I started to answer some of the responses that I got from my recent post “Gorman Gaming Gaffe”, but the length of replies gave me the idea to spin them out into their own blog post. There were a couple of thoughts I wanted to expand upon because I think there are larger concepts and ideas in play here.
In their respective replies, Will Manley and Liz Burns came to the defense of Michael Gorman’s overarching position that the library has deep roots as an educational institution. The presence of gaming can act as a sideline from this mission. How gaming is used as a program, an attraction, and lending material matters when it comes to the discerning eye of the public and those who control the budget. As Liz says (and I agree), libraries can have games and gaming while maintaining the educational aspects of the entire library.
The point that doesn’t sit well with me in their replies is that, if public libraries are to be the education institutions that people like Mr. Gorman wish them to be, what about the sheer volume of entertainment that we collect right now? What is the educational value of the latest Michael Bay movie, a Lady Gaga CD, a Nora Roberts paperback, or a Jody Picoult hardcover? You could tuck the latter two into a wider mission for literacy, but the first two are going to be a hard sell under this ideal.
I know that such a position is not new by any means. Within the last three years, I can recall reading a letter to the editor in my local newspaper in which a fellow townsman argued for the library budget to be limited to only “academic pursuits”. However, it is my feeling that the public library has been popular culture collector for some time now. In acting as a reflection of the communities served, the collection has roved to other types of holdings as a reaction to the local changes in taste and technology. It’s not so much that the library has wandered, but that it has followed where the patrons have indicated that they want them to go. This trend has not been created in a vacuum, but as an acquiescence to the suggestions of people using the library.
(If someone wants to make the argument that we should not always give patrons what they request as a matter of course in following the educational ideal of the public library, they are free to do so. I will not be making it, but I will acknowledge its existence.)
I would not want gaming (video, board, card, or otherwise) to be afforded a second class citizenship in collection development. It strikes me as odd to not think twice about buying the latest Hollywood hype high-explosion-low-plot-no-acting drivel and yet turn up the nose on games and gaming materials as somehow being unbecoming of the library to collect. In considering that there are studies that support the benefits of video games, card games, and board games, this dismissal is based on outdated perceptions.
As it has been suggested in previous post and in the replies, games can prove to be a valuable marketing tool for the library. In hosting gaming, the library can reach out to individuals who are not current library users in a new way. Once they are in the building, you can build a rapport with them and market to them. The placement of advertising and even the program itself can maximize their exposure to your services, materials, and other programs. Just like the candy in the grocery checkout aisles, you can bring them in for one thing and have them leaving with something else. But, I believe more importantly that this presents the opportunity to build a relationship with the patron.
This leads into my next point.
When public librarians think about their relationships with patrons, what is the time scale that they are using to analyze them? Are they thinking of the patron in the present as in how many items they have out now, how often they are visiting the library now, and how many services they are using now? Or are we thinking of the relationship over the course of lifetime? I think there is such emphasis placed on the statistics that the public libraries can gather now that the relationship over the course of decades is set aside.
I’m not ignorant of the fact that statistics are important for showing value for the money invested in the library, but it does make me wonder if we are just paying lip service to the “lifelong learning” idea. Instead, are we engaged in a quasi Glengarry Glen Ross style of high pressure salesmanship where we are actively trying to convert people into power users or increase the number and types of materials that they borrow or the programs they attend? This places an emphasis on those we can convert into immediate statistics versus those who will provide a greater number of statistics on a longer time scale through a slower developing accord.
In thinking about my own relationships with patrons, it reminds me of Ranganathan’s 5th law of library science: the library is a growing organism. We are growing our patron relationships from the moment they step through the doors. If we were to imagine them as plants, very few of them will be kudzu, some will be evergreens while others are perennials, and there will be orchids (which can take up to eight years before flowering). The rate of growth in the relationship between the user and the library does not follow a single pattern. It is up to the profession to recognize these signs and cultivate our relationship with the patron at the pace of their expectations and growth.
I think there is more to consider when it comes to the library-patron connection. How do you view this connection?