It seems that some people aren’t taking the gamey librarians as lightly as the rest of us. I find the gamey librarians a fun distraction from reality. Sure, they’re trying to destroy our country and do their best to make sure we amuse ourselves to death, but they’re just so earnest and fun-loving that it’s hard to take them seriously.
Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley isn’t getting into the spirit of things, though. He’s auditing the Nebraska Library Commission (NLC) and questioning their use of state funds to allow librarians to purchase and demonstrate videogames and post videos of themselves playing videogames on YouTube. He’s not even complaining about libraries buying the games for kids, just the notion that the librarians have to spend all this time gaming and making videos of themselves.
You can read more here and here. The first link takes you to the Omaha World-Herald and the second to a newsy article from the other AL. Reading them both can give you a short lesson on spin. The World-Herald article opens with a joke: "How many state employees does it take to assemble a Sony PlayStation? Five, apparently." When put that way, the gamey librarians do seem a little ridiculous.
The other AL opens thusly: "A 10-minute YouTube video posted by the Nebraska Library Commission on January 18, 2008, to announce the Commission’s purchase of Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution has resulted—roughly a year later—in an audit issued February 24." Note that phrase "roughly a year later." What’s that supposed to mean? The AL writer seems to imply that there is a statute of limitations on audits of public agencies, or that audits of annual spending, if they’re going to occur, should happen on a daily basis, instead of at the end of the year. It’s been a year, let’s just forget about this silliness! As for the video itself, I won’t comment. My mother always told me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, just don’t say anything at all.
Foley’s report questions not only the use of funds to purchase and demonstrate the games, but the inappropriate payment of sales taxes and the use of state employees’ time to post videos to YouTube and photos to Flikr without any managerial approval or control of the public image of the library. It also questions regular payments to Second Life for leasing "land" there. Videogames are one thing, but Second Life? Good grief. "State equipment and time should only be used for official Commission business. Employees playing games or accessing virtual websites on State time appears to be inappropriate."
What Foley doesn’t seem to have realized is that these things are FUN (!) as well as being the sadly dessicated future of librarianship.
After all, some people spend entire classes in library school playing video games and learning about Flikr. Sure, out in the real world, ordinary people pick this stuff up on their own, but we’re not talking about ordinary people. We’re talking about librarians, who apparently need their hand held using technology that even my septuagenarian mother has managed to learn on her own. "One grateful attendee of a gaming demonstration … told AL that without the session, she ‘wouldn’t have a clue’ how to use the video games." Hmmm. Aren’t the kids supposed to be the ones using the games? And anyway, is anyone supposed to learn anything from this video?
The NLC is fighting back, though. The AL article naturally focuses more attention on the response from the NLC. Regarding the YouTube video: "’It was a marketing piece,’ [NLC Director Rod] Wagner countered. He told AL the video that raised the taxpayer’s concern was hosted on YouTube and also embedded in the NLC’s blog not only for the purpose of advertising the purchase but also to show librarian viewers a simple, economical way to share and distribute media."
Again, hmmm. The 10-minute video is in fast motion, and it’s hard to tell how much time the five staff members actually wasted (um, I mean spent) making it. It seems to me there could have been an easier and cheaper way to advertise the purchase. Email works pretty well, for example, and doesn’t require several hours of staff time. And couldn’t librarians have been shown "a simple, economical way to share and distribute media" without actually spending the time and money to create that media? Email might work here as well. They spend all the staff time making this video and posting it to YouTube. They could have emailed: "Hey, Librarians! Look at this nifty way to share and distribute media! YouTube! Yay!" Pretty simple, huh? The only difference is that email isn’t FUN (!). That’s the point that seems to have been lost on Foley.
I’d hate to be the one having to defend librarian FUN (!) in tight budget times. I don’t know much about Nebraska, but someone sent me a story last week about the Pennsylvania State Library and the 50% budget cut they’re facing, this coming after the Philadelphia Free Library cuts that have made the library news recently. From what I’ve been reading, there’s a big recession going on. Maybe Nebraska’s finances are hunky-dory (I’m just imagining that’s they way they talk out there in Nebraska), but that doesn’t mean that Nebraska librarians can’t use the recession to justify spending state time and money making videos of themselves playing games. Maybe they could respond like this:
"Sure, there’s a global recession going on and the world economy is shrinking for the first time since WWII and the US unemployment rate is rising and the Dow is falling and people are losing their homes and their jobs and federal and state budgets are shrinking, but in these tough times it’s more important than ever that librarians have some FUN (!) playing videogames. After all, they never really benefited from the boom times, now did they? It’s not like librarians were raking in huge bonuses or flipping houses for millions of dollars or watching their portfolios blossom. And now, these poor librarians look around and see that ordinary people are whining and moaning about having the kind of financial difficulties many librarians have had all along, and they’re starting to get so depressed that they missed out on the good times that are now long gone that it seems only fitting that we use just a tiny bit of state funding to let them play videogames and sit around and post YouTube videos and just relax from all the hard work they normally do. That’s okay, right?"
Playing the sympathy card might work, because normal people might otherwise have a hard time understanding why this kind of thing should be publicly funded. I have a hard time understanding it, too, but then I’m not normal person. I’m just a librarian.