Fresno County library branches stop lending new video games, citing high costs

The Fresno County Public Library has ended a five-year program to stock new video games on its shelves.
The Fresno County Public Library has ended a five-year program to stock new video games on its shelves. via McClatchy Tribune

Fresno County Public Library branches no longer will stock new video games on their shelves.

Materials Handling Manager Terry Sterling said the decision to end a pilot program allowing members to check out video games came in January after the administration deemed it too costly. Games purchased during the program, which started about five years ago, will remain available for lending.

“It’s like ‘The Neverending Story,’ ” Sterling said. “There was no way I could feed this beast enough to make it happy.”

Sterling said demand for the games was high, but there has been no outrage over the change. Two people have asked her about the discontinuation in the last 10 months.

The purpose of the pilot was to determine if there was demand for video-game lending and if that practice would be viable, she said. The library tries to maintain a ratio of about 1:6 for media to interested members. That means it would try to purchase one game copy for every six people on the waiting list.

This practice became far too expensive for the library system. New games retail for $50 or $60, and the administration did its best to keep games for older systems in stock.

Games also scratch much easier than DVDs and CDs, Sterling said. Branches noticed an influx of damaged games being returned, and the resurfacing machine used to repair other media discs could not fix them.

Buying the latest games, replacing old titles and trying to meet the demands of hungry gamers was pricey. During the 2013-14 fiscal year, the last full year of the program, the library system budgeted $80,000 for the gaming program. It ended up spending $109,266.

$109,266The amount spent on buying new games and replacing old ones at Fresno County Public Library branches during the last full year of the program

This money was spread thin. In all, the library catalog included 341 titles. Branches had multiple copies of most of these titles. The library stocked titles for 10 different systems during the five-year period.

That’s a lot, as only 10 major consoles have been released since 2001. The library catalog included games for PlayStation 2, which was released in 2000 – a decade before the program began.

Sterling said there was “constant demand for old and new games.”

“It was so popular we couldn’t keep up,” she said.

The library may continue to accept video-game donations, Sterling said. If a donated title is part of the existing catalog, it probably will be accepted.

However, branches may not accept games outside the catalog, as these require a lot more work. Someone would have to catalog the game and manage a wait list for one title, which “can almost cause more grief” than having no copies at all.

For Sterling, ending the program was a tough choice.

“Video games are popular even though they are so expensive,” she said. “We did not come to this decision lightly.”