Open forum on technology in libraries.

Hello fair readers!

Over there in the wide world of Facebook, a pretty grand discussion about the influence of technology in libraries has been going.  It was suggested that we move it over to a more user-friendly format that doesn’t restritct you in terms of how long you can rant!

Yes, I mean you Facebook.

Whats with the comment cutoffs guys?

What's with the comment cutoffs guys?

So here is a little background info and then you are more than welcome to go at it in the comments.

I placed a link to this article:

Not-So-Splendid Isolation

An opinion piece written for Library Journal in 2007 about the melding of library services with technology.  It sparked a wonderful conversation/debate on the role of libraries.  I referred to it as “A disturbing article by the guy who wrote a particularly nasty letter to the ed. about my article. He is obviously not a fan of technology…or even delivery of materials at home for seniors…which is a bizarre thing to be against. I think he needs to head back to library school and refresh himself on the ALA Code of Ethics.”

But there are really good arguments on both sides.  Most put a little more eloquently than mine. 😉 One commenter has noted:

i think technophiles and free-market drones are causing restructuring where educators and librarians would do better. and i think too in a wider sense, the issue is ‘should markets be the core of society, market aesthetics or logic?'”

And then it spread into videogames and literacy and beyond.  One commenter noting:

“Regarding the Wii issue, I just don’t think it’s the job of a librarian to decide that kids shouldn’t be allowed to play video games. I’m not a politician, or a clergyman, or any other role involved in imposing rules on society.”

So do you have anything you would like to add to this debate?  Do you think that technology in the library is about more than just the spread of information?  I welcome this debate onto La de da and as I’m sure we all know, keep it friendly folks.

Taken from Olivanders flickr

Taken from Olivander's flickr

14 responses to “Open forum on technology in libraries.

  1. To start, I would just like to repost this as a resource, mainly because I do believe that Jenny Levine has some brilliant points about gaming and literacy:

  2. In reponse to:
    “blood spattering games to draw children in worries me at first…check out barber’s ‘consumed’ and see if his claims about infantilizing culture are correct.”

    Mark, I think that its worth nothing that most libraries will not be setting up Grand Theft Auto III for their game nights. However if a library is going to circulate games, for example, its not our role to censor materials that we feel might be unfit for some to play. No matter how violent. We can check IDs to make sure they are 18 for Rated M games, just like Rated R movies. But it would be unfair to refuse to stock them if the desire is there…just like libraries stock romance novels and thrillers.

    This, of course, is referring to the public library.

  3. first, biggreenpea is me, mark. and for background, if you check my .com page, you will see a link to my blog – just to point out how lo-tech i am. i grew up before computers were part of learning…when we had computers they were TRS-80s. And I never got into Atari either. my parents could not afford the systems.

    I look forward to continuing this chat but must break for the Target. I also need a brain boost…little protein, little caffeine.

  4. …but for now will say I think it is the job of adults in society to censor materials for the kids. Are we to trust kids judgments, unformed minds about what is good for them just because a video game is titillating and exciting? I say that is part of my point, that part of the point is a relinquishing of responsibility for guiding society. I get the dilemma though in having to make the decision in a public library. And I like the definition of library where a library is a repository of cultural materials including the latest fads.

  5. Perhaps I should clarify; I’m not saying that libraries shouldn’t have an educational or public service mission. Public libraries are often tasked with teaching literacy (both traditional and “information literacy”) alongside the school system. And there’s often a strong social support component, both for youth and adults: kids whose parents can’t or won’t educate and socialize them at home can get a little of that at the library, and adults can be directed to other resources (shelters, AA meetings, etc.) as appropriate. Note that this sort of thing is totally compatible with playing Super Smash Bros. at the library: kids are learning cooperation, communication, and appropriate public behavior (no hitting and swearing!), which are often issues that need to be addressed before we can even begin to worry about getting them to read books.

    I believe the community invests in the library-as-educator because having an institution to do these things is a benefit to the community as a whole, just like it invests in the library-as-book/movie/game-collector because it can get a lot of benefits (access to way more stuff than each person could afford individually) for a comparatively small per-person payout. Likewise, academic libraries do bibliographic instruction because teaching students to think adds value to their education in a way that merely distributing information doesn’t. When administrators try to cut costs by reducing the role of the library, they also reduce the ROI for their students, which I believe will come back and bite them in the a** eventually.

    None of the above, I think, requires a library or librarian to take a moral stand, or to decry the crumbling of culture and tradition, as the author of the original article is so willing to do. I think it’s possible to prove that libraries are doing well, without having to claim that they are doing Good. Which, for me, makes it much easier to accept technology and rapid change. Does a shiny new service or doo-dad increase the library’s value more than it costs to introduce? If so, then I’ll take it!

  6. Not to plug my own blog but I totally blogged about your statement Ben “When administrators try to cut costs…” the other day.
    And I’m sure I can argue for both mark and I that we agree. We both come from a library that has been greatly affected by budget losses. 😦

    So I’m going to say that I think a whole lot of this has to do with a library’s mission. Are they there to educate the public while also catering to people’s wants and needs or are they just there to educate? I think these both determine whether they can justify circulating games, for example. Or taking more of the budget for computers while taking away from the book budget. But I’m also wondering if some libraries may need to rethink their missions? Perhaps a change in the times calls for a change in the mission statements?

  7. i am going to go ahead and go way out on a limb here, in part to expand or clarify my own position. because i wonder…how do senior librarians feel? so far it seems the responses are from those who have been raised with technology and embrace it. this might tie in with the ethical standards which may or may not be expected of a library.

    i have also been thinking about my own age. i just turned 40 and have been surveying the youngsters i meet. please don’t assume i mean anything negative by my choice of words to describe those of younger age. for me i am at a point where i have been wondering about myself as adult versus the me who was a teen, a twentysomething, a thirtysomething…we live in a culture which celebrates youth and i am a person who finally gets the phrase “folly of youth”. this is way outside the library discussion, but i am not as easily swayed a library doesn’t have to be moral. i think that is part of what i am talking about, even though i am not one to support censoring wholeheartedly. that too makes me nervous. oh, and you mention about not swearing and not hitting…are you saying librarians are also baby-sitters? i can’t see why teaching that effects reading books either…or how that is not one of the aspects of dealing with children that is always part of life.

    still…i think my point is just to say, while we might be supportive of technolgies and changes, we must also pay attention to what objective measures show. bauerlein himself makes it clear he is not presenting an answer per se or that all is bad but that there are tests and surveys which are revealing data counter to any techno-theory about how we will become a smarter species or country because of technology. in part we should be critically assessing how we implement change and utilize the technology in conjunction with the stats. where they show a loss of comprehension or aptitude there adjustments should be made. some of the hype comes from the market itself just to sell their new product. and not all these products are worthy – not all new is progress. and again again, i feel and think the ‘world class education’ described by obama requires us mature adults to decide, not the whims of children, even teenagers, what is required. unfortunately that puts me back at the corporate door as the needs of the employers is defining what schools teach. that will also not be to our best interest, in my humble opinion. (respecting of course the public/academic divide)…when society becomes about money and profit is where red flags begin popping up for me…why man cannot follow God and mammon.

  8. p.s. to my last comment – i meant to say relinquishing morals as not a good sign of progress, relinquishing by adults and mature institutions.

    p.s. to the p.s. – of course we have to include that not all adults agree on right and wrong….like the divide between a right wing chrstian and a secular humanist.

  9. Jim Collins has an addendum to his book Good to Great focused just on non-profits ( There’s a lot of biz-speak in it, but it’s still the best thing I’ve ever read on how to measure success in the library world. According to Collins, it’s necessary to have a mission statement that’s actually meaningful, since a prime metric for success is how effectively an organization can deliver on its mission and make a distinctive impact, relative to its resources. Mission, rather than profit, is the key factor.

    Most libraries (including MPOW) fail miserably at this, which is one reason why it can be so hard for libraries to demonstrate ROI to their communities. And when an organization can’t convincingly demonstrate its worth, funders are rightly reluctant to keep opening up the pocketbooks.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, Kalamazoo Public Library–which you used in a previous blog post as an example of a library successfully raising funds during the recession–has a pretty clear mission ( Every decision KPL makes as an organization can be judged in terms of three specific goals in the mission statement and evaluated in terms of eight “Core Values”. This gives the library a framework on which it can hang actual output measurements, and show how it continues to get better at doing the things it’s committed to do.

    (An interesting discussion of Collins’ principles–specifically in terms of Arts organizations, but applicable to libraries as well–is here:

  10. last night i realized how and why i should remove myself from this discussion…unless others are familiar with such thinkers as guenon, evola, or gurdjieff, huxley even, i am possibly off topic.

    but ben, i just was wondering, did you say above, this is my interpretation, it is okay if libraries discipline kids to play on computers (swearing, calling names etc,,,) but not okay to choose which video games to stock? i possibly misinterpreted your statement.

  11. Wow, Guénon is some pretty heavy theory to bring into a discussion of library tech. I think you’re right that it might be a little out of scope! 😉

    Regarding the video games, you may be conflating comments from myself and Leah about slightly different things. I definitely think the library can choose which video games (books, movies, etc.) to stock. As I said, I try to buy the games that provide the most satisfying gore and violence (among other criteria) for our adult gamer collection. We also have a family gaming collection, and that selector looks for well reviewed educational and family-friendly games.

    Leah pointed out (correct me if I’m paraphrasing poorly, Leah!) that a collection development policy which excludes popular materials for an adult collection on purely moral grounds would be considered inappropriate by most public library administrators. (The standard objection to this point is that libraries don’t usually stock pornography; but I’d argue that heavy pornography viewers make up a fairly small percent of our patron base, and can remain underserved along with the other fringe hobbyists. The light pornography viewers–i.e. most of us–will just have to make do with the art-book nudes.)

    Helping to socialize and educate kids is definitely part of the mission given to us by the community. As yet, we’ve not been tasked with moral character building through collection development. Quite the opposite in fact; our patrons get very annoyed if we don’t have the latest trashy fiction. (And also–still!–if we don’t have the classics.)

  12. nothing like a good night’s sleep to clear a brain. i am finding my favorite comment time to be these early hours.

    it is not that i was bringing in guenon or evola but that my views on society have been shaped by the wisdom of the perennial philosophy more than judeo-christianity or free-market economic theory. perhaps since i create mandala i tend to look at the interconnectivity of things, and like someone said…”it takes a village.”

    given the original full out technophilic (pardon me if that is not technically a word) tone of the first few responses to the fella someone tagged a technophobe…i thought it would be worth creating some friction in the discussion, especially as i think he raised dome valid points, even though his method of responding to leah may have been questionable.

    as adults i feel we have been trained to view reality from many lenses, one of them the market lens. it is not something that is easy for many to identify though as we are also not encouraged to always be critical about our own identity. and not just as adults i guess but as 21st century americans. my cats just f-ed up my flow…why do they only seek attention when i try to use the computer? try to give them a hug and they run…

    our future as a civilization requires certain things…one of them is the intelligence of the humans making up civilization. again the mandala forces me to look whol-istically. if all evidence said, yes indeed, these new fangled technologies are indeed making smarter kids and we are off to being a better world, i would say, great…now how do you use this thing? but it looks like this is not the case and our technologies are not quite the grail we have been promised by those with investments in these new technologies. take HD for instance. does that technology really advance society at all? i say it enhances breads and circuses. children may come in to play a game and then accidentally check out a book, but how do we guarantee any retention of learning or habit?

    so you see, this is more where i am coming from. i just wanted to expand the discussion as the knee jerk nature of the original responses did not seem fair to the issue of that fellas article. like him i detest the public use of cell phones in our current day as the trend has always been about egoism and the idea i got it and its mine and i can do it…don’t tell me i can’t. as a society we seem to be only now considering how to meld our private discussions into the public commons via cell phone technology. and we haven’t even discussed how texting may be diminishing thought by reducing the size of vocabulary. when we lose words we lose the ability to express certain human experiences, especially our higher ones. as my work is intuitional with the mandala my hunch is that this is a real possible danger. think about orwell even and newspeak. wasn’t the point again to reduce the language with which to express or rebel? as a whole we can already see great swaths of ignorance in our country like giant red dead spots in the ocean.

    and my point was just to raise the discussion out of simple agreement to where we were actually discussing. just because a library administrator gets to decide the correct use of censor does not mean they will. i understand the fear of censor as an artist and as a gay person, but i have a hunch we is not fully considering.

    once again the flow has been interrupted and i must end this. but again, i just wanted to create discussion where there was simply agreement about a subject i do care much about. please consider mark bauerlein’s book as a source for consideration in considering. ; )

  13. …please ignore the typos…i blame the cats!

  14. pardon me again…the following sentence should read “like him i detest the public use of cell phones in our current day as the trend has always been about egoism and the idea “i got it and its mine and i can do it…don’t tell me i can’t.”

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