Nebraska bureaucrat says games and libraries don’t mix

The Nebraska Auditor’s Office is sure that video games are nothing but a waste of time and have no place in a public library.

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley released a report Tuesday that questioned the validity of the Nebraska Library Commission’s purchase of a Playstation 2, Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution. The report also criticized the commission for participating in several Internet social sites by posting videos and photographs of commission staff demonstrating how libraries can use video games as a social, learning and attraction tool.

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley

Nebraska State Auditor Mike Foley

Library Commission director Rod Wagner tells the Associated Press that the videos were a way to demonstrate how to use YouTube, not how to use the games.

“We’re trying to present to libraries the equipment they could consider purchasing for their own libraries,’’ Wagner said. “They’ve been especially effective in bringing young people into libraries … and then they discover other resources in libraries.’’

Foley disagreed in a press release, “From my experiences as the father of six children, I am well aware that public libraries offer computer game software for loan to library patrons. But, do we really need state employees to use public funds to buy and play with toys and games during work hours to prove the games are popular with children?”

Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner (2001)

Nebraska Library Commission Director Rod Wagner (2001)

The grand total the commission spent on gaming equipment and games was $447.17, including $29.26 in sales tax that shouldn’t have been included. The commission said it made the purchases online because the items “were not available locally in these stores,” which I find strange. But I’m sure they wouldn’t be complaining if the commssion spent that money on board games. It sounds to me like they are just horribly jealous because their jobs are boring compared to the fun the guys are having at the library commission.

The Nebraska Library Commission has a statewide goal to promote, develop and coordinate library and information services. In the commission’s response to the auditor’s report it asserts that acquiring gaming equipment is in “accord with the agency’s statutory mission and purpases introducing new technologies, techniques and providing information and instruction in the use of these technologies.”

The average gamer is now 35 years old. Games have been a part of the library culture since the Chicago Metropolitan Library System sponsored the first Gaming, Learning & Libraries Symposium, which has been recognized by industry publications and the media. The commission’s response referred to a blog post by Jenny Levine. Levine helped set up the first symposiumin Chicago in 2005.

“I think the social interactions and socialization that takes place around gaming are often overlooked as being something less valuable than when it happens around books. This is one of the reasons that (as with anything) you can‟t truly understand the benefits of video games in libraries if you‟ve never played them. It‟s why I encourage regional organizations (like state libraries and consortia) to purchase a console in order for their member librarians to experience this. It‟s difficult to have an informed discussion without the experiential learning aspect. It‟s like deciding if a library should offer a book discussion without ever having read a book.” — Jenny Levine, Still More Reasons to Offer Gaming in Libraries (and the Value of Play)

This April 2008 article from the Los Angeles Times seems to corroborate the value of video games in public libraries:

“About half of Los Angeles County’s 88 public libraries hold gaming events at least once a month. Administrators credit the practice with helping boost teenage attendance by about 50% since the county started a pilot program two years ago.”

” Now libraries circulate all manner of items other than books, including music albums, tools, toys, cake pans, even animals. “Libraries are about providing public access to resources, in whatever format,” she said. “It goes back to what people want.”

“A 2007 survey of 400 U.S. libraries by Syracuse’s School of Information Studies found that three-quarters of those who took part in game events returned for other services.”

Guitar Hero

Staff playing Guitar Hero

By using the Internet to post pictures and videos the commission claimed it was within its mission by “introducing and promoting new products that assist member (Nebraska) libraries to use information technologies,” and even relates to another goal to provide “cost-effective, innovative training,” the commission’s response stated.The auditor’s office begged to disagree.Foley tells The Associated Press: “Library patrons, if they have a request for computer software, they can request it just like the latest novel,’’ Foley said. “I don’t think state government needs to help by buying toys and putting up silly demonstrations,’’ he said, calling the YouTube videos “over the top.’’

The audit itself states: “The purchase of gaming equipment is a questionable use of public funds. It is common knowledge that children enjoy games and toys, so there appears to have been little need to purchase the games. Moreover, none of the games purchased were so complicated or out of the ordinary as to require the Commission to demonstrate their use to library staff and others.

The Nebraska Library Commission's Second Life home

The Nebraska Library Commission's Second Life home

But the games were not the only focus of the auditor’s report. The report also had a problem with pictures, videos and Second Life events staged during normal working hours, as if the commission employees were playing games instead of working. They say the commission needs to establish policies to ensure items posted in the name of the commission have approval of the director, which seems to me to be a nitpick that’s not necessarily relayed to other state organizations that are plugged into the Internet.The icing on the cake to show you how lame they are is their harping on the commission for holding an employee recognition day in honor of National Library Workers Day, which was not apparently approved by the Department of Administrative Services. Give me a break.

The commission pointed out just how out of touch the auditor was by pointing out that many organizations use photos and videos on social and sharing networks, such as THE PRESIDENT, Nebraska.gov, Nebraska Dept. of Health & Human Services, Nebraska Arts Council, Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism, to name a few. Second Life is used also by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as well as the Kansas State Library and South Carolina State Library.

The library commission concluded: “The audit report states that gaming equipment is being used by Commission employees during work hours on State property. It is accurate to say that gaming equipment was used, for the work-related demonstration and training events described. The equipment has not been used since. However, the Commission continues to receive interest in the gaming equipment from librarians and will offer future demonstrations and training.”

The interior of the Second Life building

The interior of the Second Life building

While the auditor’s conclusion shows they just don’t fathom how video games and the Internet can be used as educational and productive tools: “This gaming equipment is being used by Commission employees during work hours on State property. In addition, the Commission is using social websites and gaming equipment on State time and with State computers which appears to be an inappropriate use of public funds and is not in accordance with its employee recognition policy. Finally, photos and videos are being posted to websites using State computers on State time without management’s approval to ensure they appropriately reflect the Commission’s image.”

Links and sources:

The The State of Nebraska Attestation Review of the Nebraska Library Commission, July 2007 until January 2009

The Nebraska Library Commission in response to the Auditor of Public Accounts State of Nebraska Attestation Review:

Omaha World-Herald story

The Library Commission’s You Tube site

And their Flickr photos

The library commission in second life, playing guitar hero, and employee appreciation day on Flickr

Los Angeles Times: Libraries score with video games

Jenny Levine’s blog – The Shifted Librarian: Still More Reasons to Offer Gaming in Libraries (and the Value of Play)

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11 Responses to “Nebraska bureaucrat says games and libraries don’t mix”

  1. Melissa Says:

    Nice job, Jimbo.
    I think what’s important to realize that in many small communities in Nebraska, libraries don’t have up-to-date materials and staff may not have the knowledge of how new media can benefit both the library itself (in terms of circulation and usage) and patrons (by providing new media of all types, not just books). We have to realize that if libraries are going to survive – and thrive – they need to provide more than just materials. As a devoted library supporter, I know that my local librarian is often my first – and last stop – when I have questions that need answered. The Library Commission’s purchase and use of these materials represents their attempt to provide answers to library staffers throughout the state.

  2. Emily Says:

    It’s not going to be fun for the librarians who have to go through this… but I expect the media play this will get will be some pretty sweet press for libraries all over…and let more people know that cool stuff like guitar hero happens at here!

  3. cornfedgamer Says:

    I believe you’re right there Emily. From what I understand many libraries incorporate game events into their programming, and this media coverage will only inform those who haven’t been to their library for a while that maybe they should check it out. If you can’t learn anything from video games why did the school district have us spend time in the computer lab playing Oregon Trail?

  4. nealo.com - cartoons by neal obermeyer » Blog Archive » The “Library Boss” job wasn’t open - Mar 1, 2009 Says:

    [...] out some additional thoughts and context from Cornfed [...]

  5. Cartoon on video games & libraries « Cornfed Gamer Says:

    A Neal Obermeyer cartoon on this subject.

  6. michellejbuss Says:

    Wow people astound me. A value judgement about games based on what? I would reckon it is not first hand knowledge.

    I bet the same people would be astounded if we questioned the value of art galleries but I really fail to see how there is any more inherent value in pictures. Don’t get me wrong, I am not running down art, I am just saying it is fairly easy to question the value of things other people enjoy.

    • cornfedgamer Says:

      I agree. Foley’s of the generation who believes video games are brain-rotting hooligan trainers, so he’ll have an outright prejudice against them. Does he think the same about board games? Because what are video games but the next stage of evolution of the games we play as a society. Humans like to play games.

  7. game lover Says:

    Really good read, ive bookmarked this

  8. Player Says:

    Great info, nice blog

  9. cornfedgamer Says:

    Thank you!

  10. children software Says:

    Thanks for great posting

    Will back to read your other useful post ;)

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