Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood branch of the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library. Sometimes I’d wander there alone and read for a few hours. Other times I’d go with friends, or meet them to do homework at one of the community tables.
The librarians–the Silence Police–would make their rounds, shushing anyone who talked above the allowed decibel limit, admonishing giggling kids, and bouncing those who made the library their playground. I recall once seeing someone ousted for throwing a paper airplane.
The library has changed quite a bit over the years, no thanks to technology and the desire for more funding. I’ve long lamented the draw of the computers at my local branch. Whenever I go in, the seats in front of the screens are filled with zombie children and adults feeding on their Facebook pages, online games, and instant messaging. While computers were added to libraries everywhere as a means of providing unlimited access to unlimited information, I don’t see much research and learning at those terminals…for a lot of the users, computers are for play.
When the Main branch added the televisions, I, too, mourned for the days when the library was a repository of learning material, not a repository of media, which isn’t always enriching nor educational. The counter arguments posit that libraries are community gathering places, and that the definition of text is so flexible that as technologies advance, so must our recognition and acceptance of alternative texts.
Yesterday, I learned that the TLCPL has added video gaming to its offerings. As part of their new hip teen areas, The Main Library and Reynolds Corner branch have installed the Wii, X-Box360, and Playstation 3 in areas where, according to its press release, 13-18 year-old-teens can, “…test their skills, learn and play games solo or in groups of 3 individuals.”
The press release also includes this notation, in bold, “According to the American Library Association, some 75 percent of public libraries support gaming, by offering computer or board gaming, circulating games, or offering gaming events, areas and programs.”
WHY? Because it brings patrons in? Because those patrons have to use their card to circulate the items, thus signifying the “need” for even more public funding? And why the use of bold text as a rhetorical tool? Was spokesperson Rhonda Sewell expecting to be questione about the necessity of video-gaming?
Libraries in the state of Ohio suffered significant blows in the governor’s last two budget adjustments. Our local library system was quick to respond with an advocacy plot, petitioning library users to call or write the state reps and the governor to demand more money for the library. Along with this came the dire news that the libraries would not be able to offer the programming they always have. Hours would be limited. They would not be able to purchase the volume of books, CDS, DVDS, that we had grown accustomed to…
But they have funding for video games and the systems that run them? It’s all good for the kids, they’ll tell you–fostering community, engaging them in problem-solving, improving their hand-eye corrodination,
I argue that had the library stuck to its traditional mission–a public source of information–rather than an entertainment venue and/or computer lab, it would not be so strapped today. I admit that I have benefitted from borrowing vdeos/DVDs and CDs without charge for years and years, but is that really the library’s mission? To provide community access to feature-length films? Don’t get me wrong: Funds used for expanding the film section could have beeen relegated to media, educational media that is more difficult for the average citizen to access, like independent documentaries, for example. These would be more in keeping with a library’s mission than circulating The Star Wars Trilogy.
I was shushed plenty of times by those Draconian librarians at the Point Place branch. It directed me back to my task and reinforced the idea that we need quiet to read and to absorb ideas. The library doesn’t seem to be the place for that anymore. But if not there, where?