Leep student and library mentor Vivian Alvarez brings tabletop gaming to the library

Posted: June 2, 2017

vivianalvarez2.jpg?itok=ClnQUMKH MS student Vivian Alvarez works with tweens and teens at the Rudy Lozano Branch of the Chicago Public Library, which is located in the Mexican-American community of Pilsen. As part of her job, she develops programming for youth that nurtures learning and strengthens communities.

A tabletop gaming enthusiast, Alvarez started a tabletop gaming program for students at the Lozano Branch. A paper she wrote on the subject, "Engaging Students in the Library through Tabletop Gaming," was featured in the March-April issue of Knowledge Quest, the journal of the American Association of School Librarians. In her paper, Alvarez discusses how tabletop games serve as educational tools, teaching students important personal and interpersonal skills they need for college and career success. 

"The community I work with has an appreciation for college degrees, and parents and students are interested in the skills required to set academic and career goals,” she explained. “Many students have expressed 'relying on luck' to land the right job. I first introduced card games that were roughly 30 minutes long, such as Exploding Kittens and Dix It, to teach new concepts. Then I introduced games that rely on strategy and collaboration as well as some element of luck. Ultimately, the overarching goal was to stress that luck is only a fraction of the overall factors that define success in games and in life." 

Alvarez has several favorite analog games, including Splendor, Dominion, Mansions of Madness, Superfight, Agricola, and Pathfinder. When playing with her family, she enjoys collaborative games such as Time Stories and Pandemic. Alvarez noted, "Without a hands-on introduction at the library, students would probably walk past the tabletop gaming aisle at their local retailers unaware of the delight enclosed in each box."

Over the course of her thirteen years in the nonprofit sector, Alvarez has worked with youth from diverse age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds as well as young adults with mental disabilities. Early in her career, she worked on community leadership initiatives with faculty and staff at DePaul University.

"DePaul initiated a unique project in 2012 involving creative programming for Chicago youth at public libraries. That is how I was introduced to libraries and their love for strengthening communities from within," she said.

After earning her master's degree in art education from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Alvarez was contracted by the Chicago Public Library to teach digital media lessons to tweens and teens at the Lozano Branch. She found that her Spanish-speaking community members relied on their local public library for information because of the scarcity of available bilingual resources. It is the library's unique position to empower communities that prompted her to pursue a master's in library and information science at the iSchool. For Alvarez, "As an employee and a new mom, the Leep program at Illinois was the perfect fit."

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