It’s National Library Week (April 13 – 19), and here’s a story on the International Herald Tribune site about ALA’s 2008 “State of America’s Libraries” report. ALA President Loriene Roy told the Associated Press that while school libraries in particular continue to struggle with small budgets, many libraries serving teens have been reaching out successfully with gaming events.

In the story, Roy does admit she knows one Texas librarian “who prefers to focus on books,” but boy, that librarian is seen as a fossil in this piece. Roy raves about how great it is that everyone’s gaming in the libraries:

“I actually know a lot of librarians who are terrific at ‘Guitar Hero,'” Roy said, adding that “people who come to play these games often can’t afford them at home. And what better place to try these out than at a library?”

Roy cited gaming as a positive trend during a difficult time. In recent years, school libraries in particular have struggled to offer more services with less money. Average funding per student dropped from $19.14 in 1999-2000 to $13.67 in 2003-2004. Roy said financial support has probably decreased further in the past few years.

What do I think as I read this piece? Warning: I’m feeling curmudgeonly today:

The 2008 “State of America’s Libraries” doesn’t seem to be available yet (Sunday 4/13) on ALA’s site, but I’m curious to come back and look for it tomorrow. On the whole, this past year hasn’t been a good one for libraries, with increasing numbers of folks from outside the world of libraries implying in blogs, letters to the editor, and other media outlets that libraries have pretty much run their course in our culture, and that the Net can take over from here, thanks.

Not that I believe that’s really true; I simply think we need to be concentrating our thought more intently on how we can explain why libraries are a good thing. Even the video gaming sessions seem to me to be kind of a desperate justification of falling all over ourselves providing something that has nothing to do with our core role – or more precisely, what our public sees as our core role – simply because that’s what teens want.

Isn’t a library’s main reason for existing to supply accurate, fun, and/or stimulating information and literacy-oriented recreation to folks, and to provide the fuel for literacy? I’ve presented a zillion programs for kids and adults over the years, but they’ve always had a tie to literacy. That’s always been my reason for working in this job. (I’ve always avoided presenting craft programs for kids unless I feel that the literacy tie is strong enough.)

Are we really doing anything to tie video gaming and literacy together? I haven’t seen it; I’ve simply seen us holding gaming sessions because that’s what gets teens – boys in particular – excited enough to come in and participate in a library-sponsored activity, thus racking up the numbers we need for our monthly stats.

Librarians who are fans of gaming programs keep saying that teens are lured in by gaming, and once they’re through the door, those teens use the library in more traditional ways. But is there any documentation for this claim? All I keep seeing are anecdotes. Are teens who come in for games actually checking things out? I’ve rarely seen it myself. I hope someone will do a study one day soon of how well gaming works as a draw to get teens to check things out – especially things with pages and print.

Boy oh boy, I’ll bet I sound old-fashioned. But I don’t think I am.

Curmudgeon switch, off. Now I feel better. I think I’ll go play my uke for a while.

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