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Black Ops Brings Us Together and Promotes Understanding

You’ve probably seen this article on a videogame tournament to be held at the Sacramento Public Library. It’s called “Nerd Fest: Black Ops Tournament,” which gives you a pretty good idea of the lengths to which libraries will go trying to remain “relevant.”

Apparently, this “Black Ops” is popular with gamers, who, like plebs at the Roman circus, glory in ultraviolent escapism. Videogames always seem sort of childish to me. I realize adults play them, too, but I assume that’s so they can get a sense of accomplishment and recognition in a virtual world they can’t get in the real one.

The local chapter of Veterans for Peace and others are calling for the event to be canceled, thinking that libraries promoting violent war games is inappropriate, but the library director is having none of it. I do wonder about some of the defenses of the tournament, though.

For example, according to the article, the director “said the Dec. 11 tournament at the library’s downtown branch is part of a renewed effort at ‘making sure everyone in the community knows we have something for them.’”

That’s a laudable goal, but is it true? Does any library really have something for everyone in the community? Or just people who consume print and digital media in some way? Does that library have pots and pans and small appliances that people can rent out? What about bowling shoes? Power tools? Garden implements? Tuxedos? Jewelry?

If not, I suggest the library start acquiring all that stuff, if it really wants to make sure it has something for “everyone in the community.”

Or again, she “said that while her first choice would not be to promote a war game, the popularity of games such as Black Ops brings young people together in a way few other activities can.” But what was the other choice? Wasn’t it not to promote a war game? Oh, but it brings young people together!

True, but is bringing young people together the purpose of a library? If so, then there are probably other activities that would work even better. Offer free pizza and beer every night.  Or maybe a private dimly lit room with some comfortable sofas and sexy music playing in the background; that’ll bring some young people together, all right!

Given that this is a very violent videogame, the next remark is rather odd as well. “’Perhaps it’s promoting some understanding,’ she said. ‘I would rather we engage with people in that way than through real violence.’”

Huh? Perhaps the reporter caught her off guard. The second sentence is a witty comeback to the Veterans for Peace, but the first sentence is strange. Does anyone believe that games like this promote some understanding of violence? That’s highly unlikely. It’s more likely that the Veterans for Peace object because they have a real understanding of violence.

Obviously games like this promote understanding of nothing other than how to play games like this. But what’s interesting about the director’s rhetoric is how she searches for higher purposes in what is nothing other than an exercise in entertainment for the masses.

Think about it. “Bringing young people together.” “Promoting understanding.” It sounds like a consciousness-raising session or an anti-nuke protest, not a bunch of nerds sitting around playing violent videogames.

This exalted rhetoric won’t fool anyone.I wonder if all that consciousness-raising stuff was for the reporters, because from what I can glean about the carnies and the gamey librarians, they don’t exactly go in for understanding or moral uplift. To them, Black Ops in the library is justifiable for its own sake if anyone comes in to play.

Everything is “information,” after all, and that’s what the library provides. Black Ops. Internet porn (sorry, “constitutionally protected speech,” as the porn librarians put it). As long as people want it, it belongs in the library!

I don’t know if libraries ever had a serious purpose, but if so those days are gone. Libraries are trying too desperately to be popular. They are like the little chubby kid with thick glasses hoping not to be picked last for the Tax-Supported Public Service team. If they lose their purpose and become entertainment centers, there will be no reason to pick them at all.



  1. Hi! Your article is very funny. I’m reading for a class. I’m becoming a librarian. Your article reminds me of the reality of the librarians’ attempt to stay current.

    Thank you,

  2. FinallyaLibrarian says:

    “porn librarians” Now that’s an idea! All libraries should have vast collections of porn from the dawn of civilization to the present, easily searchable by keyword of course. With the demand that will follow, the specialy of “Porn Librarian” will open up new job opportunities!

  3. I understand where you’re coming from here and find it to be a laughable attempt on the part of the library, but “plebs at a Roman circus”, really? You seem to have been on a bit of an elitist kick lately. “…so they can get a sense of accomplishment and recognition in a virtual world they can’t get in the real one.”? Come on, now. So it’s not possible to simply play games for the, oh, enjoyment of it? You could draw that laughable (and incorrect) conclusion about ANY activity ANYONE engages in. How about “people who watch sports only watch them because they’re pathetic and incapable of their own athletic endeavours”?

  4. So I take it Miss AL that you don’t want to exchange gamertags with me so that we can shoot people together online huh?

  5. Hey AL, are you a disgruntled, retired librarian or a disgruntled, wish-I-could retire librarian? It seems in your world libraries have two options…close up shop, give up the ghost, end it all OR provide services that no one wants to use and then close up shop, give up the ghost, end it all. Maybe Sacramento Public didn’t select the best program idea, but at least they are trying to be relevant. Besides, who are you to determine that relevancy is an evil?

  6. I do think that some games have a place in library programming but this is definitely too far. I think that libraries can foster an atmosphere of inclusion without going this far.

  7. ““porn librarians” Now that’s an idea! All libraries should have vast collections of porn from the dawn of civilization to the present, easily searchable by keyword of course. With the demand that will follow, the specialy of “Porn Librarian” will open up new job opportunities!”

    Don’t go giving EBSCO any ideas now…

  8. younglibrarian says:

    Don’t be an old fuddy-duddy.

    Seriously, AL, have you ever played a video game? Let me guess…. pong?

  9. Hannah Storm says:

    Our library has garden tools to check out. So yes, I think if this stuff is popular with library users, then it’s appropriate to make it available. Not sure how these online games apply to libraries purpose, but neither do gardening instruments. So I guess the shift in has already taken place, you can quit harping on it now- libraries are for stuff you need/want- not necessarily information.

  10. Beautiful use of reductio ad absurdum, absolutely perfect.

    Supposedly, offering video games and similar materials brings new patrons into libraries. Supposedly, these new patrons will eventually use traditional library materials and services. I haven’t seen any results showing that this has happened.

    Any institution the tries to be all things to all people will eventually fail, ultimately offering nothing to no one.

    Why is anyone who criticizes events like the Black Ops tournament automatically branded as “elitist,” “disgruntled,” or irrelevant? It’s an insidious kind of snobbery. We librarians are supposed to have open minds; we are supposed to welcome open, civil discourse. But too many minds snap closed and too many people begin to call other people names whenever someone questions the latest passing bandwagon.

  11. It seems to me that many librarians are reaching a certain segment of the population with such programming ideas. Why do so many concentrate on the nerd aspect of things? Because, in my opinion, it is within the comfort zone of many doing such programming. I have no problem with a gaming event, but the undercurrent I often feel is that these events do nothing to attract the full spectrum of possible library users in that age range. Furthermore, nothing turns kids off more than an adult trying to hard to “connect”. Here is an idea, turn the bookmobile into a mobile gaming center!! Not creepy at all.

  12. Now I’m an annoyed librarian. I left a balanced, thoughtful response to this post, only to find that it was removed an hour later. Maybe you would have left it if I had disagreed with you or called you names like others who responded? Remove this response now, too. Show that you are not really interested in an open discourse.

  13. Post Postmodern Librarian says:

    I have to agree with AL if we are going to resort to Blackops to drive the gate count why dosnt the public library just become part of the parks and recreation departments. The library even the Carnegie ones with showers and bowling allies stand for something self improvement. Do we have fiction collections sure, but at least your learning to read, and if you are real good you might even learn about life even if its a graphic novel. Do we have computers with social networking, sure we do at least people are writing and sharing knowledge. Bowling allies at least improve the body. But what value does Blackops have; beyond gate count and enjoyment from dodging real work like trying to find books people want to read. Give me a break gaming librarians. If you do not like library work dont work in them. Heck go to your City Commission and ask to start a new “City Gaming Center”. At least then your being true to citizens, yourself and the City. I want to point out I been gaming for over 30 years now..there is a time and place for everything go find both.

  14. Wow, I finally disagree with AL.

    Libraries already provide entertainment for children in forms of books, video, and music– all in a manner that allows people to access them for free when they normally wouldn’t be able to afford them.

    Why should video games be different? When most libraries have the Gossip Girl series ( and other drek on their shelves, do we really have any moral high ground to criticize including video games?

  15. Librarian Gamer says:

    I agree that games in libraries are not a part of a library’s mission. They can be ways to foster and welcome a community of kids, teens, and adults, which is conducive towards building a community that values and promotes literacy, but on their own, I agree, silly.

    That said, equating games to children’s activities and gamers to socially inadequate dullards is a gross misunderstanding of games and gamers. There are plenty of board games and card games and a few video games that are intellectually stimulating. I think lots of people pick up games because they encourage creative thinking and problem solving. Unless we’re just talking about video games (and I realize that was the impetus for the article), games are not brainless diversions for kids. Try Settlers of Catan, Carcassonne, and Agricola as examples of fun, challenging games that generally stimulate more neurons than the average book.

  16. As one who practically lives in libraries, I always saw the library as my real school — the school where I could teach myself, rather than read the drek they were forcing me to study at the other school.

    I do think libraries should make themselves more appealing without compromising the mission of fostering literacy. They have to be competitive. Architecture, aesthetics, comfort, and ready sources of caffeine are welcome additions. Libraries should go more in this direction. They should seek to be community centers (though I agree, not through pandering to kids’ desire for vicarious violence … the young naive days when I thought fantasy killing games were “innocent fun” are long gone).

    Fact, look at the trend of homeschooling — many of you in the library profession probably see these kids and moms during the day. The library could become a point of contact for such groups to meet and provide curriculum & other resources geared to that demographic. Educational field trips even? (One of my local libraries hosts field trips, though I don’t see any educational purpose in them; they seem like strictly fun.)

    And since you mention it, why not dim lights and sexy music? It’d sure get ’em in the door…

  17. Just kidding about the sexy music. But, classing things up a bit, getting rid of the moldy-looking institutional carpeting and dull paint jobs — that’s just common sense. And, does everything have to be fluorescent lit? There’s a reason why Starbucks is not decorated and furnished that way: nobody would come back. Newer libraries are being built with open architecture to let more light in — why weren’t they always built that way?

    Just Liberty
    “Live” “Active” “Culture”
    Harold Washington Library, the main library in Chicago, is a bit of a white elephant but at least has a fabulous “Winter Garden” on the top floor where fancy schmancy balls and receptions can be held. There’s a thought: libraries doubling as event spaces. Help get more funding maybe …

    Cities and towns, particularly suburbs, need more “third places” where you don’t necessarily need to spend money to hang out. Libraries are a good candidate for that if they shed the stuffy old “we are only stewards of books and information” image.

    I suppose the role the library plays also depends where it is located and how people get to it: is it in the center of a town where people walk and bike to it, or in some godforsaken subdivision or on a highway where you have to drive to it?

    Just random thoughts.

  18. I don’t know why my blog links appear in the middle of my post above. Internet gremlins did it!

  19. “Cities and towns, particularly suburbs, need more “third places” where you don’t necessarily need to spend money to hang out. Libraries are a good candidate for that if they shed the stuffy old “we are only stewards of books and information” image.”

    I think that’s the AL’s point: the library is NOT just another place to hang out. It is NOT a place for people to get stuff for free b/c they otherwise can’t afford it.

    Want to know what a library is? Read its mission statement. It probably includes something about “learning.”

  20. Maybe all this gaming nonsense is a military job readiness program for America’s youth. Wouldn’t the promotion of “gaming literacy” help kids prepare for military careers?

    Killing people in Pakistan looks kinda like a video game when you’re controlling an unmanned drone from a bunker in Utah. Teach them how to do it in a library, at age 15, and when they enlist at 17 they’ll need less training before they can blow mountain villagers to bits.

  21. @FinallyaLibrarian
    Already exists, though maybe not searchable in the OPAC:

  22. Hopefully the program was smashing and at least one adult person checked out a book as a result, who wouldn’t have checked it out otherwise.

  23. Montmorency fan says:

    “Wargame” should mean mapboards with hexgrids and cardboard counters, like it did once back in the day. Or “wargame” should mean major field exercise with MILES gear and all that. But I know I’m probably talking about stuff that neither AL nor any of her commenters even know or care about. Oh well.

  24. AL, I think you would really love this book:

    Helprin, Mark. “Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto.” New York: Harper, 2009.

    Mr. Helprin, a fiction writer, wrote a whole book about the evils of Creative Commons and limited copyright terms after his editorial on the same issue got totally shot down by experts like Lawrence Lessig. No, that’s not the usual content of this blog, but I think AL would appreciate Mr. Helprin’s views and writing style. For example, he compared players of video games to people with mental illnesses? Isn’t that FUNNY? (Sarcasm!) Nothing works better for convincing people than insulting them, after all. (Sarcasm!)

    AL, in all seriousness, if you don’t play video games at all, you really ought to bite your tongue. As it stands, you sound just like Roger Ebert does: passing judgment on video games as a cultural medium without having any experience in the matter.

  25. Elena1980 says:

    As a gamer (my gaming is of the non-violent kind however) an adult and a librarian, why not have a gaming day/night in the library? Shoot, we got adults (and librarians) with an addiction to coffee and when they build a coffee shop in a library, they are lauded at their innovation, and “matching up the needs of the community”. Come on, Al, time for the 21st century.

  26. Rachel Storm says:

    All of the people calling for a look to the library’s mission statement, that’s probably a good idea. You might be surprised to find mention of supporting recreational needs of the community in addition to educational and informational ones. If not then of course you wouldn’t be providing recreational programs.

    It seems ridiculous to try and force every single library (and by that token, every single community) into an identical mold that determines what they should be (or who they are). Don’t we try to match what we provide to what the community is or wants? I know I couldn’t justify suddenly ordering a large selection of books in say, Korean for my library. We just don’t have that population in this area. But at the last library I worked at they had a great selection of foreign language materials because the community had that type of diversity. So was one of these two libraries wrong? I don’t think so.

    Same for programming. If they have a lot of gamers and it works, by all means use those adult gaming tournaments. As a gamer I personally wouldn’t go to something like that on my own but I’m not their community.

    Now the director’s comments were still a little odd– in defending first person shooters I would say that you’d be surprised how heavily they rely on problem solving skills, planning, decision making, etc.– but obviously it comes down to gaming being fun and challenging. You (AL) being judgmental about gamers doesn’t make you look smarter or more mature than us, it just makes you look judgmental and ignorant.

  27. MondayPartlyCloudy says:

    I’m a 39 year old Library Director, athlete, wife, mother, and generally happy and successful person – and I play video games.

    World of Warcraft has an average age of 28 over its 12 million plus players – so yes, “adults play them, too”. Your snarky condescension merely revels your inflexibility of thought and your professional irrelevance.

    Have fun with that.

  28. Nostalgia and generational prejudice have no place in a modern library.

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