Houston Library Says Wiis Are Here To Stay

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Yesterday Hair Balls

talked to Sarah Gish

about her concerns about the Houston Public Library’s Central Library having Wiis in its children’s room. She wanted the library to remove its Wiis, or at least remove them from the kids’ room, to make more room for reading.

Today we heard from the library – from three people there, in fact: PR manager Sandra Fernandez, Chief of Central Services Mike Van Campen, and Manager of Youth Services Sandy Farmer. And they had a lot to say.

Asked about Gish and her son being moved around by the Wiis, Farmer admitted the space has been crowded. “I’m sorry that she felt shuffled around,” says Farmer. “We have two big floor couches away from the Wii where parents and children can sit and share books. We also have nine tables...We were incredibly busy in June and July, and some seating was at a premium. Things are calming down now.”

Not surprisingly, the crux of the library reps’ argument in support of the Wiis is the new clients they bring in. The library has seen 6,000 people come in and use the gaming equipment in June in July. During that same period, 45,000 books were checked out of the kids’ section.

Farmer sees “an entirely new customer coming into our building. We have people coming who would never, ever come to the library before.” They have to get a library card to play the Wii, and, Farmer says, “They actually leave with a pile of books.”

Farmer also points out that much of the library’s community “doesn’t have access to technology."

"We are providing access to another form of media just like we always have for books, music, video, the Internet,” she says.

Farmer and Van Campen disagreed with Gish’s view that the Wiis aren’t “educational,” pointing to the development of problem solving abilities, critical thinking skills and, yes, reading ability. Van Campen says lots of games are increasing text-heavy, and that one mother told him gaming gave her kid the incentive to learn to read.

There are three Wiis in both the children’s and teen areas of the library. As to removing the Wiis from the children’s area, “I think it’s a bad idea,” says Farmer. For one thing, the games in the kids’ area are rated E for Everyone, while those in the teen area are T for Teen.

Also, in a shocking development brought to you first by Hair Balls, teenagers these days apparently need their space. “We really don’t want the younger kids going into the teen area,” says Van Campen, “so the teens have a place to call their own.”

Cathy Matusow

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