Gorman Gaming Gaffe, Ctd.

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?

Gorman Gaming Gaffe

There’s an article in the Los Angeles Times about libraries reinventing themselves for digital content when this quote popped out at me:

Some traditional librarians worry that experiments aimed at making libraries more accessible could dumb them down.

“If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries,” said Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Assn. “The argument that all these young people would turn up to play video games and think, ‘Oh by the way, I must borrow that book by Dostoyevsky’ — it seems ludicrous to me.”

For me, there are a couple of things wrong with this quote. First, when the library can attract anyone into the physical building (teen, adult, kid, senior), you are given any number of opportunities to market other materials and services to them. The teens might not borrow that Dostoyevsky book, but it works to build a relationship between the library and that age group. These relationships and experiences carry forward beyond the teen years in adulthood. This relationship model applies to the other groups I’ve mentioned and works towards the life long relationship that libraries as a whole want to build with people.

The shortsightedness of Mr. Gorman’s quote is that it relies on a notion that there exists an instant or short term conversion of a single interest patron (only checks out DVDs, only attends video game programs, etc.) into a multiple interest patron (starts borrowing other materials or attending other types of programs). That the single purpose of forming a relationship with a patron is to move them into utilizing as many materials, services, and programs as quickly as possible without regard for their current needs. It’s the equivalent of asking someone to marry them on the first date. Just as we look to the future of the library with longevity, so must we give the same consideration to patron relationships. It doesn’t mean we can’t do a hard sell every once in a while, but keeping perspective on the relationship as an ongoing and growing connection over decades.

Second, the tone of the quote is rather dismissive of experimenting with new formats and ideas. The game rooms that Mr. Gorman is lamenting today might be gone in a few years from now because they really don’t further the library’s mission, they fail attract people to the library, or they are simply be untenable for continued funding. Some experiments work, some don’t, but not trying is also not discovering and stifling to innovation. Even in failing, there are insights to be gleaned for future attempts or avoidance of certain strategies.

I would not consider dismissing Mr. Gorman’s quotation because he has only worked in academic libraries all his life (and not in a public library) so I would hope he would give a little more consideration to different ideas being attempted in public libraries for attracting patrons. It is this process of change that leads to a better overall service and product, but there are going to be many missteps along the way. It may be a game room, it could be video games, but it’s going to take many ideas to figure out which ones are good or bad. Hopefully, in the end, this will bring the results that these libraries are looking for: people walking through the door, ready to see what the library has to offer them today.

(h/t: Resource Shelf)

because i kenken can

In the last month, I have been rediscovering my love of games. I’ve constructed a wish list on Amazon to keep track of the games I would like to collect over time. Over the last couple of years, the major extent of my gaming has been on World of Warcraft. (I admit, I love me an MMO.) But there has been a hole in my recreation and that whole has been gaming.

There are a lot of good memories connected to games, mainly card ones. My mother’s side of the family is extremely big on card games. There wasn’t many a family gathering that went by in which some sort of game (board, card, or otherwise) was not played. Some of my best memories with my maternal grandparents were around the kitchen table with an after meal game of cards. It is one of those things that I miss more than anything about my time with them.

The wife and I had some friends over tonight and we ended up playing Phase 10. It’s a better card game for a rainy day at the beach house or lazy Sunday afternoon, but not on a work weekday night. We ended up stopping after 11 just to make certain people could get home for the work day tomorrow. Since my grandmother moved out of the house and into nursing care almost a year ago, I think this was the first time we’ve had friends over for such a purpose. It felt great, really, and certainly overdue. I need to arrange for more gaming nights, perhaps with different games or themes in mind.

At any rate, while I cannot indulge in these types of games all the time, I can always have a logic problem book on hand. A month or so ago, I purchased a couple of New York Times crossword books for the nightstand. It’s a nice way to relax and get into the sleeping comfort zone, especially since I’m doing the real easy ones (nothing past Monday, so far as I can tell). After reading about KenKen in Time, I had to give it a try. The sample puzzle I tried on the website was enough to have me jonzing for more. After work, I met the wife for grocery shopping and then made a b-line for Barnes & Noble. While I was there, I got a KenKen book, another crossword book, a Hidato book, and a Sudoku book (I have one for my work bag, but not for my nightstand).

Let me tell you, I think that KenKen will consume my brain. It really is that addictive. I’ve already gotten halfway through this book which means I will have to find a few more in the next week or so. It’s a dance of numbers and logic  that, while I make mistakes, I learn from them on the next puzzle. I’m hacking my way through the 5×5 puzzles at the moment, but they are things of beauty, I tell you.

There was an article on Will Shortz I read recently about why people are attracted to crossword puzzles. He talks about how it comes down to you versus the puzzle maker in a battle of wits where all the potential answers are known, but there is the element of deception, guile, humor, and subterfuge in constructing clues to mask the true answers. This may not exactly be the case with KenKen or Sudoku, but the battle remains.

I need to go now, the books are calling me again.