Is our children learning???

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.


8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    ExLibris said,

    Ah, well, I have the honor of doing both children’s services and YA services at my branch, and I confess that I’m not overly concerned with making storytime 100% educational. I’m concerned with making reading FUN, because fun reading makes life long readers (love reading and education will follow, I believe). Who are these people who think that EDUCATIONAL=LIBRARY USERS?

    And I have a hard time completely stamping out the education from my gaming and anime kids’ experiences here. First off, as you point out, they do read a ton of books. We’ve talked about how the unreliable narrator in the game Portal helps to make it even freakier. They talk about plot devices. Do I bludgeon them with it? Heck no. But when you get into things with stories, you can hardly help stumbling into some of these sorts of literary things. 😉

    Don’t support “gaming for the sake of gaming”? Do they support art exhibits for the sake of art? Shall we call it an “interactive immersive digital experience installation piece”? Would that make everyone happy? Jeez.

    • 2

      You know, it’s nice to hear from a children’s librarian who isn’t a stickler for the educational content for storytime. I work with several curmudgeonly YS librarians that have me jaded; although their goals are admirable I really can’t hear the “it’s not educational!” statement again. One won’t even use the parachute because it has no educational relationship… no joking.

  2. 3

    LG said,

    Things that actually get people to come to the library should, in general, be seen as good. An anime night (or whatever other program you’re doing) may not have any obvious immediate educational value, but it can at least show patrons that the library can be a nice place to be. I remember getting hooked on graphic novels, anime, manga, etc. when I was a teen – after a few years of that, I started wondering about some of the stuff that showed up in them and began reading non-fiction about Japan, learning origami, playing Go, whatever. Anime and other fun stuff can lead to other things, at the library patron’s pace and level of interest.

    Hmm, just a thought, but sometimes the approach to library programming, especially programming for teens, seems to be a bit like the approach to education. If the “educational value” isn’t immediately apparent, then it’s not worthy of being done. Art/music/etc. programs get dropped because that stuff isn’t covered on standardized tests, even though they could have other benefits that could even lead to enhancing knowledge that IS on the tests. Library programming that appears to only be enjoyable and not educational gets griped about.

    • 4

      I have attempted to learn Mahjong after Oruchuban Ebichu and xxxHolic. I failed. Horribly.

      It’s really good to raise the point that the non-test items get dropped from the schools- in this case, we’re not being strictly educational but we are picking up the schools’ dropped ball.

  3. 5

    ExLibris said,

    I’m…sorry? The parachute is off limits because it lacks educational value? Holy @#$*. Is s/he an education expert? Are happy memories and good times somehow not worth creating? Ya know, we aren’t teachers. And, uh, I did parachute play in elementary school. I don’t know where we’ve gone wrong that rewarding, happy experiences for children and their adults (at storytime, no less) have no value.

    Also, for the record, the psychologists are currently screaming about the value of play.

    • 6

      She is a school board member, so you may be on to something there. 🙂 Her basic motto is to suck the fun out of everything. No wonder we have such a high drop rate! But oh, you should hear her rant about the kids dancing with scarves or tossing bean bags- it’s always “they’ll hurt themselves” and “that’s not teaching them anything!” I can only imagine that she had a very bland childhood.

  4. 7

    LG said,

    Take a look at this Library of Congress Webcast (“Everything Bad is Good for You”) sometime:

    It’s long, but it’s good, and after cataloging _The Dumbest Generation_ I needed something like it. The speakers argue that pop culture these days is a lot more complex than many people realize and engages people on many different levels. So anime and manga aren’t just “those worthless things that are so popular but aren’t educational enough” – they’re things that get their fans engaged on lots of different levels, doing lots of different things (AMVs, learning about other cultures, learning other languages, working out the details of various characters for cosplay/fanart/fanfic, blogging, etc.), thinking about what they’ve read/watched in detail.

  5. 8

    ExLibris said,

    There’s also a book called “The Power of Reading” by Krashen–good points about free voluntary reading.

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