Opinion

Have libraries turned into video game hangouts? | Nandell Palmer

When I first moved to the Puget Sound area nearly 10 years ago, one of the first places with which I gained fast acquaintance was the Federal Way Regional Library.

I watched with awe back then how wide-eyed bookworms devoured anything in print and graduate students labored on their dissertations in solitude. Then something happened!

Last June, after an $8.1 million renovation, the spanking-new library re-opened to much fanfare from an appreciative crowd. Nearly a year later, it has become a social mecca for an activity many fair-minded citizens would dread.

For the past six months, I’ve been noticing a trend at Federal Way’s two libraries. Kids from as young as age 4 to age 17 play nonstop “Runescape” and other online games. Others while away for hours on Facebook and YouTube. The computers, hands down, are the biggest draw. Homework is not part of their existence.

The world is changing. We all have to embrace change. Many families are facing hard times financially. When belt-tightening measures are meted out, some of the first things to go on the chopping block are cable TV and Internet, sparing only the bare essentials.

Without those creature comforts at home, some kids are at a loss to make their lives complete. To whom should they turn or where should they go to find solace? I wish there could be a happy medium to this dilemma.

Let it be established that a public library means different things to different people. But it is a sad commentary on the plight of one of society’s most revered institutions when it is converted into a hangout spot and game den instead of its original purpose.

On the other hand, there’s no shortage of exemplary students in study groups scattered throughout the library doing their part in raising the bar for the next generation. It’s definitely a beautiful sight to behold.

Frankly, I pity the child who doesn’t identify books with libraries, but sees them as cyber playground props.

There are those kids who have computers at home, but are forbidden to play games or surf the web at random during school days. So guess where they let loose out of the watchful eyes of their parents/guardians?

For many homeless families, their only means of staying in touch with the outside world is via the library computers. That’s understandable.

But what about the rest of the general public that uses these edifices for other things? Should the social etiquette of a few determine the ethos of our library system?

My heart goes out to the unemployed mothers and fathers who send out resumes and fill out job applications online. How can they compete with these pint-sized gamers?

What about serious full-time college students who do online research via the library computers? Is it fair for them to walk away while idle kids get their game on?

I am told that some of these children use their parents or other family members’ accounts to garner extra hours on the computers.

It’s quite disheartening to see how harsher rules and regulations are enacted because of a few abusers. Case in point, all of us have to take off our shoes at the airport because of one crazed individual.

The librarians are some of the nicest people you will ever meet. And their hands are tied as to how much they can do. It’s impossible to be vigilant daily, keeping an eye out for abusers.

Now, it is high time that King County Library System’s gatekeepers took drastic measures to overhaul and remedy this lopsided, unwritten preferential treatment.

My greatest fear, though, is that a comprehensive overhaul of the system would somewhat disenfranchise a lot of people who truly use the library without flagrant abuse of its goods and services.

A kill-joy husband and father I am not by any stretch of the imagination. I strongly advocate the right of children to have fun at all costs. They ought to be protected and provided for.

And yes, it’s better for them to hang out at the library than to be out on the street wilding or creating mischief on the innocent citizenry. But it is galling to witness valuable spaces get usurped for a selfish pastime.

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