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#historyread and a Ms. Pac Man arcade machine

September 18, 2013

Libraries are well known for having a bunch of old stuff hidden away throughout their buildings.  Whether be old books, maps, manuscripts, or machines, we’ve sure got some hidden treasures in our buildings.  Case in point: just look at the stuff we found at the Chattanooga Public Library when we created The 4th Floor.

Our 2nd Floor is currently in the middle of a major renovation and shift in thinking about how we provide service to our kids/tween/teen community. For us, it’s not so much about the stuff we have but the connections and memories we make. The 2nd Floor is a community hub for ages 0-18, a place where kids, tweens, and teens in the community can come to learn, relax, have fun, connect, and more.

To get these age groups interested in the library, we’ve gotta keep up with the times.  We’ve got to have latest and greatest stuff. We have to expand our services and grow.  But like the old saying says: Moving on isn’t forgetting the past, it’s learning from it. In order to learn from it, you’ve sometimes gotta have access to the old stuff.  That’s why just a few months ago we purchased (with the help of the Friends of the Chattanooga Public Library) an original 1981 Ms. Pac Man arcade machine for the 2nd Floor.

Chattanooga Library

Ms Pac Man at Chattanooga Library

Since we got Ms. Pac Man, groups of teens have started to hang around the machine, doing their best to top one another in high score contests. There are eruptions of the happiness every time a player pulls off an impressive move or evades one of those pesky ghosts. At the glorious age of 32, Ms. Pac Man is still creating connections and memories. It may be old, but history has proved that it still can create magic and excitement.  Just a month ago, one of the developers of the original game, Steve Golson, got in touch with me about our Ms. Pac Man machine. He was very happy to see his creation living in a library and providing happiness to yet another generation.

This is where the history lesson comes in. Video games didn’t just show up out of the blue one day when libraries started having video game programs.  They’ve been around since around 1971, when Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created Computer Space, the world’s first coin operated video game. But to the kids/tweens/teens using our libraries this history may not be known.  Since we’re now offering awesome and robust video game programs in libraries, why not expand our services to include gaming history?  That’s one of the big reasons why we got Ms. Pac Man (besides the fact that it it super fun)…to give our community an insight into the history of video games.  To see an original Ms. Pac Man up and running in a library is like looking into a time machine.  You see how it was built, how the game operates, and if you’re lucky enough to have a librarian around, see how the electronics and circuits and wires all fit together in order to make the game work.  You get to peer into just how far technology has come over the past 40 years.


Justin Hoenke is a teen librarian and video gaming enthusiast who has written about these subjects for publications such as Library Journal, Voices of Youth Advocates and is a regular contributor for the blog Tame The Web.  Justin is a member of the 2010 American Library Association Emerging Leaders class and was named a Library Journal Mover and Shaker in March 2013. Justin is currently the Head of Teen Services at the Chattanooga Public Library in Chattanooga, TN.  His professional interests include community building, working with teens in libraries, video games, and creative spaces. Follow Justin on Twitter at @justinlibrarian and read his blog at

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