Steven Cohen links to this piece by Dave Gibson, “Our Public Libraries Are Being Turned Into Video Game Arcades,” in which Gibson laments the increase of video games and movies in public libraries. He sees it as part of the dumbing down of American youth. “It is little wonder that our nationâ€™s literacy rate continues to decline,” he says.
I’m not going to argue specifically about what Gibson says (Jenny Levine does that better than I could in the comments on Steven’s blog), but I will argue about that sentiment in general.
Is the public library “brand” books? Most people I know seem to think it is, and I would agree it’s so. But libraries in general have never been solely about books, and if public libraries were ever about just books, it was certainly long before I was born.
Even if public libraries have been about books more than other forms of media, so what? I know, I know, librarians are supposed to be the champions of the written word, defenders of literacy. Well, I’m not. I mean, I love books, sure, but I love movies and TV shows and theater and music and games at least as much. And I think the idea of libraries being primarily about books–and books being primarily about education and intelligence–is wrong to the point of being dangerous.
For one thing, we need to talk about what’s in the books. Would it be better for the patrons of public libraries to read any books rather than watch movies or play video games? Would it be better for them to read romance novels? Would it be better for them to read Ann Coulter or Bill O’Reilly? What about comics? Or are libraries only supposed to keep the “classics,” and if so, who decides what the classics are? Is it better for a teen to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, even if the book has no personal relevance to them?
We also have to take into account this: reading text is not inherently better than watching a movie or playing a video game. There’s no conclusive proof that it is. There is evidence that different people learn and are engaged by different methods. Some people are more engaged, more provoked to thought, by visual and/or active media, like watching movies or playing video games.
People who read books less than they watch movies or TV, play games or sports, hike through woods, play music, garden, knit, or bake are not necessarily stupid or illiterate. People who read lots of books are not necessarily smart or wise. Let’s get rid of that notion right now.
Libraries can’t be all things to all people. It’s probably not feasible for a public library to also be a gym, a dance studio, and a carpentry workshop. But if public libraries broaden what they offer their patrons, turning the library into a video arcade…well, I think that’s awfully smart.