Gaming? A Capital Idea!

I’m looking forward to going to DC for Computers in Libraries. One of the great things about this trip is I’ll be having dinner with an old friend of mine that I haven’t seen in person since we were at GenCon in 2001 (when it was still being held in Wisconsin).

Another cool thing about CiL is Gaming Night. Aaron Schmidt has blogged about it, and it sounds like a blast and a half. (He also asked us to spread the word, which is partly why I’m writing this post.) My inside sources say there may even be some tabletop role-playing game action going on that night. Plus, some cool board games (like Ticket to Ride, which is one of my favorite games). I may miss most of Gaming Night to have dinner with my friend, but hopefully I’ll get some gaming in at the conference (even if I have to run In a Wicked Age in my hotel room one night).

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.

Getting Our Game On

When I was given my library’s teen website as part of my web content responsibilities, I was signed up for the library’s Gaming committee. The Gaming committee has already put on one gaming tournament for teens, and the second one is this coming Friday. It will be my first time working at a gaming event at MPOW. If everything goes according to plan, I’ll be liveblogging the event, posting updates (and maybe even pictures) to our teen site. So, if you have nothing better to do on Friday afternoon (noon-6, Central Time), check out JoCoTeenScene for updates on the great Johnson County, KS Guitar Hero III tournament.

UPDATE: I’ve been told we have 136 people registered for the event, people being put on a waiting list, and have had other patrons ask about just coming to watch the tournament. We’re getting a lot of interest in this event, and I think that’s just swell!