Study: tracking every RPG book in every public & academic library in the world

[Read the post]

1 Like

Fahhhh. A whole shelf of GURPS books and I don’t see either of mine there!

I wonder if a lack of “library” editions is an issue. I’ve seen graphic novels in libraries “hardened” with plastic laminate covers; maybe that could give RPG books – typically soft covers outside of WOTC – a chance at survival.


They had a collection of 1st Edition AD&D books in our local library in the 80’s, they were the number one book ripped off, and I’ve heard that was very common in other libraries as well.

1 Like

Those “hardened” covers are typically a special binding process that’s provided for libraries by outside companies. Unfortunately budget cuts mean many libraries are scaling back on the amount of binding they do.

For academic libraries the issue may be that they think RPG books just don’t fall within their collection policies, and professors aren’t asking for them. And that’s unfortunate. I work at a university where there’s a growing film studies department and based on what’s coming in there’s at least one class that focuses on superheroes. Superhero RPGs should be part of that.

That could apply to other subjects too.

This study could be a first step, but RPG publishers should also try marketing to professors and other academics. A lot of library collection policies are shaped by what patrons ask for.


Which ones were yours again?
I like the idea of the stick-on plastic covers for use in libraries - I used those on a couple of books back in the day, and they’re still holding up twenty years later.

On one hand, I could go to the library to get a book.

On the other, I can get a pdf (all companies have free basic rule pdfs, and worst case you can grab it from 7chan or a torrent).

Yeah, that immediately came to mind as an issue given how cheaply many RPG books are bound, especially with all the GURPS books there - the binding on those suckers is particularly terrible, and they tend to fly apart into constituent pages almost instantly upon being opened. Also there’s the theft issue to make things worse.

That’s what we heard as well, but were unable to find any information verifying this idea!

The thing that makes me think this is partially a myth is that there are still many books from the 1970’s in libraries, really about the same amounts as newer books. If books that have been around for 30 years are on shelves at about the same level as newer ones, it casts some doubt on the stealing problem.

Thanks for sharing this though, it is a persistent rumor I am going to try and investigate soon.

I especially think with all of the game design programs popping up that libraries should collect more of this stuff. Both Paizo and WoTC have representation at ALA, directly approaching publishers is a good idea.

1 Like

I have tried to play using books as PDF’s on a tablet if I am playing something obscure or out of print, there is just something to having the print version in front if you!

I open them as an ebook (even if I have to clean it first), and normally keep a tablet around for RuneQuest because of the combat effect app. I guess I’m just used to it now. I have printouts of the most common references, but I like my space very clean which is hard to do with rules references around.

Also, search functions.

Chaosium seemed to relish soft covers that would tear and wrinkle if they were looked at the wrong way.

Printed books: GURPS Uplift and GURPS Unnight.

PDF only: MacGuffin Alphabet and Alphabet Arcane. (And a freebie, Alphabet Arcane: Lost Serifs)

If it makes you happy, I still own a copy of GURPS Uplift, though I never ran a campaign with it.

The usage patterns of RPG books are not a good match for a library lending model. More typical books are read cover-to-cover, or used as reference to look up some specific items for a specific purpose (and this is fading somewhat with the internet). Either way, a reader is usually done with them within a few weeks of first opening the book.

RPGs, in their intended use, are something that you want to have ready on hand every week for months or years at a stretch. I suppose in some cases you might pull a particular supplement, write down some notes or photocopy a few pages, and call it done; but that’s never the model for core rules, and core rules are by far the most popular/desired.

Which is why this:

…strikes me as apples and oranges. Your typical kid feels little compulsion to steal a novel from the library; he’s got plenty of time to finish it, and if he wants to read it again later, he can just go and check it out again. A Player’s Handbook is different. He checks it out, reads it, starts to play with his friends, renews it, renews it again, runs out of renewals but everyone’s still counting on him to DM every Saturday and Mom won’t give him any money to buy a copy of his own. So he steals it, because keeping that gaming group together is the most pressing thing in his little world.

The binding is a problem, too, as others have mentioned. A lot of RPG books aren’t bound well enough to withstand one thorough reading, let alone year after year of clumsy kids.


I’ve heard from a lot of people that Uplift gets used as a source book, for other SF campaigns.

The second edition of Uplift was a tremendous amount of work. More work than my Master’s thesis, but it didn’t earn more than my first paycheck from the job my Master’s thesis got me.

1 Like

I’ll only play if David Brin is at the table playing with the group. He doesn’t have to GM though.

DB played Traveller in college. Don’t think he’s played any RPGs since.

Although he and Steve Jackson made a cute caveman schematic RPG. “Tribes.”

True, and the weird thing is that I never read an Uplift book. Same with GURPS New Sun. I just like cracking your book open every now and then to plunder ideas. It’s a good book.

1 Like

I once found a few Robotech and Rifts books in a library. Other than that, I’ve never seen any RPG books in any library.

I agree that, given the usage patterns, that makes sense. Unfortunately, the cost of RPGs is relatively high, and not being able to sample them at a library was a barrier to entry that undoubtedly cost the publishers many sales.

As for stealing, I suspect that they would be more often stolen than other books. But that doesn’t explain the total lack of any of them. They were never there to be stolen. And the bindings shouldn’t be that much of an issue - libraries fix books all the time.

Thankfully, we now have the internet, plenty of torrents and most publishers now making at least a decent sample of their current offerings available as PDF. And people who actually understand that if you like it, you will buy it to have the physical book. For RPGs, that’s almost always far superior to an ebook.