At a Pokémon tournament Eli Neiburger once organized at Ann Arbor District Library, where he is associate director for IT and production, a shy and small-for-his-age third-grader, at Neiburger’s encouragement, participated in the gaming event under his mother’s watchful eye.
Though the boy didn’t win the tournament that day, Neiburger recalls that “he won some exciting matches and made a big impression on the other players,” and his mother later told him that the tournament—her son’s first—had changed his life.
“Making the library a place where these kinds of experiences happen…where expectations of what a library is are shattered and rebuilt is what really gets me excited,” says Neiburger, who sees these tournaments, which he has orchestrated not just at Ann Arbor but at libraries across the country, as powerful tools that can engage new generations of library users and help the library to connect to its community.
“I’ve learned that when you keep the focus solely on your local patron’s experience and direct your efforts only toward improving that experience,” he says, “you’re giving the taxpayer an increasingly valuable return on their investment.”
Gaming is a major passion of Neiburger’s—an avid gamer himself, he is the author of Gamers… in the LIBRARY?! (ALA Editions, 2007) and helps to organize the American Library Association’s National Gaming Day (ngd.ala.org)—but it is not his only one.
At venues including LJ/School Library Journal‘s inaugural 2010 virtual ebook summit, Neiburger has spoken passionately about the future of libraries and their importance to society once “hard copies [inevitably] lose most of their utility.” He is further concerned that commercial publishers and copyright holders are on a path to barring libraries from circulating ebooks and other digital content. He believes that libraries need to reinvent themselves, perhaps by providing unique user experiences or publishing local content, and predicts that the next ten years will make or break public libraries.
One person who won’t be betting against that forecast is 2009 LJ Mover & Shaker Toby Greenwalt, virtual services coordinator at Skokie Public Library, IL. “[Neiburger has] thus far exhibited a near-flawless track record at predicting the ways technology and web culture are going to impact the library world,” Greenwalt says. “He’s a person we definitely need to lead us into our redefined role.”