Children have recently come to the Storm Lake Public Library not to check out books, but for events to play popular video games such as Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution that are now housed in the facility.
Purists argue that libraries should be quiet, stately places for the enjoyment of literature, but nationwide, public libraries, university libraries and school libraries are turning more and more to video gaming and even game lending to attract young people to their doors.
"It is just another way to reach out to our community," says Misty Gray, Storm Lake Library Director. "I know it has been talked about for quite some time in Storm Lake."
Both the library trustees and the Friends of the Library program have been supportive of gaming.
"There are workshops these days for librarians on gaming."
Not to mention websites - lots of them.
"There might be some who are opposed to it," she admits. To make the transition more acceptable, the most recent event was staged after normal library hours. The games can also be moved into the meeting room where they would be less likely to bother traditional library patrons.
Gray seens the gaming as a logical extension to library services, which moved into audio, video and computing some time ago.
"Libraries traditionally promote reading, but there are so many uses. It is also a gathering place for the community. And if that community is interested in gaming, we can become more a part of the community by providing gaming," Gray said.
At this point, the local library has obtained only a few games for the PlayStation platform. "I have no immediate plans to purchase a lot more games, but if it became in higher demand, there would be reason to expand what we offer," she says.
In the meantime, if anyone would wish to donate appropriate newer games or consoles, generosity could help the library expand its gaming arsenal.
In a recent issue of the School Library Journal, library technology specialist Eli Neiburger noted that many libraries nationwide are reluctant to add video games to their collections or allow gaming play on their computers.
"However, in the 35 years since the release of Pong, video games have come a long way. They have developed the ability to teach difficult concepts to today's young people while keeping them engaged and receptive in ways that classroom handouts and homework can't achieve. Literacy is moving beyond merely having the ability to read and write. In our increasingly visual society, the ability to seamlessly interpret on-screen stimuli-such as the graphics of a video game-has become a new form of literacy."
Video game detractors argue that playing games is at best recreational, and at worst desensitizing and degenerative-no match for the educational and literacy value of reading a book. Upset letter writers recently accused the Dubuque library of being turned into an "arcade."
However, Gray says, if games can bring young people into a library that they otherwise might not visit, and help them feel more comfortable there, then there is an opportunity to get expand their horizons into books and other materials as well.