Mission creep at the library?

This LA Times story looks at how many libraries are trying to bring in more young people by offering video games, including “Guitar Hero” and others which let them make as much noise as they want:

    That doesn’t mean libraries will turn into arcades, said Loriene Roy, the association’s president and a professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. Roy said libraries established themselves as places for both education and entertainment more than a century ago when they created controversy by beginning to lend fiction books. Now libraries circulate all manner of items other than books, including music albums, tools, toys, cake pans, even animals. “Libraries are about providing public access to resources, in whatever format,” she said. “It goes back to what people want.”

(You can sign out an animal at the library now? Wow.)

What do people think about this trend? Are libraries supposed to be a place for work, or for play? For socialization, or for (subversive) private communion with long-dead authors? If both, then how much of a blend? Do you think different library activities are really helping literacy?

An interesting reminder, that fiction books were once a no-no in libraries. Still, to me this just decreases the specialness of libraries as a place where people could go to escape the noise and media saturation of our world. Some time ago I wound up at my local library (tiny little Fairmount Community Library) and was hoping to kill some extra time with some quiet reading of whatever was on the shelf, but some not-so-young kids were in there hanging out and generally making a racket in a way that never would have been tolerated when I was their age (which wasn’t all that long ago).

This isn’t a “kids today!” post (I hope), but I just wonder where bookworms are really supposed to retreat to these days when the outside world is intruding more and more on their solitude. Are they to be all shut up in their rooms? (but less affluent kids don’t always have quiet rooms of their own…) I remember once in college I was at the library, way back in the labyrinthine stacks somewhere, and I accidentally intruded upon a Muslim student who obviously had taken a break from study for prayer. If libraries are destined to become less and less of a public sanctuary, and more and more of a public hangout, what might replace them in their former role?

6 thoughts on “Mission creep at the library?

  1. Phil

    I was always a bookworm as a kid, haunting the Fayetteville Free Library and reading for hours on the nice leather chair in the front room. Now the library has relocated and turned into a modern “media center” where people rent DVD’s and surf the ‘Net. It now looks less like someone’s living room and more like an office with cubicles.

    Coffee shops etc. seem to attract readers. I notice a lot of people hang out at places like Barnes & Nobles to read (as well as type away on laptops). Many students study in the food court of the Dewitt Wegmans, as well as schedule Meet Up’s for things as varied as Go tournaments and political candidate meetings.
    The coffee shop tucked away on Harvard Place off Westcott St. also harbors some solitary readers, as well as some more organized get togethers.

    I think my mother, the person who instilled in me my love of books, had it best. As a girl she would climb an apple tree in her backyard with a book and a pocketful of treats and spend most of the day.

  2. Melsky

    It seems like libraries are turning into community centers, I would really like to see the library just for quiet pursuits like reading or using a computer and having a community center next door or at least somewhere that is noise protected from the rest of the library.

  3. Robinia

    Well, one thing that seems to be replacing buildings set aside for quiet activities like reading and studying is the earbud. By wrapping oneself in music of one’s own choosing, the modern bookish and studious individual can zone out of the noise in the library, the Barnes and Noble, the cafe. I remember that it was the only thing that worked well in the computer lab I used as a grad student.

    The libraries I use still have quiet places, although they tend to also have soundproof rooms for meetings, group study, and phone calls, as well as viewing videos without the earbuds.

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