Libraries and New Media

These are my rambling thoughts on a few of readings from over the past month.

First of all, after reading Illich, I was delighted to learn that my profession survives in his vision of a deschooled society:

The professional personnel needed for this network would be much more like custodians, museum guides, or reference librarians than like teachers.

As a librarian, I have heard every verse, chorus and variation of the “why do we need libraries when we have Google” song, but I believe that that protest has it exactly opposite: it’s the libraries (and librarians) that are exactly what’s needed in this information/media rich culture, and Illich sees this (after all “Reference Services” shows up twice in his list of approaches to a deschooled education). Finding one’s way among all the information on all the different media that are out there is difficult. I encounter students overwhelmed by information, not knowing how to evaluate information, etc. all the time. And a librarian is an information professional – they can point you in the way to go, can help you find the best information for your need, and the library structure (both physical and digital) can provide the access to what you need. Just the other day, a student I was helping in my office said to me “You know how like, long ago, librarians helped you find books and stuff? Well, I feel like you’re like that, but for the internet.” That was one of the proudest moments of my professional life so far.

New Media vs. Old Media


I get just as frustrated with the reactionary “libraries should be only about books” idea that gets tossed around in library-land as well. This gets repeated most often by the past-president of ALA Michael Gorman. One of the things he said fairly recently in an article about the future of libraries was

“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.”

He seems to be taking a jab at the recent development in many public libraries to check out video games and host gaming nights and Nicholas over at Information Games, sums up Gorman’s argument as “video games are not books and books are the real business of the library.” (That whole post is brilliant by the way, and is a great counter to Gorman’s reactionary bloviation.) In reading what Gorman said, I also thought about Turkle’s assertion that “Protest against video games carries a message about how people feel about computers in general.”

That got me thinking about some of the other readings for our seminar – Scott McCloud on comics, Bill Viola on video, and Sherry Turkle on video games. Three distinct forms of media. Libraries have eagerly embraced collecting graphic novels – they are, afterall, printed in books which we love and are familiar with – and while film and video had some early hiccups in the conversation about their place in library collections, now are collected eagerly and are some of the highest circulated items. The medium of video games just happens to be at the forefront of the discussion right now in the library world, and therefore it will bring out the “others, primarily book-oriented [that] claim the newer media are uncomfortable to use, expensive in time and money to acquire, difficult to administer, and require too much specialized knowledge and skill to be worth the trouble of learning to produce and use for educational purposes.” (That from an article in 1954 called “The Place of Newer Media in the Undergraduate Program” The Library Quarterly Vol. 24, No. 4 (Oct., 1954), pp. 358-373)

Brilliant Quote

There will always be new forms of media and the library will have to figure out a way to collect, organize and provide access to them. Just because “books on paper” have reigned supreme for the majority of the life of the modern library doesn’t mean that that is what we should be all about. Libraries are about accessing information, wherever that information resides. So now we have to try to figure out how to collect things that we traditionally haven’t collected – video games, e-books, web pages, Tweets, digitized info of all kinds.

I am the new library consultant to the communication studies department, which includes the best kept secret on campus: the film and digital media program. They teach about video games there. They PLAY video games there. Yet our library doesn’t collect video games. I’m formulating a plan to change this, by the way, in part as a result of the readings in this seminar and some other wonderfully thinky library blog posts I’ve read recently… I’m excited about the possibility of pushing our library forward into collecting new forms of media. I also excited to see what other new forms of media might be on the horizon that might throw a wrench into the library world yet again. Nicholas at Information Games says this near the end of his post:

As libraries become less and less about books and more and more about, well, whatever it is we are about, we are going to need innovative problem solvers who can deal with disruptive technologies.

That’s who I want to be.

circulating video games collection is shelved with the graphic novels

Leave a Reply