Today Steven Cohen at Library Stuff posted an article by Dave Gibson about video games in libraries. Gibson writes:

Libraries are now offering video games and movies to children. Paula Brehm-Heeger, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association said of the new entertainment available: “Librarians are really trying to respond to teens and to keep the library relevant in their lives. Gaming programs can draw in teens that librarians don’t otherwise see.”

I suppose that literary classics, poetry, geography, and great American novels are no longer “relevant: to teenagers. Unfortunately, it appears that this country’s librarians have decided to their part in the dumbing-down of America. What has happened to this country?…All of the librarians I have known were in love with the written word and truly enjoyed opening the door to their world to young people. Perhaps, today’s crop of young librarians would be better served answering their calling as arcade attendants and movie theatre managers.

Cohen responds:

Too much of a generalization here. Not ALL librarians think video game nights in the library are a good thing (I think that they are a childish way for adults to reclaim their youth in an attempt to be a part of the cool crowd).

Jenny Levine at The Shifted Librarian commented with a link to a previous post of hers about video games in libraries.

The way I see it, there are two of issues at play here- 1. Are video games hurting our children? 2. Do video games belong in (public) libraries? To answer the first question, I would say that video games aren’t as bad for kids as people would have you believe, nor is it entirely productive to imagine a world that’s free of them. As for the second question, I don’t think that libraries need video games, but if they have the resources to develop a collection that’s fine. I largely agree with Steven, that a big part of this push for video games in libraries seems to be coming from librarians who are either gamers or struggling to stay relevant with “the kids”. I can’t really blame them, but it seems like a dangerous way to run a library. A similar situation happened in my library where we spent lots of money and time collecting material about all things maritime because one of the librarians was really enthusiastic about that mode of transport. When they retired, we reevaluated our policy and dropped a that area from our collection because it wasn’t in our scope and we wanted to focus on what our patrons actually used. I could see the same happening for video games in libraries- pushed for by a few librarians, but what happens when they leave or switch departments?

I think Jenny’s comment is quite good:

As for librarians, not everyone likes cataloging, not everyone likes reference work, not everyone likes children’s services, not everyone likes law libraries. You don’t want to do gaming, don’t do gaming.

There are all sorts in the library world and she raises a valid point. I won’t begrudge librarians who are into gaming to include it in their library services, and I also think this trend will continue. I’m probably not in the best place to worry too much about gaming in libraries since I’ve pretty much chosen to stay in academic/special libraries, and save for a few train simulators I don’t think we’ll be getting into gaming here anytime soon.

5 thoughts on “Have gamers taken over libraries?

  1. Pingback: More on Video Games | Library Stuff

  2. Thanks for seeing the middle ground here. One difference I see between videogames and your experience is that gaming services are user-focused, as opposed to being the interest of one staff member.

    One of the things I do in my presentations (that I didn’t get into with Steven) is to walk folks through different types of games to help them discover where their biases kick in. For example, I ask them if CandyLand and chess are appropriate in a library setting? We walk through a series until we get to Halo, where I note Paul Waelchli’s work (http://researchquest.blogspot.com/2007/09/halo-information-literacy-mapped-to.html and http://researchquest.blogspot.com/2007/08/acrl-info-lit-outcomes-for-fantasy.html). It’s interesting to hear librarians try to explain why chess is okay but videogames aren’t.

    As I noted, though, I really don’t understand the hostility to gaming from librarians who don’t want to engage with it. I’m not into FRBR, Z39.50, graphic novels, or book discussion groups, but you won’t hear me calling my colleagues childish for wanting to focus on those areas.

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  3. There’s always the ying and yang in libraries: do we give them what we think they need, or what they want? What they should have, the classics, or what they actuall read, paperback romances, urban fiction? Meat and vegetables or cotton candy? These forces are at play through all of life. Libraians have modest influence at best. Gaming for teens, at least in our moderate-sized city or 80,000 is not about education, but about giving kids something to do. Teens need activities, always have and always will, and American society provides little for them to do, then complains about teens, and seems to enjoy incarcerating them. You can’t lead a horse…make someone read, but you can give them something to do, and hope that it’s an improvement over worse alternatives. Libraries can change lives, but only if people actually use them. Gaming is one attraction in an arsenal of teen library services, and perhaps is best when kept in balance with others.

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  4. Jenny- I personally think that both chess and video games do have a place in libraries. Making the extension to board games is a good argument, and I bet if the whole gaming debate is framed in that it would be more palatable to naysayers. I’m really only weary of people who push the video game agenda to the exclusion of other services and regard gaming as the new path. It seems that some of the gaming zealots are doing it not for their libraries or their patrons, but to seem cool and publish papers about that. They’re not the only people in the library world with a similar agenda.

    Frank- I agree that gaming is probably an effective way to get kids off the streets and into the libraries. I work in a small academic library, and we will try all sort of tactics to lure students in. Free candy seems to work and they seem more comfortable to ask for help when they need it because they’re used to studying in here.

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