Editor’s note: The following is in response to the Feb. 27-March 5 guest column “What is ‘just a library’ today?” by Rockford Public Library Board of Trustees President Paul Logli. Logli’s column was in response to the Feb. 13-19 guest column, “Why can’t our library be just a library?” by Tim Hughes.
By Tim Hughes
In his response to my column asking why can’t our library be just a library, board president Paul Logli raised several questions that need answering.
It isn’t just a question of keeping pace with changing times, it is the balance the library should strive to maintain between education and entertainment, and, unfortunately, where this library administration is concerned, entertainment is winning out over the core purpose for a library’s existence, the distribution of knowledge and information. Young adults who really are young adults and who have read my criticisms of these fighting video games offered in the Young Adult Zone have said they agree with me, such games are not appropriate for adolescents, and went on to point out that they themselves were avid gamers. So, I don’t think I’m that far off in my complaint about these sickeningly violent gamers with such vicious titles as “No Mercy,” in which story characters are pummeled without mercy. And at a time we are learning so many of the mass shooters who have recently horrified the nation with their crimes have also been devotees of such games, it is fair to raise objections as to why the library is providing such material for adolescent consumption. When a library staffer justifies offering fighting video games to keep, and I quote, a “certain grade of kid off the streets,” and most of those playing the games in the Young Adult Zone are minority kids, then it is fair to ask if RPL hasn’t come to stand for Racist Pandering Library, for it seems to me that’s what it comes down to.
Since when are fighting video games necessary for library staff to form positive relations with adolescent patrons? Many library staffers believe these games have no place in the library, and ones I have spoken with indicate the playing of these games as a lure for getting adolescents to use the library has resulted in only minimal circulation of library materials.
Mr. Logli tells us that adolescents form friendships in the YAZ, but I know some who complain they can’t concentrate on their school work while using one of the zone’s laptops because of all the racket caused by video games. Laptops good. Fighting video games not so good. And I hope Mr. Logli doesn’t think that all that bonding together he talks about includes certain forms of illegal card games for adolescents since that goes on in the zone as well.
Dr. Dennis Thompson, when asked by a Register Star reporter to what he attributed the steep decline in adolescent literacy, answered it was due to all the time spent playing video games. So, here’s my question for Mr. Logli: How does he justify the expenditure of public funds on video games and the staff necessary to maintain order while the games are being played, when educators point to video game playing as the major cause of adolescent illiteracy? I look forward to hearing Mr. Logli’s answer to that question, because quite frankly, I don’t believe there is a justifiable answer considering all the circumstances.
I’m a firm believer in summer reading programs, but yes, I do think kids should go into the library to sign up for it; otherwise, they might think a library is about carnivals and cotton candy and nothing else. Besides, in doing so, they might end up checking out books, which would help the circulation Mr. Logli is concerned about.
Of course, Mr. Logli is right in stating that summer reading programs are necessary for children to maintain their reading skill level. But that’s reading, and not watching movies. Yet, movies, thematically related to the summer reading program, are offered at the library to minors who wouldn’t be allowed to watch such movies in a theater unless accompanied by an adult, but are offered in the guise of being part of the summer reading in spite of sexually-explicit language and images.
As Mr. Logli should know better than most, it’s illegal under state law to expose a minor to sexually-themed images. The images don’t have to be sexually explicit, just sexually themed. So, I’m taking this opportunity to inform Mr. Logli that the next time I observe under-age children watching R-rated movies in the name of the library’s summer reading program, I’m not going to be writing about it, I’m going to be reporting it to the State’s Attorney’s Office.
So, I stand by what I’ve said. I’m fully aware libraries must meet current technological demands, but I maintain such demands are being subverted by self-serving library administrators for their own purposes, and that doesn’t bode well for the future of our library. I also think I stand in pretty good company in my insistence that the library serve its primary function first. After all, it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who said that going to the library taught him what a big world it is and what incredible opportunities awaited him. He certainly wouldn’t have learned that playing a video game in which story characters run around setting each other on fire.
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 March 6-12, 2013, issue