One might have noticed that there’s often a big difference between academic libraries and librarians and public libraries and librarians. Even as a wee librarian manque in library school, I could spot the difference between those students interested in scholarly pursuits and those interested in storytelling and prostrating themselves before an indifferent public. The former usually became academic librarians – often on the tenure track in ARL libraries – and the latter public librarians. I mean no disrespect here. The world needs prostrate librarians, too, and I’d be the first to say that one good storytelling librarian who can get children interested in reading is probably more important for our culture than the entire scholarly library literature, and considerably less boring. I’m just saying that different sorts of library work appeals different sorts of people.
The libraries are different, too. Public libraries are there to provide stuff for the kids to do and read, to entertain us, and to provide Internet access for poor people and perverts. The public librarians positively shout this at us. Libraries are there for the people! We give the people what they want! And we play games because we’ve got to get bums on seats, luv, or we’ll go out of business! Etc.
Contrast this with the more serious and scholarly world of academic libraries. Academic libraries aren’t there to entertain. If college students want entertainment they can go to a public library or a frat party. College students come to the library to read and do research. If they don’t come to the library, or they don’t read or do any research, so much the worse for them. It’s not the academic librarian’s job to pander to the ignorant multitude, or even to the ignorant minitude present on college campuses. Academic librarians are serious people with serious jobs to do, like building scholarly collections, teaching students how to do research, kowtowing to the real faculty, etc. We’re busy buying those books that are so hard for the ordinary masses to read that they usually don’t end up in public libraries. We don’t have time to run around playing games to entertain the young and the young at mind. That’s why we didn’t become public librarians. The concept seems simple enough.
But now along comes a book on "gaming" in academic libraries. You can read the press release here. "The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) is releasing a new publication, ‘Gaming in Academic Libraries: Collections, Marketing, and Information Literacy.’" (I leave the quotes as I found them, though it’s painful to do so. As academic librarians know, book titles are to be underlined or italicized, while article titles are in quotes.) A kind reader sent this on. I read the press release and groaned audibly. Et tu, ACRL?
According to the press release, "’Gaming in Academic Libraries’ is a lively volume containing 16 examples of ways libraries are integrating games into their learning and outreach programs." The quotes again! Lively volume, indeed. Someone should have told the earnest authors of this tome that the library literature has done quite well without "lively volumes" for the entirety of its existence, and we scholarly librarians like it that way.
I haven’t read the book, but I can’t think what gaming would have to do with academic library collections. I suppose they can buy more books on games for the gamers. That certainly seems like a good way to spend ever tighter academic library budgets. "This scholarly book is way expensive, dude. Let’s buy The Girl’s Guide to Gaming instead!" I don’t know of any academic libraries that have the money even to buy the scholarly stuff they need, and now some are wasting money on games?
As for marketing, all I have to say is, please, God, no more "marketing." Librarians love to use the word marketing these days, it seems. I can tell you, though, that a lot of librarians went into academic librarianship so they could concentrate on important things, big questions, research agendas, and all that. They’re not interested in marketing. If they were, they would use their intelligence, education, and talent and go work for the Man somewhere selling soap and making more money. Some public librarians want libraries to be run like businesses and they want to pander to the lowest common denominator to "sell" their service. Academic librarians don’t want that. They actually have a higher purpose having to do with education, scholarship, learning, tenure, paid research leave, that sort of thing. Anything else is a waste of time and money.
And finally, "information literacy." Odd, thinking back over the 400 or so posts I’ve written, I don’t think I’ve ever addressed the idea of "information literacy" before, so I’ll address it now in brief. "Information literacy" is a stupid phrase, and it doesn’t have much relation to what academic librarians should be teaching students, which is how to do research. "Information literacy" sounds a lot more fancy than "research," and adds six syllables so it must be more important, but really it’s just gibberish. Most of the academic librarians I know – and I know a bunch of them – think the phrase "information literacy" is an embarassment to the profession and would never utter it in conversation without implied scare quotes.
According to some of the public librarians, public libraries are there to give the public what it wants. But academic libraries are there to teach people, not pander to them. Is academia to become as puerile and idiotic as the rest of American culture? Do we academics have to amuse ourselves to death, too? As usual, I’m sure my pleas for sanity will fall on deaf ears, but please, pretty please, leave the gaming to the public libraries and the children. There has to be some place in librarianship for the intellectual and scholarly among us, for those librarians devoted to reading hard books, supporting research, and helping students learn how to be little scholars. If academic libraries are overwhelmed by the same pandering to childish interests that public libraries have been, there’ll be no bastions of intellectual life left in libraries. Is that really what we want?