Play as an approach

Play is not so much an activity as it is an approach. It is a very particular, instinctual, joyous approach towards interacting with our environment and each other. 

It is not something that only children do. 

Our play oriented activities may change as we progress through life, but the instinct towards play as a style of engagement with our world and each other, remains. Sure… some of us may have lost the spontaneity we had as children. But perhaps all we need is a nudge, an idea, or an irresistible invitation. Something a library could provide?

There is a heap of research out there about the importance of play in both children and adults’ lives. It is vital for problem solving, creativity, relationships and many other areas of life. The drive for play is in fact a crucial part of what it means to be human.

Incorporating ‘play as an approach’ into library programmes, adds a wonderful dynamic. It adds a casual zing, and a special layer of ‘invitation to engage’, that can be hard to resist. Also… play is fun, and therefore all of a sudden the library looks like a friendlier and more attractive place to be.

A play approach may be particularly important for those initiatives that target the most dire of needs within the community or school – such as those related to health, employment skills, the digital divide, social isolation, parental support, and English as a second language. Play can make what we offer seem less intimidating and therefore all the more accessible. 

Play as an approach to library service delivery

In order to inject ‘play’ into an activity or programme, the following points should be considered:


Does it look like fun? Is it intriguing or interesting? Could someone resist and walk right past, or would something in the presentation make a bypasser stop?

Permission to engage:

Is the ‘open invitation’ clear and prominent?
Is the context welcoming?
Would everyone feel they have permission to ‘have a go’?

A challenge

Play doesn’t always need to involve an end result, but placing a goal in there can make things a little more attractive to some people. If you are trying to engage a particular sector of your patron population or community, a challenge will either work for you or against you, so take a case-by-case approach. Also, the type and difficulty of the challenge is important.


Reward people for engaging.
This could be as a result of something that is produced though the play process, or it could be a small token given by the library in return for participation.

Now “that’s new”!

Play is a great way to learn… but many people do not equate learning with fun. Often learning is a requirement and not a choice. A school library in particular needs to be careful about differentiating its extracurricular or welfare oriented programmes and activities from the academic learning approach, where appropriate.

How wonderful it is, that something as simple and organic as our natural need for play/playfulness, can be harnessed to present libraries as frontiers for trying or thinking up new things.

Does your library give out licenses to push limits and engage absolutely? How?

I would love to hear from anyone who can share some ideas or experiences regarding play as a strategic approach to increasing patron engagement.