It's been an interesting few weeks on many levels, but not the least so because of a little phenomena that has sprung up at work around a teen orientated initiative. Nerf guns have invaded the library. Before a few weeks ago I had never actually seen a Nerf gun in real life, certainly had not fired one and really did not have much time for the concept of them. I viewed them as very much a teen orientated thing and I guess, if I am to be honest, a thing which people yet to grow up, play with. This had two strands, those who were still young and growing up and those who were certainly adults but obviously had some growing up to do.
So, I will admit, that when the new guy at work Dr Matt Finch introduced Nerf guns into our environment, I was not sure what to think. I am quite comfortably white middle class New Zealand and I don't like guns as a general rule apart from for hunting. I eat meat, so do not think I could realistically stand against them for the killing of food to eat. I certainly have no desire to buy my 3 year old nephew a toy gun, and generally tell myself that children are better off without the concept of shooting each other. All this, of course, flys in the face of my own childhood, where we made guns, ran around shooting each other and really did PLAY WAR. My best friend's brother joined the army and we were in awe of all this. I travelled with my best friend and his father up to Waiouru to see his brother's Passing Out Ceremony. Playing war was a big part of my pre teen years and I seem to have turned out ok....
I guess where I have stood so far, was that the making of wooden guns and playing war is somehow different from a bought thing which fires projectiles. That this aspect somehow desensitises the young from the reality of what happens when you fire a gun at someone. Yet of course, children and teens are all around us watching movies and TV with people being shot and worse. Libraries are and have always been full of books which contain scenes of death, torture and mayhem. So, as it was pointed out to me a few weeks ago directly and indirectly, am I kidding myself that by not engaging with these toys I will somehow make a difference in what is right and wrong. Am I actually understanding the potential to create a link between our youth and the library experience.
As I understand it from discussions with Matt, the concept of the Nerf guns is to engage youth around what they are interested in and reading about. To engage them and connect between the literature and the library experience. So let's think about this. Zombies, Vampires, post apocalyptic worlds where violence reigns. Our teens are reading books in the library which deal with these concepts but many fall by the wayside in the growth of literacy for many reasons. How fricken cool as a teen to find that your library has given birth to the world of the literature you are reading and is playing in your space. Giving you the opportunity to experience physically as well as mentally the story or at least concepts of it? Now this sounds damn exciting to me and it sounds like a library attempting to understand its youth and provide them with an environment they want rather than dictate one to them.
So, what is all this leading to? Well I guess I am trying to say that I am enjoying the challenge to my conventional notions and indeed the attitude that we as librarians may traditionally have to Nerf guns and the like. Where does what we deem appropriate stop influencing what happens in the library and what our customers are enjoying take over from this? If we are stocking books, movies and the like which contain themes of violence, do we have any basis for not wanting to introduce things like Nerf guns into the play experience of learning in a library? I expect this will provoke debate and discussion and well it should. That is healthy and what, in the end, surely, libraries stand for.
I bought a Nerf gun this week.