Gamy Librarians

Pun Salad previously pointed out Senator Tom Coburn's PDF document "2008: Worst Waste of the Year". One of the entries:

Bridging the Generational Gap with Nintendo Wii - Indiana ($3,905)

The Institute of Museums and Library Sciences, an arm of the federal government dedicated to "strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas," awarded a grant to Westfield Washington Public Library for the purchase of "a Nintendo Wii console, tv, camcorder and games." According to the Indianapolis Star, "The Wii will be used to encourage patrons to meet and exchange ideas with other community members during multi-generational gaming events held at the library."

In the context of Coburn's report, the $3905 sent off to the Westfield Washington Public Libarary is pretty small potatoes: it's approximately 0.0003% of the $1,315,476,562 of waste identified there. Nevertheless, Coburn ticked off some mighty important people, and one of them, Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association, penned a furious letter appearing in USA Today today:

USA TODAY'S article "Senator flags $1.3B of what he calls government waste" allowed a U.S. senator from Oklahoma to cast his judgment upon various federally funded projects but failed to allow recipients to speak to the benefits the investments yielded (News, Dec. 12).

Outrageous! Librarian Jim is off to the defense!
Sen. Tom Coburn's report singled out projects as examples of wasteful government spending. While federal money was used to buy equipment for regular gaming events at the Westfield Washington Public Library in Westfield, Ind., and the surrounding community, the $3,905 grant was awarded to the local library by the Indiana State Library.
Apparently Jim considers it important that the Federal Government did not itself specify the purchase of the Wii and associated gear; it just gave the Indiana State Library a check, to be divvied up as it saw fit.

Perhaps Jim realized that's not a distinction that matters to most taxpayers. So he continues:

In the 21st century, …
… libraries are about more than books. Gaming at the library encourages patrons to interact with diverse peers, share their expertise with others (including adults), and develop new strategies for learning that are vital in preparing our nation's future workforce.
Sure. A Wii is going to help Westfield, Indiana library patrons develop vital new strategies for learning in preparing our nation's future workforce.

Fearless prediction: this will not happen. Nobody believes it will happen, not even Librarian Jim. Nobody will come back in five or ten years to check if vital new strategies for learning in preparing our nation's workforce were ever developed via the Westfield Washington Public Library Wii.

Games require players to learn and follow complex sets of rules, make strategic and tactical decisions and, increasingly, collaborate with others when they play massive multiplayer online games all things they will have to do in college and in the workforce.
None of that good stuff ever happened (in college or in the workforce) before there were video games. Thank goodness they came along when they did.
The American Psychological Association has done studies showing how video games can be powerful learning tools, specifically for problem-solving skills. This finding was echoed by a recent Sony Online Entertainment LLC study, which found that 70% of parents say their children's problem-solving skills have been improved by playing video games.
I don't attach a lot of weight to a "finding" of an online survey (i.e., a self-selected sample of people who claimed to be parents) sponsored by a gaming company. But that's just me; apparently Librarian Jim thought that result was compelling enough to cite. That's one of the reasons why he's President of the American Library Association, and I am not.
Also, a study of people ages 60 to 70 and highlighted in the December issue of Psychology and Aging showed that playing video games can be especially beneficial to people for strengthening memory and reasoning.
Here's a description of the study. Just to show I'm not a total fogey: it's not quite as embarrassing as relying on facts established in an online survey. They got a bunch of geezers to play the old Microsoft PC game "Rise of Nations", where you assume the role of despot, with the goal, over millennia, of leading your nation to "global prominence." One of the researchers explains why this is good:
"You need merchants. You need an army to protect yourself and you have to make sure you're spending some of your resources on education and food," said postdoctoral researcher Chandramallika Basak, lead author on the study. "This game stresses resource management and planning, which I think for older adults is important because many of them independently plan and manage their resources."
I guess the Rise of Nations experience allowed the geezers to make much wiser choices between Skippy and Jif at the supermarket.

Jim winds up:

I applaud the Westfield Public Library for providing this innovative technology to its community.
Unfortunately, Jim has no applause for taxpayers who actually shelled out the money.

Here's my modest proposal: if the Westfield Washington Public Library thinks it's important to have $3950 worth of Wii and associated gear (as opposed to, say, books), but can't find the cash in its normal budget, then it should either ask for a budget increase from its local funding source, or do without.

Better yet, leave that money in taxpayer pockets, allowing them to make their own decisions on whether to increase their cognitive functions via a Wii, or just a cheap book of crossword puzzles. To quote Mr. David Bunnell of Berkeley, California:

"Smart people find new ways to exercise their brains that don't involve buying software or taking expensive workshops."
But maybe people in Berkeley are smarter than in Westfield, Indiana.