UPLIFT Professional Excellence Grant- Shelly Maag Heaps

I received a Professional Excellence Grant from the Utah State Library to attend Emporia State University’s class called “Organization Theories for Administering Information Agencies” this spring. This class provided a great deal of information and ideas about managing libraries and other information institutions. For the final project, each student chose an issue facing library managers and researched that topic. I looked into reasons a library manager should allow teenagers to play computer games and participate in social networking on library computers. In the Fall 2008 issue of Directions, Linda Fields-Richfield discussed her realization that teens gain important literacy skills through gaming (p.4). This is one of many reasons that teen gaming and social networking are valuable to teens and should be allowed in the library. This article outlines one more of those reasons through an interpretation of a recent study on the association between teen gaming and civic involvement.

One benefit of teen gaming that is being explored by researchers is the civic experience teen’s gain from playing games. The link between teens that play games and involvement in the community is investigated in a 2008 study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. This study looked at the fact that a vast majority of American teens play video games and that there “are civic dimensions to video game play” (Lenhart, Kahne, Middaugh, Macgill, Evans, Vitak, 2008, p. viii). This study found that teens who play civic computer games, especially in a social setting are more likely to be politically involved. These games include a wide variety of elements that make many games civically tied, including: helping and guiding other players, teaching about a problem in society, exploring a social issue, thinking about moral or ethical issues, helping make decisions about how a community, city or nation should be run and organizing game groups or guilds” (Lenhart, et al., 2008, p. 41). Most teens are benefiting from these skills by playing computer games, and many are doing it in the library, a place where all teens are free to try these games and play them with friends.

While much research is still needed about the connections between gaming and civic involvement, the “Teens, Video Games, and Civics” study by Lenhart, et al. (2008) indicates that teens that play these types of games in a group are significantly more likely to:
• go online to get information about politics or current events
• raise money for charity
• be committed to civic participation
• be interested in politics
• stay informed about current events
• try to persuade others to vote a particular way in an election
• participate in a protest, march, or demonstration (p. 44).

All of these things are important in a society where citizens can make a difference and the library should be promoting these activities. While it is surprising that allowing gaming can result in these activities, and it is not a logical link many people make, showing this connection to local decision-makers and library leaders can make gaming that much more valuable to individual institutions.

This is also a strong reason to have a dedicated teen area where teens can talk about the games they are playing and work together on projects and networking sites. Facts like, “Teens who play games socially are more likely to be civically and politically engaged than teens who play games primarily alone” (Lenhart et al., 2008, p. 45) and that “Teens who take part in social interaction related to the game, such as commenting on websites or contributing to discussion boards, are more engaged civically and politically” (Lenhart et al., 2008, p. 45) strongly support the argument that teens should have the opportunity to play together. In my own library in Springville, groups are often gathered around the computers, playing together on the same or individual computers. They talk about what they are doing and work together to get the best results. This interaction is encouraged and it is one way a library can help build up a more responsible constituency without teens even knowing they are getting anything other than time to play. As a result of this training, all of our summer reading activities for teens will be followed by a game night and Springville Library will continue to encourage teens to play games in groups as we build a new library with a teen area designed to include these activities. We can all help teenagers grow into members of a larger civic community simply by allowing and encouraging them to play games in our libraries.

Work cited
Lenhart, A., Kahne, J., Middaugh, E., Macgill, A., Evans, C., Vitak, J. (2008). “Teens, Video Games, and Civics.” Pew Internet and American Life Project. Retrieved March 23, 2009, from http://www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/PIP_Teens_Games_and_Civics_Report_FINAL.pdf