I was delighted (and oddly, albeit slightly, “discomfited”) to see the following ad in my emailbox recently:
Brodart is a company that has for decades specialized in library equipment, supplies, and furniture. (Note that I have no affiliation whatsoever with Brodart, save that I have used its mylar dustjacket covers for years, with their lovely, non-reactive plastic which prevent books’ covers from deteriorating as they do, and makes them all shiny to boot – sorry: you know, books, the kind one can hold and read and flip the pages of? But I digress). Education and gaming is not an “easy” partnership (as some would have us believe, but I don’t mean to imply that it need or should be), perhaps especially when administrators (of public educational institutions) are fighting politicians interested only in privatizing education) and parents (who are constantly looking for the next media scapegoat to explain their underachieving and generally apathetic children) are involved in the conversation. Yet here it is, “Gaming at Your Library,” which pleases me (and, I admit, somewhat dismays me as a gamer and as a library-goer).
For a mere $1345 (extracted from educational institutions with exceedingly difficult budget and cashflow problems, no doubt), your university library can get the “Brodart Solutions Gaming Station” (perhaps to put alongside its carrels?), the “wedge-shaped mobile gaming station with ganging capability.” Ganging capability. I know what that means, but tell me, does that or does that not sound off? The station also comes equipped with “locking cabinet” which “keeps gaming equipment safe and secure.” Well that’s good. But I suppose it also conceivably implies something about that equipment or the people who desire it. Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of the ganging and potential theft that’s unnerving. (I’m sure, too, that clients will veritably demand that they receive their ganging-capable, lockable, wedge-shaped, mobile gaming station with the Victorian finish – no, I’m not making that up.)
A colleague of mine was equally as fascinated by the library-gaming development that the advertisement implies, and was specifically intrigued by the physicality of the station: that is, many students (I still hesitate to say “the majority of”) feel neither responsibility nor compulsion to physically enter a university library, and many gamers have no need of physically occupying the same space to play. My colleague says, “The ad implies the importance of attending to the physicality of places (and how we inhabit those places) and bodies as well as points to possible tension between gaming and academics. (To be clear, I do not see them as mutually exclusive).” Hear, hear! I wonder – should these gaming stations become commonplace in library spaces (about which I admit serious doubts) – if it may herald a return to those tabletop Pac-Man and Space Invaders games that used to appear in pizza parlors (in the days before one simply ordered one’s pizza online). I, for one, adore face-to-face gaming, even when not playing multiplayer titles. Perhaps such an endeavor as Brodart’s can put, in a limited way, the “connect” back in the term “connected.”
It strikes me that a company whose name can be broken up into Bro-dart seems like the perfect company to produce gaming stations. Maybe they could label their line the “Dude Dock?”
My first thought was similar to yours, that this seems like an unusual (at least) and possibly unholy (at worst) alliance. But my second thought was that this furniture is actually redundant. As teachers we often say something along the lines of “students won’t go to the library.” But what we really mean is “students won’t go to the library for the reasons we think they should be going to the library.” And if you think about what constitutes the “library” at many campuses, a major component is one or more computer labs. Even at a campus with a wealthy student body like mine, the labs are still heavily used for a variety of reasons. Moreover, if you go to any floor in the evening, the massive number of laptops make it look like a LAN party in progress. Some of those students are undoubtedly using those machines (especially their own) for gaming purposes between (or even in place of) bouts of studying.
At many campuses the library probably is already being used as a place for connection (even if we exclude the “sex in the stacks” version of that term which does, on occasion, happen–at least (possibly apocryphally, but I tend to think not) at my institution). The problem, as I see it, is that there is a vast difference between a space for connecting and a space for making connections. What troubles many teachers and library professionals is the degree to which the library is increasingly seen as a place for connecting, a site that facilitates a variety of hook-ups (pun intended). Thus students at our campus are insistent in their demand for more ethernet ports, more power outlets, more wi-fi bandwidth. What we lose sight of is the use of that physical space as an intellectual space that is supposed to foster not just memorization (the usual meaning of “studying?”) or even knowledge acquisition but instead knowledge creation.