I recently read several interesting articles exploring the sense of loss that communities and neighborhoods have felt in the rise of the modern west. The ‘leave-it-to-beaver’ style 1950s neighborhoods are largely non-existent in today’s society (if they ever existed at all). In discussing this with others I came to realize that most people I had spoken with hardly knew their neighbors beyond the acknowledgement of one another by a spoken hello or a wave in passing.
In reflecting on my youth, growing up in a small suburban neighborhood I remembered how the local children would inevitably run wild between houses and parents would routinely phone one another to find where we were hiding that day. That same community, two decades later, found itself home to my sisters. Growing up among a new generation of children they often found that parents (in my case the same parents who had raised me) were more restrictive about where and who the children could play with. This anecdotal evidence is not expected to be taken as gospel, or even as the norm, especially considering that the change in reaction may have been because of a perceived notion of expectations for raising boys and raising girls. Regardless, I found these experiences reinforcing the change that authors had been noting. A change that say doors locked, property chained up to prevent theft and communities beginning to lose a sense of shared identity.
Anyone who reads my blog probably realizes my passion for all things video games and may even know where I intend to take this discussion. I have always believed in the possibilities that this oft-maligned media presents and today’s segment will discuss community building via the merging of the real and virtual worlds.
The local library has always played a role in the larger community development process, whether it be by holding events, welcoming everyone or simply by existing in a capacity to serve. Communities have been built and sustained around these venerable buildings often noted as the ‘last bastion of the public sphere’. With the rise of digital media and the information era libraries have had to cope with new and changing information needs but have at core remained centers of community development providing unrestricted access to everyone equally. The changes within the library have included adding more technology like computer stations, E-Book readers, assistive reading equipment and the like. Libraries have also included E-Books, DVDs, CDs, and even video games. As time passes the role of the library has changed from a prescriptive institution which sought to educate the masses to a more passive institution which offers choice and respects information and media of new and different formats. Things like comics and graphic novels are becoming more pronounced in collections and offer a glimpse of this changing view of librarianship and collections development.
These changing views come about at the same time as new generations see libraries as dated, inadequate, or even obsolete. Changing views of the library itself have created stigma which leads it to represent a place for the impoverished, poor, or socially outcast. Children and teens can more frequently be found hanging out at the mall or the movie theatre than the library. The library has become passè or un-cool. The addition of new forms of media will help to alleviate these views only if they can find a receptive audience for which to deliver them. In addition, the library as a community hub can only be said to be as effective as the community by-in it receives.
All of these changes and problems have come about in my lifetime and seem to be a continuing problem that is echoing changing in society at the same time. The shrinking sense of community and the deteriorating view of librarianship, libraries and their role in communities needs to be tackled head on by an aggressive campaign of re-branding, marketing genius and strategic investment. The solution to all of these issues? The gaming librarian.
Libraries have begun to invest in other media but have never embraced the possibilities these new medias have for re-inventing the image of the Public Library. My solution would entail a pilot project developed and funded via a crowd-sourced investment campaign ala Kickstarter. Securing the funding would only be the tip of the iceberg as securing popular opinion and government by-in would require even more public pressure. Assuming these hurdles can be done and the funding and support is established, a large urban center would have to be chosen. The location would depend largely on where the funding and government support can be found but requires an urban center to effectively translate into a potentially viable sample population size.
The funding would then be used to secure a space large enough to accommodate the needs of the project and close enough to existing public facilities. For example, in many urban centers campaigns of revitalization have focused on the core by connecting art galleries, museums, libraries, theatres and more into a cultural hub of sorts. This allows patrons to travel to a single location and encourages them to explore multiple venues. The space would require some larger multi-purpose space with long tables and chairs set up, temperature controlled computing labs, areas with couches and TV screens and an arcade space with room for patrons to easily find seating, eating and gaming needs met.
This digital media library would require the arcade space for a free gaming experience with others that could help develop friendships and allow youth a respite from the boredom or tedious nature that is often cited as the cause for acts of youthful violence and criminal activity. The conference room style area would be a multipurpose facility to accommodate gaming in other formats like Dungeons and Dragons style pen and paper RPG’s or card based games like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic the Gathering. The space could be used for birthday celebrations or rented space for other such gatherings helping to offset the costs of running the facility. All of these areas can be separated by spaces that offer large couches and big screen TV’s or projectors which can play video games with different areas devoted to different systems. The computing labs could have computers pre-loaded with MMO’s, many of which are free-to-play and could allow those who cannot afford to game to find the space and place to do so.
This entire concept sounds ludicrous and fiscally irresponsible if not for this next part. The entire space would serve to bring communities together. The gaming experience is becoming a more pronounced aspect of many children’s lives and those left out of the latest and greatest experiences can be subject to ridicule and isolation. Libraries have begun to combat this by incorporating games into the catalog but it can be brought this next step further in order to create a binding social experience within the community. Anyone who has ever played a video game will note the large efforts the industry has gone to in recent years to incorporate online and multiplayer support for just about every experience in order to draw users together. This facility would serve as a real life merger to the virtual gaming space to alleviate feelings of isolation and to create real bonds between gamers. LAN, local-area-network gaming has been around for more than a decade and serves as an example of the type of shared gaming experience that elevates user enjoyment and promotes feelings of unity and togetherness. Growing up in the 1980’s I knew the joy of the local arcade where all the children seemed to be drawn to as a new digital playground. This experience would allow that sort of bonding to come about again, but this time removing the added expenses that come with it by not charging users.
Ultimately this plan has many issues needing to be addressed.
Safety and security. The decline in community has often been related to the perceived change in the level of safety and security for youth in society. Anyplace that aspires to create a welcoming environment for children needs to have plans in place to help guarantee that sexual deviancy or child predation is not an issue. In the construction of such a facility these ideas would need to be taken into account at every opportunity. Vetting for all staff through police clearances would need to be a requirement, as well as paired staffing positions of opposite genders. Precautions like these and others would serve to create a more stable and secure location which would reflect the goals of the program more thoroughly.
Theft. Whenever gathering such sought after media there will be those elements of society who will seek to attain them in less than legal manners. The policies and procedures utilized would need to take this into account. In many cases having systems secured behind locked cases and having content stored on hard drives or ‘the cloud’ could assist in preventing opportunities for theft. New incarnations of gaming devices are often seeking direct download capabilities which would allow content to be stored directly on the Playstation 4 or Xbox One for example rather than requiring a disc be changed out to play a new game. In addition, if this pilot project became more commonplace the gaming industry might begin to market units to libraries for such purposes with built in features.
Community Buy-In. With the economic hardships experienced globally it is hard to justify any expenditure of public capital on un-necessary or seemingly fruitless pursuits. Libraries remain cash strapped even while their collections see more use. The pilot project would be more easily established by turning to the more mature gaming users of today who grew up on these devices and remember the shared experiences of playing with one another. Beyond the initial start-up costs there would remain the costs of upkeep, internet access, new collections etc. and these would have to find either continuing community support, industry support or government support. I do not feel like this would be an impossible task but it would surely dominant much of the time and energies of managing the venture.
Access. Setting this up as a public access facility requires that all patrons receive the same fair treatment which is a continuing problem in urban centers with the accommodating the needs of transient populations and those of the objecting public who may protest for various reasons. Libraries deal with these issues on a daily basis and there are no ready answers. It may be the case that this facility may market itself to a younger audience and require that those patrons represent a certain age range, but this is not in keeping with free and open access which librarians have traditionally upheld. The solution to this issues may require more inventive minds than my own, but either way, these are issues that face libraries everyday regardless of the content of their ‘shelves’.
The possibilities for what sorts of events and functions could take place here to draw in patrons from all walks of life are nearly limitless. The functions of the place could also grow to include archives of preserved and conserved video game content. Patrons might ask for other related media like comics or graphic novels and the spaces to read and enjoy these materials. If sufficient money was raised this space could even incorporate a theatre of sorts and have gaming tournaments and movie nights. Patrons might range from the very young to the extremely old, as games have found acceptance in nursing homes and childcare facilities. Professionals like myself who are approaching middle age grew up on gaming and may attend the location in order to experience the nostalgia of revisiting past digital realms. Ultimately, such a venture could start to solve a variety of inner city issues as well as provide the basis for more integrated and tight knit communities.
On a separate but related note, lately there has been a focus on video games and the benefits they can bring so I figured I would add a link to some videos I found to be especially interesting for this, thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy!
- ‘Technology not a threat to librarians’ (thehindu.com)
- A.M. UPDATE: Library to host games day Saturday (muskogeephoenix.com)
- Video Games in Libraries (cordinia.wordpress.com)
- Abandoned but Not Forgotten: Providing Access to Degrading Digital Media Under Orphan Copyright (librarylegend.wordpress.com)
- How Can Video Games Create Bonds Between Parent And Child (simplysenia.com)
- History and Mission of Libraries (zaheerahshakir.wordpress.com)
- ODC BarCamp 2013 – Digital Libraries in the 21st Century (slideshare.net)
- ‘Focusing’ in on patron needs (ripslawlibrarian.wordpress.com)
- The Advantages of Video Games (medtop2.wordpress.com)