Playing the Controversy Card

I’m going to chime in a bit late here to the heated conversation about Orson Scott Card getting this year’s Margaret A. Edwards Award to say this:

1. From what I’ve read of Orson Scott Card’s publicly-stated views, I find his beliefs and opinions reprehensible.

2. I first read Ender’s Game for a class in library school. I thought it sucked.

Other than that, I’m not sure I have any strong feelings about him getting an award from the ALA.

World in Motion

Thinking about it some more, I believe my last post was a bit over the top. Yes, I think reading and literacy are important. No, I don’t think playing video games is a substitute for reading. Something pushed my buttons, which prompted me to write that post. I realize now what those buttons were.

If I see one more blog post or comment, one more newspaper editorial or letter to the editor, one more magazine article or TV commentary about how video games or peer-to-peer filesharing or cell phones in public or text speak is going to cause the downfall of Western civilization, I’m gonna barf. Oh, boo hoo! The world isn’t like it was when you were 7 years old! There’s a reason for that: you’re not 7 years old any more! Time passes, things change. Western civilization has survived phonographs, radio, moving pictures, jazz, rock & roll and hip hop. People have been whining about a decline in literacy since the Great Unwashed Masses got access to literacy, and yet society marches on.

You can embrace change or you can whine about it and watch it pass you by, but you can’t stop it. Frankly, I can’t imagine why you’d want to, but then, I love the World of Tomorrow I live in. Of course, when I was 7 years old, the world looked like this, so you can imagine why I love change. Worrying that a change in library services will cause us to head down “the wrong path”? That I don’t love so much.

Et in Arcadia Ego

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 nation’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.

The Definition of Success

I’m quite the fan of Wikipedia. I know, I know, it’s an unreliable source of information because anyone can edit it, filling entries with all kinds of misinformation and outright vandalism. (Except, of course, that while anyone can edit entries, no one can easily skate by Wikipedia’s editors for very long.) Wikipedia isn’t written by accredited, degreed experts, so you can’t use it as a real source like you can the World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica.

Whatever.

I’ve spent many hours wandering through entries in the Britannica and in Wikipedia. Given the choice between Britannica and Wikipedia, I’ll generally go with Wikipedia. Why? Let’s go to chapter two of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Here’s what the Encyclopedia Galactica has to say about alcohol. It says that alcohol is a colourless volatile liquid formed by the fermentation of sugars and also notes its intoxicating effect on certain carbon-based life forms. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy also mentions alcohol. It says that the best drink in existence is the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster. It says that the effect of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick. The Guide also tells you on which planets the best Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters are mixed, how much you can expect to pay for one and what voluntary organizations exist to help you rehabilitate afterwards. The Guide even tells you how you can mix one yourself. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sells rather better than the Encyclopedia Galactica.

Substitute Encyclopedia Britannica for “Encyclopedia Galactica” and Wikipedia for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and you’ve got my answer. (Wikipedia actually has an entry for “Pan Galactice Gargle Blaster.” Does the Britannica?)