Category Archives: Libraries

Gaming in libraries: Addressing Contemporary Literacy Challenges Through Play

Estimated reading time for article: 4 mins

By James Johnson

Today’s youth have vast opportunities to access games and other forms of play media. Gaming has long since been a large part of play for generations, however today we see gaming incorporated not simply as tools of play but learning tools for multimedia literacy. Acknowledging the importance of gaming has become vital in implementing literacy strategies and policies for many modern libraries. As gaming develops and becomes a bigger part of society, so too develop problematic concerns surrounding potentially negative aspects of gaming, such as addiction and violence. Though it has been demonstrated that modern games can contain graphic violence and can be potentially addictive, it has also been demonstrated that these issues pale in comparison to the benefits of gaming as promotion for literacy.

Gaming has been present and a part of library culture for quite some time. In the past libraries in the UK installed billiard tables and chess boards to attract more patrons. Decisions to add gaming fixtures in the library was progressive, an attempt to draw more people to a building long believed to be solely for the purpose of quiet, reflective reading.

The games we enjoy today are quite different from those of yesteryear. Board games have evolved into creative, challenging, and engaging mediums of gaming. Video games have grown with technology to incorporate intensely realistic and troubling themes. Concerns have arisen regarding the influence these games can have on our reactions and contributions to violence.

News agencies have reported in the past on violent incidents in the public, suggesting a correlation between violence in reality and violence in video games . But this is not the case according to Ferguson et al. In their 2016 study they found that stating video games are a source for aggressive behavior and violence is too simplistic a response to the issue, and their results suggest the correlation is null

Another concern often voiced regarding gaming is the potentiality of addiction. However, Scott Nicholson suggests that there are plenty of preexisting addictive mediums in the library already, such as books or movies.

In addition to the Ferguson findings, further readings can find links to how video games engage players in new forms of literacy development. Buchanan and Vanden-Elzen write that “Video games do introduce a new literacy because messages are encoded and decoded in new ways”. This introduction of a new type of literacy is extremely important and supporting it as a library service is specifically important.

Children are learning with new mediums. Technology is more than a tool for literacy. Technological literacy is paramount for the development of children to become successful adults in society. I believe that the technology sector will be a primary employer of the next generation. Vivian Alvarez has a similar view in the connection between tech literacy and the future success of our children in the workforce, stating it is “more important than ever before as we foster a generation of students who must be lifelong learners as technology—and its impact on their careers—rapidly evolves throughout their lives”.

Storytelling has evolved and we share experiences with each other using these evolved mediums. Education can be bolstered by incorporating video games to assist in children’s literacy. Librarians Swiatek and Gorsse believe that their profession will inevitably deal with developing and supporting gaming services as core policies become standard.

The components of gaming like education, learning, addiction, violence, literacy, and it’s history are important factors in determining how the library can adopt services that address the complexity and significance of gaming for the community. I think it’s clear that gaming has more positive potential than negative, and like Swiatek and Gorsse, I believe that addressing the need for policy and service development is crucial for the library to continue to stay relevant.

For more information, check out the sources contained in this article:

“Playing Games at the Library: Seriously?” By Swiatek and Gorsse
“Do Video Games Lead to Violence?” By Susan Scutti
“Games and Literacy”  and “Gaming in Library Session: concern about gaming in libraries” by Scott Nicholson
“Violent Video Games Don’t Increase Hostility in Teens, but They Do Stress Girls out.”  By Christopher Ferguson et al.
“Beyond a Fad: Why Video Games Should Be Part of 21st Century Libraries.” By Kym Buchanan and Angela M. Vanden Elzen
“Engaging Students in the Library through Tabletop Gaming.” By Vivian Alvarez

Censorship: Filters and Firewalls; Does Porn Have a Place in Libraries?

Estimated reading time of article: 4 mins

Photo by Sora Shimazaki on Pexels.com

By James Johnson

This news piece found its way across my desk last week. It describes a potentially disturbing event that can occur (with varying degrees of frequency) in our public libraries. That is to say, what is classified as obscene material under the Canadian Criminal Code of Canada (CCC), accessed through information commons inside the public sphere – porn in the library. Specifically section 163, subsection (2a).

In plain terms – a person is guilty of an offence if they wilfully expose obscene material to public view.

Like most every law in Canada, there is no black and white. It’s all grey. And it’s up to the courts to determine what the definitions are in practicum. But I’m not particularly interested in the determinants of legal proceedings or precedents in the future. I want to know how these policies affect information seekers now.

In the case of Kingston Frontenac Public Library, they have made it clear their policy will remain the same; that is, patrons can use the internet to access pornography on the library computers. There is a recommendation on their policy page to consider that other users sharing the same space with them may not share the same penchant for porn perusing, and this consideration should be exercised prior to viewing such materials. It should also be noted that KFPL is a proponent of Ontario Library Association’s “Statement on Intellectual Freedom” and therefore apply no internet content filters on their networks.

That can’t be entirely true though. All libraries apply firewall and filters to some degree. These assist in blocking malicious software and internal/external unauthorized data collection. And rightly so! All admins and their networks have a right to protected data.

But what about public libraries that have chosen the opposite position? This library has updated its policy to include terms like “refrain from displaying”, and “reasonably considered offensive”. Like a page out of our own Criminal Code! Could the defendant please define “reasonably offensive” and their interpretation of such a claim? Indeed it is another of those grey areas.

But why not add filters that could block obscene materials? If we have filters that are sophisticated enough to stem the flow of malware, surely we can devise one for porn! But what is obscene? Is a video of a nude woman squeezing her bare breasts obscene? Perhaps it is catalogued as an educational clip of home breast cancer inspection techniques for women? Is that obscene? Can an algorithm effectively determine human morality? And is porn considered freedom of speech and expression, where limiting access to such material could be a violation of a person’s rights and freedoms allotted to them through our sacred Charter?  These are the questions we need to be asking.

Cory Doctorow’s excellent piece in The Guardian provides the evidence that filters fail time and time again. He discusses a UK internet filter so terribly inefficient; one which blocks rape-crisis centre websites, and (ironically) sites that help people fight their porn addictions.

Thankfully the library that has added “offensive material” access as prohibitive in their policy has not undertaken any new filter applications. They’re on the side of “if someone complains, we’ll ask the black sheep to knock it off.” My concern is who gets to decide what’s offensive? It’s very grey. And I’m sure before long, after someone undoubtedly gets offended, the issue will resemble a NIMBY-esque sequence of dialogues. Discourse nonetheless.

This is such a difficult issue to write about, especially as a library student and father. Like many issues of great relevance, there will be many opinions. I’m convinced where my opinion lies. I subscribe to a specific western set of moralities that stem from Judeo-Christian values, for which my country was built upon. For better or worse. Certainly without my consent, but entirely to my benefit. A framework for which one can form their own moral base. That is the luxury of my personal freedom, paid for with personal responsibility and generational sacrifice. I will not have this luxury at work and must follow my employers own interpretation of these values. No small feat, but I’m happy to offset that responsibility with a thoughtful, strong policy from the organization.

In their report to Parliament, Casavant and Robertson state:

“The use of new technologies such as the Internet has created unique challenges and problems: computer pornography is an increasing concern, especially because dissemination of such material cannot generally be controlled. There are also issues regarding the potential liability of the owners or managers of computer networks, such as universities. Although criminal charges have been laid regarding the distribution or possession of pornography on the Internet, to date there has been little judicial guidance on the issues involved.”

The issues of intent and dissemination will remain as the figures of contention in the libraries v. patrons battle over pornography’s place in the library, though caution should be considered when choosing a side. Controlling and censoring information, especially controversial information, is a characteristic of despotism not democracy. Indulging perversion in the name of inclusion should not be the alternative.

On a lighter note, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year.

Transparency at risk: Amendments to the Access to Information Act

The federal Government of Canada has tabled a bill that seeks to make significant changes to what they insist is antiquated legislation; the Access to Information Act.

Estimated reading time for article: 2 mins

By James Johnson

And though not wrong (the bill came into being in 1983) there are several problems with the new changes. The bill is promoted as modernized, transparent, and trust-building for Canadians and their Government. But according to the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada, the bill would effectively regress our quasi-constitutional rights.

In her report released in September 2017, the Commissioner makes several recommendations that would increase facilitation for Canadians in accessing the information that rightfully belongs to them, and asserts that if the Bill were to go forward as is, there would be democratic ramifications.

In order for a citizenry to actively take part in the governance of their society there must be made available to them the information to make informed decisions. It’s why we have libraries. It is one of the fundamental concepts of the library. It’s a pillar of civilization that supports our modern freedoms today.

I won’t explain specifically why Bill C-58 is detrimental to Canadians. The Commissioner’s report is thorough and in a language all can understand. But what I will say is this:

It is so important for all of us to fight for each other’s rights to access public information. A huge part of this fight is monitoring what Bills our elected officials table. Continue to inform yourself on the happenings of parliament. Read the daily or weekly periodicals at your local library branch. Do your research and be sure to write to your MP’s. Let them know what’s important to you. Be an active, engaged, and informed citizen.

A good place to start is here. This resource is awesome. I mean, super awesome. Everything you need to know about your elected official, what they do and what they say within their official capacities, is available for your information. Seriously, check it out.