City Journal Autumn 2014

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Autumn 2014
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Daniel J. Flynn
The Library as Amusement Park « Back to Story

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Following my analysis, billions of persons in the world receive the home loans at good banks. So, there's good possibilities to receive a financial loan in all countries.

I used to fight the library battle. Portland, Oregon is my town.

Where to start? The librarian at the check out desk in bedroom slippers, jean cut offs, mid-chest beard, and a raggedy Che Guevara Tee shirt? The 3 librarians loudly gossiping about their private lives while a fourth at the counter has a 10 person back up line?
Being told that conversation is encouraged by policy. I could go on.

The video arcade you mention, oh yeah,man - we got that, too. Used to have a Starbucks with screaming espresso maker as well.

However, two innovations have kept me a customer. I browse the library collection from my home office, select my material, have it sent to my local branch, and receive an email when my material arrives. I spend no more than five minutes total in the library.

Next, I enjoy European and American movies from the silent to the 50s. The library often has hard to get titles.

But, I miss loitering in a clean well lighted space, a public space shared with my fellow townsmen. The respect, the quiet, the shared nature and civil nature of the experience.
You won't see porn on the computer screens for very long as viewing that in public is illegal and patrons are kicked out because of it.

I would like to know if there is a definition of "activities unrelated to the life of the mind" and how you decided on it.
Hi, Daniel --

Disclaimer: I work for the American Library Association, and I coordinate our National Gaming Day initiative, although these comments represent my own views.

I read your comments with interest, and I want to address some of the points in your editorial.

1. "On Saturday, public libraries across America celebrate video games."

The goal of National Gaming Day is to celebrate the social and recreational benefits of community residents playing games together in libraries. Video games are just one piece of the event, because we take a holistic view of "gaming." Libraries also offered board games, outdoor games, computer games, etc.

One of the things that has come through very clearly in the surveys of National Gaming Day events is the increased level of engagement and investment kids and teens in particular feel after they participate in the game programs. They help clean up afterward, they help plan future events, they help other players, they form new relationships with staff so they feel more comfortable asking for help with reference questions, they meet new people, and more.

So in the end, National Gaming Day is really a celebration of how diverse groups come together at these programs in a way they don't anywhere else in the community. It's one of the few places where it's okay (and even cool) for a high school kid to play with a middle school kid or a senior citizen in public. We've collected hundreds of such stories that illustrate the value the library environment adds to social gaming.

Could that happen at the local rec center? Sure, but it's better to have those interactions happen in a place where the players are surrounded by the world's knowledge, with staff nearby who can help them extend those interactions into other library services. The library is often the last safe, non-commercialized space left in a community that is truly open to everyone. The library can add value to the experience that a rec center can't.

I can tell you story after story after story that highlights these benefits, but you can see a few of them from last year's event at http://ngd.ala.org/2009/11/24/double-the-fun-final-ngd2009-numbers/. Some anecdotes from this year are now available at http://ngd.ala.org/2010/11/23/final-ngd10-numbers/
Are you quite certain that the libraries are circulating video games?

Library gaming programs are just that: programs, part of the various options that teen librarians offer their community. My own branches have three long-running programs: Video (and board) gaming at the library; a book discussion club and an annual writing contest. The value of the game club is in bringing teen who otherwise have no use for the library in to my branch.

These young people are the ones I see again, coming in to use the library for more practical things, later, after they've learned that the library isn't just for the bookworm kids. They know me from the school visits promoting summer reading and the young readers'choice award, where I also say, "and if you don't want to read, you can still stop by and play these games"

Gaming is just one arrow in my quivver of course--but it's not a bad one--which is why our Friends of the Library/Library foundation continues to fund Game On.

I write because while I think the ALA itself has had its head so far up its fundament it hasn't seen daylight in over a decade, they're not completely wrong about the value of gaming programs for libraries.
It's just a matter of time before libraries will pipe rock music over speakers, and the libraries' aural landscape will be filled with lots of boom, boom, booms.
What I meant, and it was hard to get across while writing the comment with 3 teens talking right next to me, was that the "new" literacy means that people are forced to pick out important information out from a constant, loud, flashy, intimidating barrage of junk. Then they have to produce their own content, with adds to the barrage of information.

Pretending that any place where people gather information isn't going to change under the current circumstances if wishful thinking.

Welcome to the future, it's nice here in 2011.
Re. Lauren's comments

"Teens today have to prepare for a new type of literacy, one in which they don't just take in information, but produce it themselves."

Maybe you've forgotten, but in the olden days this was expected of those who were literate as well. Why do you think schools had students write papers? They still do this.

"That's why libraries include gaming in their programming, many have the teens use computers to create their own games. And yes, that is a sort of literacy."

Well I agree. Creating one's own computer game does require a new kind of literacy. If that's being encouraged, then great. Playing a game after having written one is better IMO than seeing the video game machine as a magic box that throws things at you, to which you just respond. Rather like reading and writing, yes? Seeing how one activity produces the other.

I tend to disagree that playing Black Ops will lead anyone to be better readers and I happen to know that the room where M Miller worked in is nothing but crazy because of the computers
You are just mad that I'd pwn you in Smash Brothers!!!!

JP from 8bitlibrary.com
I'm sorry, are you serious? Internet porn? Rendevous in the bathroom? How are those actions in any way the same as having a gaming day in the library?

Leaving aside the fact that homeless people have been spending their days in libraries for decades, your ideal library sounds like a mausoleum for a dead publishing format.

The teens who come into my library for video games, do check out books. They come in every day, even though we only have gaming on Fridays. But that's not all they come in for, we frequently have upwards of 50 teens sitting in the teen room doing homework and preparing for standardized tests.

Teens today have to prepare for a new type of literacy, one in which they don't just take in information, but produce it themselves. That's why libraries include gaming in their programming, many have the teens use computers to create their own games. And yes, that is a sort of literacy.

I know I couldn't possibly change your mind, but I'll leave you with this. How is the trashy highlander romance novel I'm currently reading more highbrow than a video game?
Things are the same here in the UK - I remember going to my local library in search of a copy of Charles Dickens Bleak House and being shocked to find that the 'classics' had been replaced by 'airport' novels. I had to go to a second-hand book shop to purchase my own copy. Libraries are also being used to promote 'multiculturalism' with extensive exhibitions during Eid, Black History Month - and there are plenty of books on the subject of slavery
Although I share the expressed sentiments about what a library ought to be, can one really protest against the products of the public tax being tailored to meet the taxed public's wants? Even if such wants appear a travesty to that minority not weaned on Pacman? Perhaps the trend is simply that public libraries are becoming obsolete in this day in which most of the world's classics are but a click away (and surely it is access to the world's classics that is the crux). Perhaps this is more a cry of o tempora than of o mores.
Re. the comments that support this action on the part of libraries to remain culturally relevant

I can only speak from my experience. First of all, I don't recall there being an uproar over introducing videotapes, CDs, and then DVDs. Was there an uproar over introducing vinyl records, and audio cassettes? Libraries used to carry those, too. I don't remember there being a problem with that at all. These are media, carriers of content. Records, cassettes, and CDs are (or were) ways to listen to music or audio books. When videotapes were first introduced they were often documentaries or recordings of interviews with prominent individuals, and there were some movie classics thrown in. The point of it being that most of it offered a potential to be educated, or to experience culture in powerful ways. Maybe it was done as a way to draw in patrons, but at least the idea was still to educate. I don't see this potential with offering video games, even if they are based on literary works. I've played a lot of video games in my life, and watched many other people play them. Not once did I feel motivated to read a book after playing one, nor did I see anyone else come anywhere close to being motivated to do the same. The same could be said of movies, however.

What made libraries valuable to me was having experiences that showed their value. When I was in school I was assigned research papers, and I had to look up sources. Libraries are where I went to find them. Years later I realized that I was acting stupidly, and defeating my own goals, by not taking time out to educate myself in some key perspectives, which I could try to learn about through books. Again, libraries became relevant to me.

The point that libraries are missing here is the word needs to be put out there that not everything of value is on the internet. Most of our society's knowledge is still in hardcopy, and people's lives would be enhanced by being exposed to it, if they're open minded enough to consider it. A lot of it is out of print, and so the library is one of the few places where one can find it.

A wise woman said not too long ago, in response to the notion of the "technological haves and have-nots", that the real "have-nots" of the future will be the people who do not understand the relevance of libraries, even though they have access to them. The point being that it is still worth people's while to pry themselves away from their technology and read a book. Some, I'm sure, will argue that this is the goal of bringing video games into the library. I am doubtful that this method will succeed in that goal.
"Donovan contends that “a high degree of literacy and problem solving skills are developed during game play for both children and adults alike, which makes library gaming programs worth doing.” "

This gentleman, senior librarian no less, seems to be wanting in the literacy department himself. No wonder he holds such a warped view of the concept.
This is what happens when we don't pay attention to our surroundings and only participate and voice our opinions after the damage is done.
Due to the economic climate libraries are closing many branches or cutting back on operating hours. The reality to a library surviving is based upon its usage by the public. So, does it matter really what makes a person come to the library in the first place. Those that advocate inovative library functions should be given a chance.
When people were up in arms over making room for cd's, vh's and dvd's look what happened. All three offerings have shrunk due to gadgets that can store them from the internet.
I remember when I needed research expertise there was a line while the designated librarian was helping others. No more since many of us can do this ourselves. Still, I did find out I wasted a lot of time and therefore have returned to the reference librarian for help.
In closing I suggest we keep and open mind, pay attention and not go into a tail spin when things don't stay the same. I agree that the library should not become a commercialized entity but as everything else now in our economy, if it does not hold interest or becomes unproductive it will fade away. As the saying goes "The more things change the more they stay the same"


Our library has a shelf for required reading books for the public and private schools. Next to this shelf they have all of the movies that have been made from the required reading. I questioned the librarian about this and she told me, "there are different kinds of reading"
Also I tried to have "Silent to the Bone" removed from juvenile literature and put into young adult. No luck. Your children are no longer safe browsing in the children's section! A scene in this book depicts ( in a lascivious manner) a young boy having an erection while watching his baby sitter take a bath. The librarian told me, "children need to know these things.
My conception of a library is a place where one can develop a "life of the mind", a place that provides learning opportunities to those who would otherwise not have them. In that sense providing internet access was not altogether a bad idea, even though there are lots of places to go on it that have nothing to do with this higher goal. The problem is it's extremely difficult to block content that doesn't meet this standard, so libraries stopped trying. People can play games through a web browser as well, and there's no real feasible way to stop that, either, without monitoring.

My local library offered computer access 25 years ago, though not for accessing the internet. Instead people could do programming, write documents, or run a piece of productivity software. Games were not allowed, though kids tried to play them all the time. Librarians would sometimes catch them and kick them off. Part of this was they didn't think this sort of thing should go on in the library, mainly because it was disruptive to the quiet atmosphere. The other was they were concerned about damage to computers (particularly the keyboards), since people could get very excited playing them, some quite emotional, and they might put so much pressure on the keyboard that they break it, or pound something out of frustration. It's stunning to hear that libraries are now *embracing* video games. That would've been unheard of when I was a kid.

With literature you can get inside the heads of the characters and experience their inner, as well as their outer lives. You can also experience something new and enlightening. It's somewhat passive, but reading is a creative activity. The reader has to participate somewhat in creating the world they read about. I haven't seen a video game yet that has the same effect. Video games are still action-oriented. That's where the participant's focus is, carrying out the right actions at the right time, and strategizing. There's some creativity involved in forming new strategies, but there's nothing else.

As I think the article suggests, this is not a principled action to try to enhance the higher goal I mentioned earlier. This is a callow attempt by libraries to remain relevant. You would think that librarians could come up with better ideas than this. It does not speak well of the profession.
You're putting before us two opposite extremes of what a public library is. Neither is true; the truth is somewhere in the middle and is rather wholesome. So writing about these extremes is a bit absurd. It would be more helpful to write about what's really going on. Hurray for public libraries!
Really?...Come on, this is not a harbinger of the collapse of society.
In a culture increasingly devoted to bread and circuses, many institutions once devoted to higher ends have been subverted to lower; indeed, the subversive librarians cited here must (ironically) anchor their philosophy of institutional progress in denial of the legitimacy of the distinction.

Intellectual labor normally requires freedom from distraction, hence the quiet orderliness of the old libraries; the institutionalization of intellectual distraction requires much looser constraints on human behavior, hence the "modern" library as a haven for the anti-social, from the glassy-eyed game freak (some of them eight years old) to the aggressive deviant.

As a librarian, let me say that if you have a library where this kind of modernization hasn't happened, you have someone to thank for the courage to resist organizations like the American Library Association.
Like many of our once great institutions, the library has ceded the high ground to wallow in the street life.
Nice, it's just in keeping with the times. I have a couple of step children that made it all the way through public scholls in Colorado without ever learning to read. They are masters of PlayStation 2 though.
Lie-brary?

At my local library I could probably trundle through the front entrance wearing a rusty suit of armor and commence performing Flight of the Bumblebee all over my body using two caste iron frying pans and the librarians would still fail to detect the slightest hint of excessive noise.
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Border Enforcement = Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Sanity.