Annoyed, MLS’s, and Video Games

November 5, 2007 at 12:52 am (Library 2.0)

I just read a post over at Annoyed Librarian (sorry, no link love – it shouldn’t be too hard to find in the usual way), about Gaming in Libraries.  Overall, I found the article to be a little depressing.  Why is that?  Well, in summary, the article was about video game programs in libraries.  It wasn’t very supportive.  A good portion of the article was about the poor quality of Masters of Library Science programs, especially ones that have classes where students learn about video games.

Annoyed Librarian is an anonymous blogger, of the Rush Limbaugh school – by that i mean that s/he makes snarky, sweeping sarcastic comments, criticizes and insults things s/he doesn’t agree with, offers very little in the way of constructive criticism, and very likely doesn’t actually care about the topic as much as stirring up his/her readers.  This is something AL succeeds at – stirring people up.  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course.  I just find it a waste of my time.

AL brings up some interesting questions, whether s/he cares or not.  What is the state of MLS and MLIS programs in the US?  Is it good?  Is it not so good?  Also, why teach about video games?

Having recently graduated and having heard all of AL’s snarky comments firsthand from a variety of sources, I’d have to say that in most cases, MLS and MLIS programs are only slowly responding to the rapid changes occurring at the professional level.  The reason for this is that MLS and MLIS programs need to be accredited by the ALA.  Accreditation by the ALA means that you instruct students on certain things, have a certain ratio of teachers to students, etc. etc.  In order to add more things to the curriculum, you have to remove other things, and there are many things that can’t be removed, like the theory classes.  What you might feel about this, well, it doesn’t particularly matter – change in academics occurs rather slowly.  There’s bound to be some dissatisfaction with what’s being taught verses what actually takes place in the libraries.  Some programs address this by familiarizing their students to things that are happening in libraries, like video games, others have only enough time slots for the classes that are required, and the options that they have the resources to offer – by resources i mean teachers.  So at the MLS and MLIS level, there are many structures in place to govern the programs.  Changes are difficult to make at the individual school level.  Changes have to be made at the overall system level, which means that enough discontent with the current way things are has to permeate into the inner workings.  Discontent begins at the profession, works slowly back through the schools, and eventually reaches the central system.  It will be interesting to see how the science and the programs change and adapt over the next twenty years.  For my part, I hope to be a part of shaping that future, and I’m not terribly interested in complaining about it as much as i am in understanding it and working toward viable solutions.

On to video games – how do they relate to libraries?  Well, it’s all about the way we humans create, store, and retrieve information.  For a long time, that was done with books, in text and pictures.  Libraries helped to store and retrieve this information.  This is still the case with the Internet – we help people retrieve information that is stored locally or remotely, electronically or physically, etc.  Regardless of the medium in which it is contained.  Now of course there are plenty of arguments against video games as valid library content, but then that’s always been the argument, against fiction and comics and manga and movies and music.  Are video games different from these other content delivery devices?  Yes, because they’re interactive.  In many cases they depend on interaction between users.   Video games are a thriving industry, and have many permutations – people play them on PCs, game systems, hand held devices, and their phones.  The content continues to broaden, with very physically active games like DDR and Guitar Hero, Wii Sports, Wii Play, Wii Carnival Games, Wii just about anything else.  There are many games that are coming out that provide a new interface to relatively normal “library-like” content – like cookbooks.  There’s a Japanese cookbook available for the Nintendo DS.  It talks you through the recipe, responds to your voice, repeats, adds detail, pauses, etc.

That’s just one case, right?  True, true.  No one knows how video games will evolve, but the reality is that games are evolving and becoming ubiquitous.  Game-like features are showing up on sites all across the internet.  Advertising is particularly fond of games, to engage potential customers for longer periods of time.

Through the last thirty or so years, video games have been the method by which the next level of computer technology has been shown to the general public.  Games have shown us what computers are capable of.  In fact, throughout history, games and toys have been the forerunners to many great inventions.   Games reveal what is possible, and through their popularity, drive technological development.  The industry is bigger than music and movies combined.

There are not a lot of libraries that practice video game collection development.  It’s a tricky area, because there are so many different platforms, and because individual items can be expensive and require additional controllers, etc.  On the other hand, one of the reasons for a public library is to provide access to information which might be too expensive or otherwise inaccessible to members of the community.  So in actuality video games would be an ideal thing for libraries to collect, because they can be expensive for individuals to purchase.  Would they be incredibly popular?  Yes, it’s likely they would be.  Would they fulfil the library mission to provide access to information?  Yes – because video games, aside from providing content also provide an understanding of technology and of technological development.  I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the future of the Internet and therefore almost all information creation, storage and retrieval, will be heavily influenced by video games.  It will not be long before 3D interactive environments are a normal part of online activities.  I don’t think Second Life will survive, but it’s effects are already rippling out – i posted about Sun’s MPK20 a couple of days ago, if you recall.

So, should we learn about video games in library school?  Yes.  Should be discard cataloging in favor of fun things like video games?  No.  What should we discard?  Nothing, yet.  What if we’re in a MLS program that doesn’t challenge us enough?  Well, challenge yourself then, and use the curriculum as a means to a better end.  If you think your program was a waste of time, then maybe you didn’t use it to your best advantage.  As a Master, you need to be working hard to improve yourself, not complaining about what’s being spoon-fed to you.  Take some risks.  Form some great arguments that offer real solutions to problems facing the world of librarianship.  Why not?  There’ll be some annoyed librarians out there who will want to discourage you from being interested and excited about your profession, but i think you’ll find those types of folks in all professions, and you just have to persevere.  When a profession is in flux, you can choose to despair or be a part of the solution.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll let you know that I’ll likely never waste my time reading the Annoyed Librarian again.  I’ve got a lot of work to do, and some of it includes video games, Web 2.0, and the future of library science.  Some of it involves planning a new program and running a book group and writing curriculum for computer classes.  Oh, and some of it involves providing excellent reference to our patrons.  Did i mention that i love my job?

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