Library Books versus Gaming

A blog post describing a teacher’s personal reservations about allowing students certain types of technology use, on a blog site that promotes technology and libraries may seem paradoxical, but here it goes. By the way, my name is Michael Westfall and I’m a media information specialist in a Chicago public elementary school and a Dominican University LIS graduate student. A big thank you to Michael Stephens for allowing me to get my voice out there. So here is my issue: I don’t like kids playing games on the computers in my library because I feel it is at the expense of the reading of books.

I’m not anti-computer, a killjoy, or a raving modern-day Luddite. I will admit to a little technophobia, but I really do enjoy working with my students on computers. We’re very fortunate to have a fully functional computer lab within our school library, and this year we’ve learned to make Power Point presentations in fifth and sixth grades, used clip art and word art in documents starting in third grade, and have begun typing in first grade. This type of engaged time on a computer is different for me than playing games because working in Power Point, Word, and Excel produces tangible products, something I can view, enjoy, and assess. The tangible product doesn’t exist after playing a game. In the give-and-take spirit that pervades modern day teaching, I have begun to allow game playing as a reward in the last few minutes of library time. I don’t force kids to check out books, but encourage it as strongly as I can. But frequently those books still sit there, ignored and untouched (especially by those in fifth grade and up), waiting for the attention I so strongly feel they deserve.

At heart I am a book person. It’s why I chose to leave general classroom teaching and become my school’s librarian. I’ve worked hard to find and add to the collection books that kids request or show an interest in, and I have been heartened by the reactions of many students to this throughout the year. But beneath my game racism – my gamecism – is a fear. What frightens me is that many of my students have significant difficulty reading and comprehending text online, whether it’s a Wikipedia entry, an advertisement, or even detailed directions for a game. Many of them just don’t seem to get that to use the internet you have to read. To me, this is life skills reading that in importance resides alongside being able to read street signs, food labels, and directions for how to assemble furniture from IKEA or Target. I believe my personal conflict raises a serious question: how to fully use limited school library time on two very different activities – building reading comprehension skills through engagement with books, or fostering the strategizing, problem-solving, and collaborative skills that gaming is supposed to aide in developing.