Please Play

Since subscribing to comments on Will Manley’s blog post the other night, my phone has lit up more than the chainsmokers in a LaSalle, IL, tavern. That’s what happens pretty much every time Will posts something new. On this occasion, Will chimes in on the ALA READ campaign. I have two thoughts on the subject. Well, three, really. But I put one of them in the comments section of Will’s post. It had to do with my love of John Fante’s books and my willingness to appear as a Fante torchbearer.

Whether you noticed or not, I posted a piece recently in which I made some suggestions regarding the classic and very popular READ posters. Fortunately, Will suggested to me that he liked that piece, so I count myself out of  a certain crowd he mentions in his current post. Will writes, “It’s very fashionable among bloggers to dump on the American Library Association.  My guess is that if ALA didn’t exist, library bloggers would have to invent it in order to have something to write about.” It’s well said, for sure. And I’d like to read the ALA-critical literature that inspired Will to write his post. (Will, if you’re reading this, please slip me some links.) Will and the commenters make many points–some salient, some salient and funny, some eyebrow-raising. Do check it out and leave your remarks.

The only critique I’d make is regarding one of the words Will states he wouldn’t want to see on an ALA poster. He writes, “READ plays to our strength and the reason why we exist.  I hope ALA never succumbs to the temptation to put out posters that say PLAY; LISTEN; COMPUTE; SURF; or DOWNLOAD.” An editor and grammarian of sorts, I don’t particularly enjoy semantic arguments. But when you’re talking about a marketing plan based on, essentially, a face, a book, and a single capitalized word, semantic discussions are to be expected.

As I mentioned in that earlier post on the READ ads, I like word play as it relates to the missions of public, school, and academic libraries. “Play” has different meanings for different people and different age groups. If cognitive studies of gaming have shown us anything, it’s that the library style of play promotes learning and growth in very special ways. And that doesn’t even begin to tell what cognitive strengths are exercised by adult play or forms of play involving young people who simply aren’t into traditional gaming. People of all ages make their own play, just as they decide what types of literature most appeal to them. Another word for play is fun. We make our own fun, no matter what age, and more often than we realize, we learn something or strengthen specific cognitive skills each time we create and have fun, even if the activity’s initial appearance doesn’t immediately suggest its value as an educational or even constructive activity.

Libraries are about many things–among them, an amalgam of freedoms, including freedom to play. COMPUTE, SURF, and DOWNLOAD? Those are services that should be pushed, certainly, but never in a READ-type graphic. The READ graphics aren’t about services. They represent, as Will writes, “the reason why we exist.” They’re about the availability and importance of materials and freedoms that serve fundamental human desires: literacy, connectivity, knowledge, growth, and, yes, play.

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About Steven V. Kaszynski
librarian, editor, contributor

2 Responses to Please Play

  1. What about “Don’t Sleep” or “Bathe”. Seriously, putting the “Read” read posters inside libraries is like putting a big mac ad inside the big mac box. Preaching to the choir is fun and makes us feel good about ourselves, but a celeb with a book next to kids who already know about books isn’t going to make a difference.

  2. I know what you mean about preaching to the choir, Stuart. When I consider the reach of the READ campaign, I think primarily of those images as they’re displayed outside the library: in community spaces and businesses, in schools and colleges, in magazines, etc. Here in Chicago, you commonly see library-related ads of this type posted in theaters, subway tunnels and train cars, and aboard buses and at bus stops, et al.

    Are the posters effective? I think so. I’d be willing to bet they’re as closely associated with libraries as the old library logo. Maybe more so. Be that as it may, the READ posters have been immensely popular for a long time. And really, why wouldn’t they be? Young people are extremely impressionable. Ask any marketer and she’ll tell you that kids are sitting ducks for every kind of ad campaign. So, a kid idolizes Derrick Rose. He sees Derrick “caught reading” on the NBA Cares poster. He thinks, “Dude, check Derrick. I wonder what he’s reading. I gotta check it out.” There you go. Derrick got a kid to pick up a book. The READ posters carry the same power. And trust me, there are a lot of young Derrick Rose fanatics out there right now, many of whom would not otherwise be coaxed into picking up a book.

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