Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Do video games belong in libraries?

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
August 15, 2013 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
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
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
America will have its hands full in the Middle East for years to come, writes Aaron David Miller.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 1617 GMT (0017 HKT)
Gene Seymour says it's part of our pioneering makeup to keep exploring the universe
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the U.S.-China agreement to cut carbon emissions is a big deal, and Republicans should take note.
November 15, 2014 -- Updated 2129 GMT (0529 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the Obamacare advisor who repeatedly disses the electorate in a series of videotaped remarks reveals arrogance and cluelessnes.
November 14, 2014 -- Updated 2200 GMT (0600 HKT)
Reggie Littlejohn says gendercide is a human rights abuse against women, with bad consequences for nations.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1657 GMT (0057 HKT)
The massing of Russian forces near Ukraine only reinforces the impression that Moscow has no interest in reconciliation with the West, writes Michael Kofman.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
It takes a real man to make the moves on the wife of the most powerful man in the biggest country. Especially when the wife is a civilian major general.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1347 GMT (2147 HKT)
Proponents of marriage equality LGBT persons have been on quite a winning streak -- 32 states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex marriage.
November 13, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
It has been an eventful few weeks for space news.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 2014 GMT (0414 HKT)
It's too early to write the U.S. off, and China's leaderships knows that better than anyone, argues Kerry Brown.
November 12, 2014 -- Updated 1821 GMT (0221 HKT)
"How can Jon Stewart hire you to be 'The Daily Show''s senior Muslim correspondent when you don't even know how to pronounce Salaam Al-aikum?!"
ADVERTISEMENT