Annoyed Librarian
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Inside Annoyed Librarian

Getting Them Through the Doors

There was a comment last week that invoked a tired argument in librarianship. Some librarians are willing to defend anything they happen to like – no matter how ridiculous – with the claim that it "gets people through the doors."

Consider the case of videogaming in libraries. Some librarians just come right out and admit that they’re not interested in reading or the educational purpose of libraries, and that they see the library as a place to entertain children however children like to be entertained. Though their professional raison d’etre is similar to the person running the local arcade (if there are local arcades anymore), at least they’re upfront about it. They like games. Kids like games. The library should entertain.

Then there are the librarians who don’t really like the mass vulgarity infecting libraries, but they’re willing to put up with it because it gets people through the doors. Bums on seats, luv! That’s what libraries are for.

Either way, I can’t figure out how the librarians decide what’s good and what’s not. There are many things that would get people though the doors, including:

  • Massages
  • Private Internet viewing booths (no Internet filters in these babies!)
  • Free coffee
  • Happy hours
  • Free child care (de jure and not just de facto)
  • Manicures
  • Cots and showers
  • Pet sitting
  • Pet grooming
  • Exercise equipment
  • Jacuzzis
  • Summer camps

If the idea is to be all things to all people and just get people through the doors, then why not offer child care service or pet sitting or massages? Since there’s no coherent rationale for what libraries offer these days, there can’t possibly be an objection to these ideas based on principle. How isvideogaming any more library-like than child care? And videogaming is certainly less library-related than private Internet viewing booths. After all, they provide both access to "information" and privacy. Isn’t that what libraries are all about? Private booths should be the default location for library computers.

If librarians are serious that any of their activities can be defended by the rationale that the activities get people into the library, and if the goal of libraries is merely to get people inside them regardless of why they’re there, then librarians can be a lot more creative than they are now. Throw out some of the books and put in a jacuzzi and someStairmasters . When the reference librarians aren’t busy, have them give massages. Special chairs can be set up by the reference desks. There’s no excuse not to. Some old fashioned librarians might say, "I didn’t go to library school to give massages," but nobody pays attention to that old excuse when they say they didn’t go to library school to clear printer jams or clean restrooms. Who are these snooty librarians anyway, that they think they’re too good to massage my weary temples after a long spell of playing World ofWarcraft? Those librarians are just against change, and we’ve all been told that change is good.

I call upon librarians everywhere to start changing and offering some of the things I suggest. They’ll definitely be popular and get people through the doors. Heck, during the summer months, the libraries could probably be filled with children whose parents don’t have anything better to do with them. If you’re not offering child care and pet sitting and massages, you’re not fulfilling your duty to the public. And please do it quickly. I’m leaving for ALA in a couple of weeks, and I need someone to watch my cats while I’m away.



  1. Just what public library do you work at, AL?

  2. Yawn. Our library provides written and media materials (DVD, etc.) and educational programming done in an entertaining format. We provide the materials and believe it is up to individuals to provide the hardware to play them on. So we don’t provide DVD players, laptops, etc. And we have the 3rd highest circ. in our state after 2 very large cities. We do very little gaming and I’d be willing to bet that the majority of libraries do a very low percentage of gaming compared to other types of activities. Anybody care to give percentages of gaming in your library compared to provision of books and materials? Yes we provide some entertainment, but I can guarantee in our case it does translate to higher book checkouts and more reading. The key is moderation in all things. Not going overboard.

  3. Dances With Books says:

    I think a lot of the gaming gets attention, but I am willing to bet there are not that many libraries doing it. Having said that, yes, the argument is old and pretty much well worn: well, let us do X because it gets people in through those doors. We need to get those headcounts up. And while I agree with Matt, that moderation is key, you do not see moderation practiced very often. In fact, those that preach moderation often get the “you don’t get it” or you “are against change label.”

    I say we take things further. We can also provide:

    * Tarot card reading.

    *If we scrap a meeting room or two, we could offer a bed and breakfast.

    *A bar (going with the happy hour, but I say all day). I bet if we get a librarian as bartender, and those library pages as waiters, we can get people through those doors. And of course it would be open bar. After all, library services are free, right?

    *a therapist/counselor. Are you blue? Depressed? Come talk to our therapist/counselor. I mean. We already do a lot of what social workers do anyways, so this should not be a stretch.

    *Nursing home/elderly care. If we are going to take care of the children, why not the elderly as well?

    And we could go on and on. Sounds ridiculous? Well, it should, and maybe it is time some in our profession had some shame and dignity instead of just selling out for the sake of “get them in the door.”

  4. dhenderson says:

    Obviously people who complain about gaming have never read a manual or tried to intuitively play a complicated game. It is educational. Gaming supports literacy. I guess we should ignore how people get and use information. We should forget that young and old get information instantaneously through texting and social networks. We should forget using these same avenues to present library materials.
    Card catalogs should comeback, microfilm readers should replace computers and wait 48 hours and we will have your answer.
    Gaming is a natural evolution that is used for education and leisure just like print.

  5. Oh right. Libraries would be so much better off if no new people came in. The gaming kids who might get turned on to reading? Who needs ’em. In fact, we need to do things to prevent people from coming. Think just how wonderful the library would be if no one used it.

  6. what about the idea that there are other kinds of literacy besides print literacy? aren’t we around to support all kinds of literacy, including media literacy? Learning the language and mechanics of any game, from chess to Little Big Planet, helps the player to acquire and develop a variety of literacy skills, including digital, visual, and media literacy. Gamers strategize, predict outcomes, multitask, decipher maps, track statistics and adapt to increasingly difficult levels within the game. This helps prepare them for the information-rich 21st century.

  7. another f-ing librarian says:

    hm. for once i gotta say. i have no idea what i think about this. when i was a kid, my local public library refused to buy the nancy drew mysteries. back then, i believe the head librarian might have made an argument similar to AL’s here. the nancy drew mysteries are books; but i bet our head librarian would have had a strong counterargument. (there’s probably also a videogame version now..). our library wasn’t that big, and the entire n.d. series would have sucked up a lot of shelf-space.. my library not having them pretty much meant that i had to buy them. which made ‘carolyn keene inc.’ a big ol’ pile of cash off of us young readers.

    i guess i don’t really subscribe to ‘getting people in the door at any cost’ — but the sneaky, connivingness of luring youngsters into the building with the promise of electronic gaming, and then shoving books into their grubby little hands when they’re still riding their ‘high score high’ does have a certain appeal. maybe they’ll keep coming for the other stuff. book report. term paper. graphic novels. and, when they’re all grown up, “morningstar” (hah! ok — “consumer reports.” the latest bestseller by james patterson’s cryogenically preserved head.)

    have to think about this some more.

  8. Also, with many games kids get turned on to different genres, i.e. WWII, Fantasy, etc. I have seen many go checkout books on the subject.

    Of course, all libraries should be like the one AL works at (if AL really does), you know the kinds with only research material on hand. Popular fiction?!?! We only have LITERATURE here. MOVIES?!?!? We only have films here.

    If you want pedestrian crap, go to Wal-Mart and see what they have for sale. Leave me alone.

  9. anonymous says:

    You’re missing the second, often unspoken, half of the sentence. It’s not just about getting the bodies through the door, it’s about them leaving with materials or a library card. Those are the stats that count. But can you work on increasing those stats without getting the bodies through the door?
    It’s not the library program ideas which are the problem. It’s how they are executed. I worked in a library where the children’s summer programs happened in the auditorium room of the community centre in which the library was located. People came to the programs and never actually stepped inside the library. The programs barely impacted the circ stats. On the other hand, the library I work in now requires that anyone who registers for a children’s program has a valid library card. If nothing else, it gets cards into people’s hands who wouldn’t otherwise get them. And then we include an ongoing incentive (it’s just sticking something onto a wall, but when you’re 4 that’s the equivalent to getting a gold star) to encourage people to sign at least one item out each week. The purpose behind every program is to get cards in hands and have people leave the library with at least one book or item.
    In other words, we can continue to beat the dead gaming horse. Nobody here is going to change AL’s mind, and AL is not likely to change the defenders of gaming either. But does it really matter WHAT is getting people through the doors if they are also taking books home with them? Let’s focus on that missing part of the equation, shall we?

  10. How about having branches that are dedicated specifically for demographics?

    The adult branches, we can have a free libraries and one where you pay to get in. In the paid one, you will eliminate homeless and stinky people. The free ones can have the porn booths for the homeless that don’t access to the Internet. Imagine having no sex (I can’t imagine someone wanting to have sex with a homeless person) or access to porn? The homeless would explode. So this is important they have access to that. It will prevent crime.

    Children’s libraries, only parents and children are allowed. AL will never have a reason to go there. It’ll be basically be a free daycare, DDR, video games, maybe some picture books, etc. Adults with no kids will have to hear annoying children.

    Maybe this is all being done, already. I don’t know. I’ll continue to use my safe suburban public library for now.

  11. Great idea Brent.

    I would expand that to academic libraries, allow Professors and select grad students access to the library, have undergraduates allowed only access to materials via a closed stack system, and make sure that the librarians don’t have to interact with anyone. They know what systems work and by god everyone is going to follow them.

    At least looking in at academia this looks like a good solution to the over worked, martini besotted librarians.

  12. I don’t work in a public library, but I think as long as librarians are understanding why it is they’re implementing the programs and make active, methodical strides towards literac(ies) rather than *just* entertainment, I see nothing wrong with gaming. I’ve been playing video games myself for years, and most require logic and strategy. And with Wii systems these days, you actually move around and get exercise. Plus I think they do a good job of making the library an exciting place to go, to associate the library with fun rather than dread in children’s minds.

  13. Hmm, we already do offer free coffee at some of our programs (and snacks, always with the snacks)! It gets more people in the door, more people enjoying our fabulous (and often educational) programming, more people checking out books, and more people interacting with their local library (and their local librarians). Oh and we have gaming for the teens once or twice a month. So decadent!

  14. Rogue Librarian says:

    I’m not a gamer, but I know that there’s a educational aspect to it. The same thing was said years ago about fiction being allowed in libraries – are you to say that fiction isn’t educational? As far as free coffee in libraries, I’m all for it!!!!

  15. Leibniz says:

    Re: Laura – Do we really know that “more people are checking out more books”? We know that gate counts might be up. That checkouts are up. But is this “more people” or just the same people coming in slightly more often? Theres a big difference. Most libraries don’t take the time to finesse the difference – but it is do-able. Are active user %’s up?

  16. Games. Whatever. As long as it doesn’t suck up resources. Is this a service that the taxpaying vote casting public values or perceives as a frivolity. I’d bet on the latter.

  17. Dan Kleinman of says:

    The BYU Library uses soft porn to gettem in the doors. See “Moving Porn at BYU is Censorship?” at

  18. Mr. Kat says:

    It’s kind of ironic: the library, an advocate for literacy, a pillar of knowledge, a bastion of higher learning, and yet the public library has become a strongholf for advancing human ignorance under the guise of those components that advance literacy, as if any literacy including reading the nametag counts towards that goal.

    How on earth can you inspire people to seek out higher knowledge if your collections collectively stink of popular general and certainly abridged information???

  19. Mister Kat Obviously hasn’t been in a public library in the last 30 years.

    That is all they cater too and have been.

    Danielle Steele and Stephen King didn’t become uber-millionaires on their literary prowess.

  20. So.

  21. wishiwasaflorist says:

    LOL! Right on. My system is now offering videogames to check out. You know how much one cart of those puppies is worth? About someone’s salary for the year. And you know what happens to a lot of them? They walk out the door never to return. But we’re going to be laying people off by Oct. so who cares, right? We’ll still be giving the reality TV loving, dumb ass public what they want.

  22. No Dignity At All in the PLs of Today says:

    Hear, hear, Dances With Books and AL! I agree 100% with the discussion. Maybe things are different in other people’s library systems. But where I work at, headcounts seem to be all that matters. One high ranking library person even said right in front of my face “I don’t care about books. I don’t care if someone steals a book. That’s not what we are about.” And went on to talk in abstract terms about how we are supposed to be a “high tech community space” for everyone to use. Yeah, sounds nice in theory, but there is very little hi-tech of anything going on here, and the community (at least in the neighborhood where I work at) consists of little other than drunks, perverts, drifters and recently paroled jetsam with nowhere to go but the library.
    Sorry folks, maybe I am jaded. I understand and hope that things are different in other parts, maybe even for the better. But that’s my opinion. I see it *daily* and it pains me to think that our tax payers’ dollars go to pay for some pervert’s “constitutionally protected” right to watch pornos right in front of my line of vision and the line of vision of any passers-by, even children’s eyes? Something’s wrong here, folks.
    Maybe it’s just where I work at where the patron is always right and every whim of their’s, including pandering to their demands of removing dozens of dollars (and more) worth of fines and such for stuff that was obviously stolen, but on this topic I must agree with the AL.

  23. No Dignity At All in the PLs of Today says:

    And yes, to keep it salient to the topic of the thread (I got carried away on my porn rant). Video games (like Zane books) usually get checked out and never returned…There is no point in obtaining these things when it is obvious that the local population is not mature enough to understand that theft is bad and library materials and not for free. Maybe it’s just the neighborhood I work at. It’s BAD. Or maybe it’s like Brent commented above…Creating different types of libraries catering to the demographics of the area really sounds like a clever idea.

  24. cataloger_nerd says:

    What strikes me most when I read the comments on AL’s columns, is the poor spelling and grammar in most of the comments. It makes librarians look bad. How can we argue for our importance in helping to develop a literate and educated society when we can’t be bothered to spell words correctly or use proper punctuation? Seriously, if you cannot use a question mark properly such as Snarky and Brent, you have no business working in a library.

  25. Hawgwartz says:

    Gaming kids who get turned on to reading? Really? Is there such a creature? In any measureable quantity? I’m sure there’s an exciting anectdotal story of such mythical beasts, and theres probably some overblwon report on ERIC, but does it really happen?

  26. No, it never really happens.

    I lied.

    Kids just come in, play video games, get drunk or stoned, wind up having a fist fight or worse, the librarians have to go over and beat the $hit out of them to stop it.

    It is an ugly scene.

    The biddies there checking out the romance novels barely can stomach it and have threatened to give up eating cat food so they can go buy their own books.

  27. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Alright we gave the people computers we gave them the internet so why not give them games. Here we let people play internet games during the school breaks which seems a good compromise. The other thing is we dont run games. I think thats a bigger problem then allowing games as it is a waste of staff resources. If you have that kind of money, send some my way, we need to get our materials budget above 100,000. I also think one reason why gaming librarianism is so popular is its a technology. It shows your on the cutting edge of education and technology. This leads to grants and nice librarian of the year/mover in shakers articles in LJ. But be very carful when on edge because it can hurt you.

  28. Computers?



    Libraries are only about books and nothing else.

    If you don’t fit that 1950’s model, get out of librarianship and go work for Borders!

  29. ChickenLittle says:

    Anonymous commented: “You’re missing the second, often unspoken, half of the sentence. It’s not just about getting the bodies through the door, it’s about them leaving with materials or a library card. Those are the stats that count”… are so right and this is the impetus behind getting people “in the door”! I would add to this though, it is not the circulation stats that are so important, it is the percentage of card holders that are actually using the library that matters. Where I work, all the city councilors want to know is “what percentage of taxpayers are using this service and how often?” Circulation numbers are unimportant to them because they don’t care if circulation numbers go up but percentage of total use is flat. That is a Red flag to them and for us it means a budget struggle every year because while our circulation numbers increase, actual percentage of usage is going down. I’m sure this is the case for most library systems in North America as the boomers age. I can show wonderful charts of increased circulation, but when they look at our usage numbers the city administration is not fooled and diverts money elsewhere!

  30. *There is no point in obtaining these things when it is obvious that the local population is not mature enough to understand that theft is bad and library materials and not for free.*…

    Wow, it sounds like you worked at the PL I once did. My advice: get out while you still can.

  31. . . .library materials and not for free. . .”

    Sure they are. If you are a cute kid coming around for story hour, you can steal services all you want. Same as if he went into the library with a sack and stole books from the shelves.

    When will we ever learn?

  32. Lets have a 1950’s style vs. new model library face off. We will read, play video games, shelf books sorry materials, and do other things like drink a lot because that never goes out of styule

  33. ohforpetesake says:

    AL, is your brilliance waning that you rehash the same tired topics and criticisms of public library programming?

    There was a time, AL, when the idea of fiction in a public library was preposterous…perhaps you look on those days fondly?

  34. Sitting at the computer this morning, but thinking about books, I reflected that standing in front of a bookcase with the books arranged in a linear system that has nothing to do with their contents, has always caused me to go brain dead. That is, the books felt dead. I would select nothing. I suspect I am not alone in this.

    I would head for the stacks of books that had been returned and were waiting to be shelved. I could run my eye over the titles, and let ‘attraction’ (what held my attention) guide me. I almost always found one or more books to leave with.

    Although not a librarian, I co-ran a bookstore for women for about thirty years and encountered the same problems
    librarians face.

    Seems to me people enter the library in two modes: the ‘I know exactly what I want’ mode, or the ‘I want something to
    read, maybe in a specific category’ mode.

    It’s the ‘just want something to read’ group that libraries need to serve better, I think.

    Well, what are you gonna do.

    Thinking about this I suddenly had an idea, wondered where to put it, did a ‘blogs by librarians’ search, immediately went

    to this site. Here’s the idea:

    Imagine that every book has a chip: if you know what you want the librarian, or you, enters the title, screen says whether book there, indicates location (beep beep). Books can be shelved by category, randomly. Linear order would reside on the computer, which is much better than humans at linearity. (This is a very simplified picture of what would easily be more complex, chips getting more powerful every day.)

    Is such a plan underway? Does it sound interesting to librarian folks?

    anonymous commented: that it’s “not just about getting the bodies through the door, it’s about them leaving with materials or a library card.” I think such a system would go a long way towards changing the numbers.

  35. Whatever says:

    Reading fiction and playing computer or video games are two different things. Gaming should stand or fall on it’s own – doesn’t matter what Melvil Dewey said 80 years ago about fiction. I believe comparing the two is some sort of logical fallacy. You could look it up.

    On the larger question of getting them through the door. Why are you getting them through the door? For what purpose? Is there any value to it? How did Libraries allow themselves to get stuck in this endless event planning mode – each year having to have more numbers (walk-in, checkouts, program attendance) than the year before. Of what value is it – besides a line on some administrators resume when they apply for the next big city director position that comes open?

    It seems to me – theres more and more staff involved in getting them to the door, but less and less on the desk helping them when they get in.

    Yes – sometimes it’s imposed from above. And then you have a problem. But sometimes it’s self inflicted.

  36. One of those gamey librarians says:


    You obviously don’t understand the intellectual and educational value of games and gaming. You probably also wouldn’t understand that comics are real literature, that sci-fi and fantasy has just as much depth and complexity as literary fiction, and that there is more on the Internet than porn.

    Might I kindly suggest that you allow those of us who understand these things to integrate them into library program and services, and that you politely stop reminding us what your opinion is on the matter, if for no other reason than we know what your opinion is already?

    Thank you.

  37. Ack Ack says:

    So what is the compelling reason that libraries should collect video/computer games?

    It’s value to the library hasn’t been defined . Of course Guitar Hero is very different from SimCity so there probably isn’t a one answer fits all.

    But still – what’s the deal? Why don’t we have weight rooms and swimming pools added to as adjuncts to our facilities in addition to all the wild ideas put forth by the AL. Sort of a cross between Jewish Athletic Centers and Roman Baths (without the soft porn). Has even more value than video games. Promotes the library as a public space.

    It really does seem like some librarians insist that libraries have them and so we do. And alot of them aren’t interested in reading (unless it’s Twilight) or education.

  38. Another Teen Librarian says:

    Novels were once widely considered a scandalous waste of time. The people who will replace you someday– members of my generation– value games in a way that perhaps you do not understand.

  39. Novels still are a scandalous waste of time. If I see anyone in our library reading one, I go smack it out of their hand and stick a Holy Bible into it.

    After all is said and done, the Good Book is the only thing that should be read.

  40. I Like Books says:

    How are video games consistent with a library’s mission in a way that Happy Hour isn’t? Should libraries also bring in billiard tables, dart boards, and pinball machines to introduce the kids to older gaming technologies?

  41. NotMarianTheLibrarian says:

    cataloger_nerd – have you read any applications, vitae, cover letters lately? I am avoiding hiring committee duties these days – we have lots of nincompoops, idiots, and poorly educated folks applying for librarian positions these days. Errors in this format don’t bother me but do they ever when we’re hiring!!

    But it is a widespread problem. One of our English faculty cannot use I and me correctly. She is a relatively new hire and when I hear something along the lines of “The faculty meeting bored Dr. X and I to tears.” Well … what’s a body to do?

    I vote for bars in PLs, BTW.

  42. annoyed_gamebrarian says:

    Bad grammar and writing. Straw man arguments and pedantry. Failure of imagination and knowledge. AL, you have them all.

    Go read Liz Danforth’s LJ blog on gaming, people, because she cites research, references, and data instead of just ranting on the street corner. Besides, she’s funny.

  43. level250geek says:

    Re: Ack Ack

    Roman baths and weight rooms don’t reinforce problem-solving skills, allow for one to exercise leadership skills, encourage creative thinking, act as a sandbox environment in which to study economics and diplomacy, or serve as a springboard for narrative. Video games do all of these things, plus serve as a social activity.

    It’s not just about getting people together. If that were the case, we would just have a big cook-out every Sunday afternoon, with sprinklers and a water balloon fight. As somebody who has been planning and executing gaming programs since before they were cool, I can say that such an event would be much less stressful and much more relaxed than any gaming program; except that nothing would be accomplished than giving out free food.

  44. My library started its gaming program because we had plenty of kids coming in every day, but they were bored and caused trouble. So we put some video games into a meeting room and drew them away from the main action in the library.

    I’m not sure that video games are right for every library, but here they improve the experience of everyone *else* who comes in after school, given that there are fewer fights and more free computers and armchairs.

  45. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    Two things I worry about when it comes to gaming. First, are libraries really doing it for the kids/patrons or is it for ourselves. The more I read post from people like Annoyed gaminglibrarian the more I feel its for ourselves. This would violate a major golden rule of libraries dont buy something to please yourself. oh and before you get your gaming thumb all out of joint I been gaming for nearly 30 years and have written many articles for gamers. I know the good the bad and the ugly of games. The second thing I worry about is all this research into gaming. Is this not self fulfilling prophecy. Most of the people hawking gaming are gamers. I know because of my own background. This takes me back to the issue of the cutting edge. Just because research says it helps doesnt mean we need to use it. Ask the FDA about all the good drugs that recalled or law suits appear.

  46. Gaming is obviously invaluable. Why, without gaming, I would never have learned just when to eat that giant mushroom or which brick to hit with my fist in order that the dragon falls into the lake of lava so that I may save the princess. You never really know how many times you’re going to use that skill in a day.

  47. bisslibrary says:

    This argument is crazy. Who are we serving? I think at the end of the day we want to offer quality service but we want to be seen as relevant. Librarians seem to have their image all torn up. They want to be cool and hip and then again they want to be smart and useful. The fact is we will never agree what we should do because we are serving different people. Plus, we all have our own agendas and preferences. Offer games but don’t do it at the expense of staffing. If people are walking away with things restrict usage to the library(colleges do this all the time).Have a public debate but for goodness sakes stop being snarly to each other.

  48. ohLibrarian says:

    “Roman baths and weight rooms don’t reinforce problem-solving skills, allow for one to exercise leadership skills, encourage creative thinking, act as a sandbox environment in which to study economics and diplomacy, or serve as a springboard for narrative.”

    Of course they do! Do you need to be sitting in front of a screen for any important, humane stuff to take place? Is the presence of actual humans in actual bodies having actual conversations such an impediment?

    Sheesh, gamers.

  49. AngelaB says:

    Teens come to libraries to use computers, volunteer, study with friends, or check out books. Teens generally are not interested in library programs, unless maybe Stephanie Meyer was coming for a presentation. I think libaries are trying to jam a square peg into a round hole by going to crazy extremes just to attract teens to programs. Waste of time.

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