March 13, 2013 marks the 100th birthday of Edmonton Public Library, which is not not only my hometown’s community hub but my place of employment for the last 10 years. Over the last century, public libraries have undergone incredible changes in terms of actual and virtual spaces, collections, and customer service. I’m proud to say that my library is one of the finest in North America, and that we are on the cutting edge in many ways. One of those ways is that we carry video games as part of our lending collection.
I’ve written before about how video games are becoming a core part of library collections, saying that it’s an exciting prospect to consider that our favorite hobby has a place on the shelf alongside classics of other formats. It really is a big deal that games are achieving this level of inclusion, particularly considering the relatively young age of the format. While it is very pleasing to see video games being represented positively in libraries, one question I have is whether libraries are well-represented in video games. I’m going to be discussing a few notable ones with a little help from Melvil Dewey, legendary librarian and creator of the Dewey Decimal System.
PHATT CITY LIBRARY – The Secret of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
I’m of the mind that the librarian profession is one of the most stereotyped out there, and the one featured in Monkey Island 2 does little to dispel that — a stern, older woman shushing noisemakers. I will concede that she is very capable and helpful to Guybrush by having a detailed knowledge of her collection, so at least she’s got that going for her. The building itself is quite striking, although there are definitely some space issues and I’m not so sure its seaside location would be ideal for the condition of its books. This librarian needs to either get some new shelving or perhaps look into finding E-book versions of her collection. The real problem with Phatt City Library however, is that some of its books don’t show up in the catalogue, which is a straight-up rookie mistake when you’re talking about organization of information. In fact, there is actually a term for a library in which books are randomly placed and aren’t retrievable in a consistent manner — it’s called the Internet. ‘
Hmm…with that in mind, maybe LucasArts was actually years ahead of its time?
Melvil Dewey says: 3/5 – Interesting collection, but very poorly organized. Not customer-focused.
THE LIBRARY – Halo: Combat Evolved
The Library level in Halo: Combat Evolved is notorious for being frustrating and poorly designed. While I give this facility props for taking a bold step with its architecture, at least on the outside of the building, inside is the very definition of bland and uninspiring design. Wayfinding is nonexistent, the lighting is terrible, you have to wade through a LITERAL flood of bodies to get to where you need to go, and there’s nowhere to sit. Look, I’m all for innovative and creative design philosophies but this takes it too far. This place represents the worst nightmares of librarians and library users who fear that modern libraries are moving towards a model that rejects their traditional role of being guardians of the written word. I’m all for thriving in change and embracing the new, but this one has no staff either. Just imagine how much more enjoyable this level would have been if there was a friendly and helpful library professional there to give you the guidance you needed to get to the Index Chamber.
Melvil Dewey says: 1/5 – Boring, frustrating to navigate, and where the hell are the staff?
ALEXANDRIA CASTLE LIBRARY – Final Fantasy IX
Wryly named after our world’s first library, this facility is one of Alexandria Castle’s true treasures of this capital city in Final Fantasy IX. You pass through here a couple of times during story missions and can only access a special battle during those parts. Hidden amongst the many materials, should you choose to explore a little bit, lies the Tantarian, a monster that manifests as a giant book. To be fair, fighting it is optional and it does warn you that it’s not to be messed with. It is immune to most attacks, can destroy your group very quickly if you’re not careful, and has an imposed time limit for defeating it. Also, did I mention it attacks you with paper cuts? Indeed, this is a book you do not want to be overdue.
With all this hassle, it begs the question of whether it should actually be in the library’s collection. I’ll be the first person to defend anyone’s intellectual freedom, but the minute a book tries to attack me I will have no problem with taking it down. Thankfully it’s not something I need to deal with in my daily life (for the most part, anyway). Personally, I think the real issue here is less about the book itself and more that it was just sitting there on top of the shelf. That could really hurt somebody if it were to fall off.
Melvil Dewey says: 3/5 – Beautiful library, but contains some serious Occupational Health and Safety issues.
LIBRARIUM – Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War
One of the biggest reasons why EPL is so successful is that it has adapted to trends and user needs over the past century. Do you ever wonder however, what libraries are going to look like in the year 40,000? I do, and apparently so does Games Workshop. According to the Warhammer 40K universe, which tells the story of neverending space warfare, there is a very special place in its community for information professionals within its fiction. Librarians are not only the keepers of knowledge and records of battles waged, but are also powerful psychic warriors that can devastate opposing forces.
They work out of the Librarium, which not only houses books and other records, but manages the entire history and communication of civilization. Indeed, librarians have a great deal of responsibility in the distant future as they do now. The only real disappointment here is the lack of Storytime or anything appealing to children (I’d love to see a Warhammer Librarian read The Paper Bag Princess to a bunch of three year olds), but one thing I will say about this place is that it is very organized and efficient from a Human Resources perspective.
Melvil Dewey says: 4/5 – Really well-run, strong presence in its community. Unfortunate lack of children’s programming.
LIBRARIES (VARIOUS) – Minecraft
And here we have the perfect library environment. Minecraft allows for unlimited space, radical design schemes that don’t necessarily need to conform to real-world physics, and the ability to change depending on the needs of its community. Do your users require an open-air space for children? No problem — just punch a hole in the roof. Do they need 24 hour service without having to worry about monsters? Extra lighting can be installed at the drop of a hat. If only running a real library were as easy as it is in Minecraft.
Melvil Dewey says: 5/5 – Innovative, creative, and only limited by your imagination.
What are your favorite library levels/areas in video games? Please leave a comment and let us know. Thanks for reading, and may the library in your hometown thrive for 100 years and beyond.