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 6:11 PM EST, Thu December 18, 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.
updated 11:00 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
updated 4:54 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
updated 5:23 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
updated 1:39 AM EST, Wed December 17, 2014
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
updated 9:56 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
updated 4:01 PM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
updated 9:53 AM EST, Mon December 15, 2014
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
updated 5:53 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
updated 10:50 AM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
updated 4:23 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
updated 9:26 AM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
updated 9:39 AM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
updated 12:38 PM EST, Sun December 14, 2014
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
updated 1:28 PM EST, Thu December 11, 2014
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
updated 6:10 PM EST, Sat December 13, 2014
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
updated 5:33 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT