the Bodleian's copy of LTT turning up in one of my catalogue searches!*  A foolish oversight.


*It was, incidentally, miscatalogued as a computer game...

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Normally books that are published in the UK with an ISBN are required to be submitted to the copyright libraries. If not done automatically by the publisher then I think they should be requested by the agent for the copyright libraries. Clearly that's not working in this case. I wonder why. Certainly when I published some books a few years ago I got a request in writing afterwards from the agent for me to send in 6 copies for the copyright libraries. Maybe they don't do that now. Or perhaps because these are seen as games they may be being missed, even though they shouldn't be?


I would recommend that publishers send in copies for all the UK/Ireland copyright libraries, not just the British Library. For more information on this process see here for the procedure re print publications, and here for electronic publications.

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I would bet Yockenthwaite is right:  it's that weird, arbitrary twilight zone between "book", "game", "game book", and "book about games". 


I know that Paizo and Chaosium seem to have run into that with importation of the 7th Edition Kickstarter rewards and certain Paizo products - a question of whether they declare RPG books as books or games (it seems one gets taxed higher than the other), and I had a weird experience with Board Game Geek where that site will sometimes consider a complete-RPG-in-a-box product that includes dice, maps, cards and counters as a board game and accept entries for it on their site, and sometimes consider it an RPG and insist that RPG products, even those modeled on board games, must get listed in a different nerd-ghetto (my best guess:  the difference might depend on how the description is phrased, whether the person who submitted it is well-known and trusted to the staff, and whether the person who reviewed it and has the power to accept or reject the entry is inclined to agree with the submitter).

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