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
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1851 GMT (0251 HKT)
Crystal Wright says racist remarks like those made by black Republican actress Stacey Dash do nothing to get blacks to join the GOP
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2207 GMT (0607 HKT)
Mel Robbins says by telling her story, Monica Lewinsky offers a lesson in confronting humiliating mistakes while keeping her head held high
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Cornell Belcher says the story of the "tea party wave" in 2010 was bogus; it was an election determined by ebbing Democratic turnout
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
Les Abend says pilots want protocols, preparation and checklists for all contingencies; at the moment, controlling a deadly disease is out of their comfort zone
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0336 GMT (1136 HKT)
David Weinberger says an online controversy that snowballed from a misogynist attack by gamers into a culture war is a preview of the way news is handled in a world of hashtag-fueled scandal
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Paul Krugman makes some good points in his defense of President Obama but is premature in calling him one of the most successful presidents.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 0221 GMT (1021 HKT)
Conservatives can't bash and slash government and then suddenly act surprised if government isn't there when we need it, writes Sally Kohn
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 1205 GMT (2005 HKT)
ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East -- if not the entire Muslim world, write Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider.
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
The world's response to Ebola is its own sort of tragedy, writes John Sutter
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 2033 GMT (0433 HKT)
Hidden away in Russian orphanages are thousands of children with disabilities who aren't orphans, whose harmful treatment has long been hidden from public view, writes Andrea Mazzarino
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
When you hear "trick or treat" this year, think "nudge," writes John Bare
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0442 GMT (1242 HKT)
The more than 200 kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls have become pawns in a larger drama, writes Richard Joseph.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Peggy Drexler said Amal Alamuddin was accused of buying into the patriarchy when she changed her name to Clooney. But that was her choice.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2043 GMT (0443 HKT)
Ford Vox says the CDC's Thomas Frieden is a good man with a stellar resume who has shown he lacks the unique talents and vision needed to confront the Ebola crisis
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 0858 GMT (1658 HKT)
How can such a numerically small force as ISIS take control of vast swathes of Syria and Iraq?
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
How big a threat do foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq pose to the West? It's a question that has been much on the mind of policymakers and commentators.
October 17, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
More than a quarter-million American women served honorably in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Now they are home, we have an obligation to help them transition back to civilian life.
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Paul Begala says Rick Scott's deeply weird refusal to begin a debate because rival Charlie Crist had a fan under his podium spells disaster for the Florida governor--delighting Crist
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
The longer we wait to engage on Ebola, the more limited our options will become, says Marco Rubio.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Democratic candidates who run from President Obama in red states where he is unpopular are making a big mistake, says Donna Brazile
October 16, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
At some 7 billion people, the world can sometimes seem like a crowded place. But if the latest estimates are to be believed, then in less than a century it is going to feel even more so -- about 50% more crowded, says Evan Fraser
October 20, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Paul Callan says the Ebola situation is pointing up the need for better leadership
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the Ebola outbreak. Yet, there are troubling signs we're failing them, says John Sutter
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 1700 GMT (0100 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says it's a mistake to give up a business name you've invested energy in, just because of a new terrorist group
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 2301 GMT (0701 HKT)
Fear of Ebola is contagious, writes Mel Robbins; but it's time to put the disease in perspective
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Oliver Kershaw says that if Big Tobacco is given monopoly of e-cigarette products, public health will suffer.
October 18, 2014 -- Updated 1335 GMT (2135 HKT)
Stop thinking your job will make you happy.
October 15, 2014 -- Updated 0208 GMT (1008 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says it's time to deal with another scandal involving the Secret Service — one that leads directly into the White House.
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Americans who choose to fight for militant groups or support them are young and likely to be active in jihadist social media, says Peter Bergen
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Stephanie Coontz says 11 years ago only one state allowed same sex marriage. Soon, some 60% of Americans will live where gays can marry. How did attitudes change so quickly?
October 14, 2014 -- Updated 2004 GMT (0404 HKT)
Legalizing assisted suicide seems acceptable when focusing on individuals. But such laws would put many at risk of immense harm, writes Marilyn Golden.
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the issues are huge, but both parties are wrestling with problems that alienate voters
October 13, 2014 -- Updated 2250 GMT (0650 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the town's school chief was right to cancel the season, but that's just the beginning of what needs to be done
October 11, 2014 -- Updated 1543 GMT (2343 HKT)
He didn't discover that the world was round, David Perry writes. So what did he do?
ADVERTISEMENT