PORTLAND – The Portland Public Library isn’t just for books — it’s now a place to get video games, too.

The library started offering games for checkout last month in an effort to expand its media offerings and attract teenagers, said Justin Hoenke, the library’s new teen librarian.

“I cannot keep games on the shelf,” Hoenke said. On Wednesday afternoon, only three of the approximately 130 games were available.

The selection includes games for Nintendo Wii and DS, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and Hoenke said the offerings will likely expand.

Video games aren’t yet offered at Portland’s Burbank, Peaks Island and Riverton library branches, but they might be in the future. Patrons who go to the branch libraries can request video games from the main branch downtown.

There’s a six-game checkout limit, the same as for movies.

“We’re just trying to give teens what they want to see in the library,” Hoenke said. “Video gaming is just a new form of literacy.”

Some people might think the library should be putting books into teenagers’ hands, not game controllers, but Hoenke said the library already offers many media, including CDs, DVDs and Internet access.

“It’s the next logical step,” he said.

The library’s director, Steve Podgajny, said it’s all part of creating a safe, comfortable and relevant place for teenagers to meet and hang out.

“It’s about building lifelong relationships with these kids,” Podgajny said. Many people come to the library when they’re children, drift away as teenagers and might come back as adults. Hopefully, he said, this will keep them there during that in-between time.

“I do hope that, through video games, teens will pick up a book,” Hoenke said. “I’m just happy to have them in (the library).”

Video games carry ratings that highlight mature content, including violence, but the library doesn’t try to restrict access based on the age of its patrons, leaving that responsibility to parents.

The video games are, in part, a way to get teenagers through the library doors and strengthen the library’s teen outreach program.

Hoenke’s position was created in the spring, when the renovated library in Monument Square opened with a large teen section that includes a bank of computers, study rooms and a lounge area.

The library has also teamed up with schools, the Portland Police Department and the Boys and Girls Club to create programs.

Hoenke holds events for teenagers on Wednesday evenings, alternating between game nights, with a big screen for video games and tables for board games, and open mic nights, for which some teenagers have written their own songs.

He tries to have only “teen-rated” games out on those nights.

“Sometimes there’s cool people to hang out with,” said Sebastian Grimm, 12, who was at the library to play Guitar Hero but likes to read the comic books, too.

Kerensa Higgins, 16, has been coming for the free entertainment since she stopped getting a regular allowance.

All summer, Max and Josh Tommer, ages 10 and 16, respectively, have been coming to game night, playing a board game called Settlers of Catan.

“I just wish this was our house,” Max said.

Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at:

shardiman@mainetoday.com