I had the opportunity to hear Eli Neiburger (author of Gamers… in the Library?) speak at a local library cooperative event yesterday, and he really struck a chord with me. Eli, of course, talks about video games in the library and how they can be used most effectively (which, if you read my archives, you will find is a secondary passion of mine right after anime/manga). The man is full of useful information and really knows how to effectively operate a consistently successful gaming program- I’m hoping that our headquarters branch was listening carefully!
In any case, there were so many similarities between arguements against games and those against manga and anime. Specifically, Eli mentioned the ever nagging library curmudgeon asking, “And what are they learning from that?” Eli’s too, too perfect answer was, “That you give a shit about them.” This is something I have wanted to say far too many times in the last 18 months! I have some wonderful coworkers who work diligently at their jobs who just feel the need to interject when I’m planning an anime marathon and ask what the value is, or feel the need to point out that they don’t “support gaming for the sake of gaming” when I’m running an open gaming day. I typically default to the old non-confrontational standby of, “Well, things are different when you work with teenagers” but I don’t know that I’m doing a good thing by saying that; perhaps I need to be more abrasive about proving the value of anime, manga, and video games- the value of getting the kids in the door.
I think these things bother me more since I am an anime/manga/video game geek; I know for a fact that my friends and I were among the smartest in our grade and that our “lazy” hobbies did not affect our intelligence (Eli makes wonderful arguments about learning capicity and games- for instance the fact that so many 8 year olds can remember all the attributes of over 500 pokemon). But maybe even more so, it bothers me that they don’t see the value in success; yes, it’s awesome that you can fill 3 storytimes a week with 30 kids and be 100% educational. However, you are only getting those kids in because of their parents. And given the fact that a good 3/4 of them stop coming after the age of 7, you’re obviously not doing too much to hook the kids themselves. As a YA librarian, I catch them at the age of 11. They’ve already had a couple of years to think of the library as a boring place with stinky books (Eli aptly points out that we’ve earned that reputation and I wholeheartedly agree). A certain number of them come in to use the computer and spend the day on Myspace when mommy and daddy won’t let them stay on, but they’re at an age where recreational reading does not have broad appeal. However, almost all of them play video games at least sometimes- this means you have an opportunity to pull in any teen that walks into the door. And once you get them to realize that fun things go on at the library, they’ll come back to see what else is happening.
I think with anime and manga, this is two-fold. Nowhere near as many kids are into the otaku scene, but the ones who are also fit the archetype for the teen most likely to come to the library giving you a broad pool to draw from with minimal effort. And when they do come in, they take out stacks of books- manga and otherwise (any public librarian will tell you that their career is judged by two numbers- event attendance and circ stats). There is no question that there is little to no educational value in my monthly anime club. We cosplay, we play Japanese video games, and we do suikawari. I’d say we were exploring Japanese culture if they didn’t teach me more than I teach them. But I fill anime club every single month and I see those kids all month long because they know that I give a shit about them.