Guest Column: PlayStation, video poker games not best use of library

By Tim Hughes

  As one using the public library almost daily, I have said from the outset of the budget crisis, I would rather put up with the inconvenience of shorter library hours if that meant fewer staff cuts. I’m sure many patrons feel the same way. I still hold to that view in spite of inconveniences resulting from cuts in staff and hours, making it all the more imperative for the library board to alleviate wherever it can inconveniences created by such things as video poker and mah-jongg and by getting rid of PlayStation video games altogether!

  Many were dumbfounded to discover the library now offers PlayStation video games for adolescent consumption. Such games thumb a nose at the library’s youth reading program. The rationale for the games is that they get kids into the library. Sure, it gets them into the library—to play video games! When their allotted game time is up, I don’t see many adolescents sticking around to book browse or peruse a magazine!

  And the games they’re playing are hardly spinoffs of PBS nature series! By the library’s own admission, their video collection consists of what library staff call “fighting games” and can include some of the most violent of the Mortal Combat games, which have been condemned for their violence by numerous activist organizations and by the likes of Senator Joseph Lieberman and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton. Neither can be called right-wing fogies out of touch with the times!

  I often pass the Young Adults room at the main library when video games are playing and invariably notice violent images of story characters being punched in the face, kicked in the head, choked, beaten and stomped on while viewers cheer, making it necessary for a librarian to be posted there to maintain order, a librarian whose services could be better used relieving pressures staff and patrons are experiencing as the result of budget cuts. At a time when educators speak of what they call “the appalling amount of time adolescents spend watching video games,” you would think the public library is one place where kids are offered something different! The very adolescents who need to be exposed to the library are the very ones being waylaid quite literally at the library’s main entrance by the prospect of playing video games instead of participating in worthwhile library activities! The majority of those playing these games are minority kids, making it appear that the library is adopting an attitude that says minority youngsters can’t be inspired to use the library as others do. They have to be given mindlessly violent video games instead. If that isn’t a betrayal of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, I don’t know what is!  There is no way the library board can justify that!

  Then, there are the video poker games in the library’s computer area. I have nothing against poker and realize some search engines may prevent their being blocked; however, it is one thing to wait in line for long periods for your turn at a computer but another thing when you have to wait while somebody plays poker or mah-jongg! The library should adopt a policy that poker and other video games in the computer center can be played only when others aren’t waiting to use the computers for normal library services.

  I have done graduate-level work in library science, and through the insight that has given me, I have always admired the quality and professionalism of our public library staff, which made it heartbreaking to see talented people lose their jobs to budget cuts. I believe the only way the library’s financial crisis will be resolved is with passage of a tax referendum. The board may already have passed up an opportunity to get passage of such a referendum by skipping the recent primary election, which had all the elements associated with successful referendum passage.

  Passing a referendum may be a challenge in difficult economic times, but we can’t afford to lose traditional library services and the necessary staff to implement and provide those services.

  If there is an agency of local government deserving of a tax referendum, it is certainly our public library, which has gone for more than a quarter of a century without a referendum and desperately needs our help now, but first, the library board needs to get its priorities in order when it comes to things like violent video games!

  Tim Hughes is a former teacher in Rockford School District 205 who coached debate and taught English at Auburn High School for 20 years. At Auburn, he coached three debate teams to first-place national championships.

 From the Feb. 24-Mar. 2, 2010 issue

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