Friday, March 21, 2008

Discussion on change in public libraries....

Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 7, Number 1: January 2007

Finding a Balance

Patrons and the Library

Here’s a novel idea: Organizations should pay attention to the people who use their services and pay their bills. Here’s another one: Organizations should find ways to involve all the people within their community who could or should use their services.

Those ideas don’t seem novel? Maybe not. To hear some people talk about it, you’d think being patron-oriented is a startling change for libraries and librarianship. Here’s how one radical librarian put it:

“Every reader his book. Every book its reader. Save the time of the reader.” [Emphasis added.]

You know the source: S.R. Ranganathan, 1931, Five Laws of Library Science. The laws still make sense, especially if “book” is defined more broadly. I can’t imagine there are too many librarians who haven’t read those laws—and I don’t imagine there are too many librarians who don’t care about their patrons.

Should Libraries Be Arcades?

"What are you, an arcade?" kicks off Chip's blog post that defends one library's decision to disallow access to "gaming" websites on their public computers. It's all too easy to picture the situation that precipitated this decision -- gamers dominating all the public computers, playing online games for hours at a time. What public library hasn't had to deal with that one before, many times over?

The original post in whole is worth reading, but here's how Chip concludes:

At some point, it becomes a question about what the library is there to accomplish. We can shake our heads at the grouchy old man who complains that libraries shouldn’t be run like an arcade, and try to explain our recreational function. In the end, though, I think the grouchy old man shouldn’t be dismissed so readily. He has a point. What are libraries for?

There's always an element of tension on the cutting edge.. Clearly, inviting (or even merely allowing) gaming in to libraries creates a whole new set of challenges for us. Isn't it easier to just ban it from our buildings and focus our efforts on what we've always done?

Unfortunately, at this point in the game (pun intended), we really don't have that luxury. Video games have gone as mainstream (ask your patrons of any age) as the CDs or DVDs most public libraries provide. Nobody's asking whether libraries should be Blockbuster anymore. In some senses, we just are and we've accepted it.

What are libraries for? I've told you what I think, but we're all in this together. Please share YOUR thoughts in the comments. Do games belong in libraries? How do we strike a balance that ensures the library is a place for everyone, gamers included?

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