I’ve been mentally marinating on this whole “Gaming and Libraries” movement (or whatever you want to call it) for awhile now, and when I saw the “Inside Higher Ed” article “When ‘Digital Natives’ Go to the Library” posted on Techmeme this evening, I decided that, even though I don’t feel as if I’ve fully sorted everything out yet, it’s an important topic, and one that seems to be popping up everywhere. Also, as this blog is as much an iterative conversation with myself (which generally leads to this kind of rambling) as it is with whoever comes across it, I figured I’d roll with it and see where it took me.
First of all, full disclosure, every guy I’ve ever dated has been a moderate to hard-core PC gamer: Wolfenstein, Diablo, Diablo II, CounterStrike, WarCraft, World of Warcraft….you name it, if it was an RPG/MMORPG, they played it. So, when I first heard that librarians were going gung-ho for gaming (say that three times fast), I was a little puzzled. I didn’t see the connection between what my geeked out boyfriends were (and still are) doing and what I viewed as the standard “library mission,” (assist/provide environment in which patrons can seek wanted/needed information). And in a lot of ways, I’m still pretty skeptical.
The points on which the “Gaming in Libraries” proponents and I do see eye to eye on are as follows:
- You shouldn’t have to “RTFM” to use the system. Or, in slightly less blunt terms, systems should have “lowered consequences of failure,” as James Paul Gee puts it.
- Reward exploration. Games do. Wikipedia does. Library systems should.
- Make it fun! See: Wikipedia. When was the last time you went to your library’s OPAC and thought, “YAY! I get to look for literary criticism of A Moveable Feast!” Granted, Wikipedia is intended to serve as a jumping-off point, but still…get my point? FUN.
- Patrons want to self-serve, for many reasons. I have a library degree, and I still get a little intimidated going to the reference desk. Part of that is my innate pig-headedness in not wanting to ask for help, but a lot of that is my instinctual response of not wanting to admit that I don’t know…whatever it is that I don’t know, and I know I’m not alone in that. Additionally, I’m very rarely in the physical library when I have a reference question. I’m not saying IM reference is a silver bullet, but it helps create another avenue for patrons to request assistance, and is one that gamers and just straight-up “digital natives” (like myself) are very familiar with.
I know that I’m not saying anything here that many, many other library bloggers haven’t also said many, many times about library systems. And I do agree with the “Gaming in Libraries” proponents that, for some people, until you have a visceral, physical, kinesthetic (thanks, SLIM, for that word) experience with some forms of technology (gaming being one of those), you’ll probably not ever fully understand the mentality of a lot of those moderate-to-hardcore gamer patrons. That being said, I think that it’s very possible to glean a lot of these “why people like games better than OPACs” points without actually becoming fully proficient at Halo 2.
My two cents. For an interesting look at the geek perspective on this article, take a look at some of these (surprisingly library-positive, given Slashdot’s usual tone) comments on this article.