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Aug. 24th, 2010 @ 11:43 pm Dear Portland Public LIbrary
Dear Portland Public Library,

Let me be the first to applaud your teen librarian’s awesome idea to use video games to lure teenagers to the library. Because I’m sure you’re going to get a lot of criticism from old farts who say books books blah blah blah. (And BTW, how awesome is it to have a special “teen librarian!” Because teens? They are THAT different from you and me.)

And there are sure to be those sticklers for accuracy who complain that video-game playing is not “just a new form of literacy,” as your librarian states, pointing out that Merriam Webster defines “literate” as familiar with “literature” and “letters.” To them I say: Who reads dictionaries anymore? Please!

Video games will attract teens to the library. I know from my experience as a parent that when I finally caved and bought my teens a video game, it lured them into the den--away from their reading and their idle outdoor activities with friends--JUST LIKE THAT! No, I mean it really really worked.

And you don’t limit yourselves to “educational” games, which is good. Because educational? Booooor-ing. What really kept my sons glued to the sofa was “mature” games like Grand Theft Auto IV, which I’m pleased to see you have on hand. To the inevitable old-fashioned parents who find it hard to watch their teens giggle as they commit murder, use the N-word and the F-word, pimp for prostitutes, and exploit women for sex—just keep reminding them that it is improving their child’s “new literacy” skills.

Whiners will complain that video games are expensive; that Grand Theft, for example, at $90, costs as much as ten books. But have they thought of this: Kids will spend 100 times more time playing Grand Theft than reading books! So that makes it a bargain.

But here’s my main point: why stop with video games? Why not get a whole video arcade? You could turn the Maine History Room—which, face it, hardly anyone ever uses—into an arcade and I guarantee you it would be full. Maybe you could add some pool tables and such, too.

You know what else teens like? Shopping! What if you let The Gap and A & F set up some outlet stores? No, hear me out. Don’t just say no. You could even have fast food. The old Reference Library in the basement? Perfect for a Food Court! (Hey, who needs a reference library when you’ve got Wikipedia?) And you’ll want vending machines, too. Soda and chips 24/7. The teens would be all like Mom! Dad! Get me a library card now!

Hey, I just had another thought. That auditorium where you have book readings and author events is a sweet space. With just a few little upgrades, it could be a concert hall. You could get Nine Inch Nails to play there. Teens love Nine Inch Nails.

But wait, you’re saying. Wont’ this be expensive? And how will there be room for it all? Here’s the beauty of my plan: you can get rid of the book shelves! You can be like that high school in Massachusetts that ditched its whole library . in favor of computers! Toss the stacks. “De-accession” the books. When did books ever attract teens?

As for paying for it, you’ve already slashed your book budget to buy over $10,000 worth of video games. Why not go that extra mile and stop buying books altogether? Think how much money you’d save!

I’ve heard you can get wallpaper that looks like bookshelves. Put up some of that, and people will have that comfy feeling of being in a library, without the clutter of all those actual books. It’s a win-win-win, people!

The point is: people will come to your library. Of course, you may have to change your name. “Library” does, after all, mean “book place.” Portland Public Market’s been taken, alas. But Portland Public Internet Cafe? Or Portland Public Gaming Hall? I’m sure you’ll come up with something catchy. And attractive to all ages.
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Date:August 25th, 2010 10:54 am (UTC)
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I have a good friend who is the head of children's and teens' services in a small city library program, and I feel that this slippery-slope argument isn't accurate to her experiences or her efforts.
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Date:August 26th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
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It's not really a slippery slope argument. I just think it's the worst form of self-delusion to pretend that bringing teens into a library to play video games means they will trip over a book and suddenly start reading. Or that playing video games is a form of literacy. (The preponderance of evidence shows exactly the opposite: there's a strong correlation between video activities and a lowered "creative IQ" in young kids.) Gaming is more of an activity that a teen center should be sponsoring, and a teen librarian (I really loathe that term)might want to think of ways to connect kids to books, because they do, after all, read books. I think the idea of "luring" them with games kind of insults their intelligence.

But I would be glad to be proved wrong. What is your friend's experience?