Are libraries about books or cool places to hang out?

Toledo central library
Image by Silversprite via Flickr

Libraries use video games to attract teens:

The electronic ding-ding-ding of Sonic the Hedgehog collecting coins became familiar background noise in the teen section of the Main Branch of the Toledo-Lucas County Public library downtown recently as video games were introduced for young patrons.

[…]

Within the last decade, libraries nationwide have embraced gaming as a way to get teens through their doors, said Linda Braun, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association.

Video games were once criticized by parent groups for promoting violence and childhood obesity. But studies now suggest that video games may have a positive impact by fostering literacy as well as team-building and problem- solving skills in young gamers.

“The literacy aspect is huge,” Ms. Braun said. “Many video games have books related to them. And there is a lot of reading that goes on with actual game play.”

My first thought was: “Boy, those budget cuts must have been brutal!”

In all seriousness, call me an old foggey but it does bug me a little that libraries spend valuable time and money on offering video games, movies and popular music and then complain about funding cuts as some sort of cultural suicide. Are libraries cultural and educational institutions or are they public babysitting and entertainment zones paid for by public dollars?

I also love the absolutely ridiculous rationalizations quoted above.  I am sure the kids will be tricked into the library to play video games and suddenly find themselves absorbed into literary culture. The video games are about books!

This isn’t about reading but about getting kids in the library so the library can argue it is important and therefor shouldn’t be cut.  But I think the argument over library funding shouldn’t be tied to getting kids to come play video games no matter how educational.

What do you think? What is the role of a library and what is going to far in terms of offering entertainment rather than literacy and ecuation?

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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1 Comment

  • I couldn’t agree more. The public library is a wonderful institution, but if we’ve reached the port where we have to use video games as a carrot to attract the kids… well, surely it defeats the whole purpose!

    I live in Italy, where the annual figures for the number of books read per person are a real sob story. The powers-that-be have tried all manner of solutions to incentivate people to read more (5-minute “a book a day” TV shows, and even a FREE paperback offered as compensation to rail passengers when trains are late!). But I’m glad to say that they’ve stopped short of anything so batty as video games at the local public library.

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