Meet the Gamers, Embrace The Others
I just finished up a really interesting article over on LJ: "Meet the Gamers" by Kurt Squire & Constance Steinkuehler. They have some neat ideas on who we should be looking to for direction in the coming years. While I loved the article, I think they focused on the wrong peopleâ€”gamers. So rather than focusing on everything they got right, I'll just write a quick bit about what I think they may have overlooked. That doesn't mean I think this is a bad article, not by a long shot, I just think the focus is just a bit off. It's not a bad idea to meet the gamers, but you may want to look elswhere for support and direction. You boomers out there might be surprised to learn that games have been the medium of choice for decades now. The millennials we continued to praise for being so "different" are, in reality, not all that different from many of us born after the mid 1960s. Some of us in our 30s and even in our 40s grew up with computers and electronic games and many of us are now living in the same sort of hyperconnected world reportedly occupied only by teenagers. It may be possible that focusing on gamers misplaces our engergies on people who'll probably never see any value in libraries.It's important to remember that games are an escape, especially for hard-core gamers. Since libraries will always be firmly planted in reality (yes, I'm ignoring the entire fiction section, and probably most of AV as well), we're a world away from many gamers. Games require very specialized skills that aren't easily transferable back to the real world. Games also require hours and hours of free time, and plenty of money. While I may disagree partially with this articleâ€™s conclusions on the importance of games, and gamers, I do know they represent, very well, the idea that itâ€™s essential to embrace different types of thinking and learning styles if we are going to thrive in the future. This has nothing to do with millennials and how we think they're living their lives, but rather on the movement away from the centralized control of information. I think they are right in saying this is where we need to focus our energies; this is where our world is changing before our eyes.
While it may be true gamers play a role in creating knowledge and adding value to their games, I think it's of very limited usefulness when compared with other groups known to frequent the realm of the microprocessor and TCP/IP: open source hackers, bloggers, and the wiki people. These last three groups create knowledge and information that is easily transferable to others, knowledge that is useful in a wide range of situations, and materials that can be applied, practically, to everyday situations in libraries, homes and workplaces. These "Open Source Knowledge Creators" are a group that shouldn't need any introduction to the LISNews audience. We're all a part of that group here.
The movement towards collaborative creation of authoritative works has gained momentum in recent years, thanks to an ever-shrinking world connected by the internet. For the few of us that choose to actively participate in these new ways of creation, this world has become interactive. New tools enable collaboration and put control of what we create, use, and read in our own hands. Much of what we can do and learn through the computer is now participatory, and I'm not talking about games. We have built a collaboratitve environment that has scaled well beyond anything we could've imagined 10 or 15 years ago. As librarians it's up to us to open up this world (built by Generation X, used by Millennials) to the Boomers, and the Boomersâ€™ parents.
It makes no difference whether those we are serving grew up in a media landscape made up of bits & bytes or one printed on dead trees: as librarians we must strive to bring the best information to the greatest number of people, regardless of format or source. We are in the unique position to show how the social networks enabled by the internet can help all our patrons, not just with traditional library information-gathering skills, but in a variety of situations. Beyond connecting with old friends, kids, and grandkids, we can connect patrons with specialists and experts from all fields, help them with cross-country job searches and give them access to library-sponsored chatcasts with authors. Tools that most of us take for grantedâ€”AIM, Wikis, blogs and web browsersâ€”are still Star Trek-like dreams for many people who could benefit greatly if they have the desire, access and training. As the have-nots struggle to develop an understanding of the changing information environment many libraries have moved and are moving to, we must be there to help them.
Like Steinkuehler & Squire, I can't resist imagining libraries in a more collaborative environment. But, while gamers are busy imagining they are on a different planet, we need to be working hard to get information to our users back here on Planet Earth. Libraries with all the goodiesâ€”blogs, wikis, and all the other browser-based applications allow our open source knowledge creators who are already creating and sharing content to help us fufil our mission. They already see the benefits of collaboration, open access, and information literacy. They have the skills necessary to carry out the new mission of libraries in the 21st century. Our mission needs to be to convince them, and others, that libraries are not just piles of old dusty books. We know our print collections are current, our digital collections practically unlimited, and our skills as librarians unbeatable, but we must get this message to everyone.
Knowing how to serve the information needs of the digital generation should be, by now, obvious to all of us not merely passing time before retirement. Our days as information monopolists are long over, and we must now realize that thanks to budgets, Google, and poor marketing, many of our users, young and old, no longer see our value. We can no longer work simply as gatekeepers and enablers to the vast stores of information contained in printed sources. As Wendy Lougee put it so well, we are moving into a time of diffusion. Gamers are but one small portion of a large and diverse public of all ages we need to be meeting with, and moving along with. We need to help move libraries forward for our patrons by forcing our vendors to add new features, or moving to systems that will allow us to add our own. While the gamers have their heads buried in their PS2s, we must reach out to those creating real value and content. As librarians we must be able to serve those who can compile their own version of the Linux Kernel, and those who've never touched a mouse before. The gamers will take care of themselves.
I highly recommend â€œMeet The Gamers.â€? There is much to be learned in this article. I only suggest we focus our efforts on different groups.