Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Library Collections: What Should We Have?

A comment recently came through, asking if it was a good idea that the library had DVDs, and now video games, in an era of childhood obesity. I responded to it, briefly, in the library's column in the Mukwonago Chief, but I post the comment in full here because I think it raises some interesting points and it requires a full and thoughtful response that I just don't have the room for in the newspaper column. Here is the full-text of the suggestion:

With today's children spending so much time in front of the television, is it necessary to promote this by offering hundreds of movie DVDs and now video games at the library? Studies have proven that our children are less imaginative than ever before, and cases of obesity in children is [sic] overwhelming. On my past trips to the library, I notice that children and their parents are not checking out books, but instead are checking out stacks of DVDs and now video games. Is this the quality time that parents spend with their children now, mindlessly parking them in front of the television set? What about sharing a good book and talking, or venturing outside for some fresh air and exercise. A little sun won't hurt any of these kids. Maybe it should be suggested that we spend more money on books, magazines, papers, etc. and less on mindless visual entertainment.

I want to thank whoever made the suggestion. And I mean that very sincerely-- it clearly comes from someone who truly cares about his or her community and the community's library. Similarly, thanks to everyone else who has made a suggestion or left a comment—please, keep them coming. We appreciate any and all feedback from the community we serve.

It is also important to provide a little historical context-- this is a question that has been around, in one form or another, for centuries. In America, it has arisen in the form of "good" books vs. "bad" books, newspapers and magazines vs. books, movies and videotapes vs. books and newspapers, and even genre books (SF, fantasy, mystery) vs. other fiction.

Essentially, it boils down to: Is the public library an educational institution, an entertainment destination, or some blending and combination of the two? The general consensus has been for option #3, a blending and combination of the two. Certainly that has been the approach of the Mukwonago Community Library. Our vision statement identifies us as both a Lifelong Learning Place and an Entertainment Place. Most significantly, perhaps, we see ourselves as A Place For Everyone.

Now, in regards to particulars of the patron's comments, let's start with the final point. It is important to realize that the library spends more on books than on DVDs, CDs and video games combined—more than twice as much, when you include our newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Books, newspapers and magazines are staple of library holdings, and despite speculation like this, I don't see that changing any time in the near future.

I also think calling movies and video games, “mindless visual entertainment” is too harsh. Certainly, some movies and games are pure escapism, but movies are often as thought provoking as books and many video games can be shared by a family in the same manner as a board game. My kids and I had a blast last week playing SuperMario Kart together, and with the motion-sensing capabilities of the new generation of games, even the "couch potato" image of a typical video game player may be going by the boards. Having recently purchased Wii Fit, I can testify that "playing" that "game" will provide you with a workout. Plus, recent studies are showing that video games can be beneficial to the brain in many ways.

And, then again, what's wrong with a little pure escapism from time to time? Certainly some books are primarily, perhaps entirely, escapist fiction. Not every book can be The Grapes of Wrath, Wuthering Heights, or War and Peace. Nor would we want them to be.

Additionally, the library is also an entertainment place and both DVDs and video games are part of the entertainment landscape. Certainly we hope that families check out books as well as videos and games, but the library's vision is for it to be a "place for everyone". One group that is a challenge to "be a place for" is the young adult population-- video games are a way for us to reach out to them.

In regards to getting outside for some sun, the library is exploring options for making better use of the park to our west this summer, including outdoor reading spots and possibly checking out some sports equipment (basketballs, kickballs, etc.). Overall, however, I would say that video gaming is no more inactive than reading a book, and that today's games are sometimes quite active, indeed.

The challenge to today's library is to be that "place for everyone". Old, young, readers, writers, viewers, gamers. Computer savvy or not, religious, agnostic, retired, unemployed, students, parents, children, artists, professionals, factory workers, athletes and intellectuals. To meet that challenge, we attempt to keep a balance of educational and entertainment materials, in as many formats as possible, to reach as broad a portion of the community as we can.

And we are always open to suggestions and new approaches. Please, help us be the best community library we can possibly be-- add your comments just below, if you'd like, or stop in and let us know what's on your mind.


Anonymous said...

Nothing against games - except the price -- could get several books for the price of a game (or do you get better pricing ?)

If you are interested in new formats / new approaches ...
It would be nice to check out a book to read on my Kindle !

The Director said...

Thanks for the comment! Games are slightly more expensive than books or DVDs, about 2 to 1, but they also have a greater "reuse" factor. After completing a dvd or a book, you aren't likely to check it out again for quite some time, quite possibly never. A video game, however, will often be checked out several times by the same person. So, I think the higher cost is justified.

Additionally, video games help the library reach out to the young adult and teen populations. This is a group that can be hard to find appeal for, but we hope that providing video games will be one way that we can reach out to them.

As for Kindles... well, we are seriously looking into that. The staff and I were just talking about getting a kindle or two earlier this week. A number of libraries across the country are already checking out pre-loaded kindles. So, stay tuned and hopefully we'll have what you are looking for in the near future.

Thanks again for the comments-- stop back soon!