Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Do video games belong in libraries?

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Thu August 15, 2013
Gamers check out Nintendo's new video games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Gamers check out Nintendo's new video games at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Libraries are offering video games to lure younger crowd
  • He says traditionalists may view the move as libraries selling their soul
  • With all the challenges libraries face, the games make sense, he says
  • Navarrette: If games help prompt teens to read, that's a key for survival of libraries

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.

San Diego (CNN) -- If you want to save souls, first you need to put folks in the pews.

It works the same way with libraries, which -- without patrons -- are just large and imposing buildings full of dust and unread books, begging to be shut down by local officials the next time budgets are awash in red ink.

Still, even for those who would like to see libraries kept open, it's worth asking: "At what cost?" Traditionalists are sure to be horrified at the news that, in a trend that seems to be growing in popularity, more and more public libraries in the United States are supplementing their supply of books on science, history and literature with video games and big-screen televisions.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

What's wrong with this picture? Those are the types of electronic gadgets that, we have long been told, distract people and prevent them from reading -- especially teenagers with short attention spans. So what are they doing inside an increasing number of public libraries in the United States?

It would seem that this is the last place they ought to be. The worldwide video game industry is projected to gobble up more than $70 billion by 2015. Can't there be one refuge from this tidal wave, and shouldn't it be a library?

Maybe not. I admit that, when I first heard this story, my initial reaction was a wince. Call me old-fashioned. When I was a teenager, I liked spending time in arcades and in libraries, and yet I never confused the two venues. But the more I heard, the more supportive I became of libraries that go down this road. And I realized that this is just the normal evolution of the worlds of learning and entertainment.

School for autistic adult teaches video game building

Video games are part of an elaborate attempt to lure teenagers into a library, in the hopes that, before they leave, they might actually crack open a book -- or even, dare to dream, check one out. The games have to be age-appropriate, and some are even educational in nature.

According to a study published last year in Library Journal, about 15% of libraries in the United States now check out video games to anyone with a library card. And actual gaming within libraries themselves is believed to be far more common.

Judging from some librarians who couldn't be happier with the results, the strategy is working. Teenagers -- boys in particular -- are coming to the library. And, in those libraries that have video games, books are being checked out at a rate that exceeds what it was before the gamers arrived.

It sounds counterintuitive, but what if it turns out that the best way to get teenagers to even step foot into a library is to sweeten the environment with a few digital gadgets.

What's the harm?

Testing touchscreen tables in classrooms

Some might be uneasy with the concept, but what is new and different isn't necessarily wrong. Those who work in libraries can provide some context. They point out that, 20 years ago, the debate was over having CDs and VHS cassettes available for checkout. Ten years ago, it was over whether libraries should carry DVDs and install personal computers and provide patrons with access to the Internet. And now it's about video games.

Besides, it's easy to criticize. But when was the last time any of these traditionalists even stepped foot in a library? When I was growing up in the 1970s, libraries were where you went to read books and research papers. They were a portal to new and exciting worlds, a pathway to adventure.

Today, we do all that through electronic devices we can hold in the palm of our hand. Public libraries could soon become just another relic of the past, like the full-service gas station, the five-and-dime and the soda fountain in the corner drugstore.

For those who love books and value learning, that's a depressing scenario worth fighting with every available weapon, and every conceivable strategy.

Game on!

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT