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Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Creating a Library Culture That Encourages a Love of Learning

March 31, 2010 4 comments

I think most people in my generation who grew up with videogames and computer games know that learning can be fun.  I distinctly remember MathBlaster helping me learn how to multiply but hardly noticing that because I wanted to defeat the aliens.  However, should learning always be fun?  Has learning that isn’t fun flown the coop?  Is there a place for more tedious methods of learning?

I’ve been pondering this lately as libraries are places of learning.  The surrounding culture of the library–whether a town, university, hospital, business, etc…–needs to encourage and embrace learning for the library to get used at all.  Unfortunately, that is often not the case.  In today’s society, learning is often mocked.  It’s where we get the nerd jokes.  Even the First Lady has felt it is a large enough problem that she has spoken out about it.  So libraries are left with a conundrum: the surrounding culture doesn’t encourage learning.  We’re a learning institution.  How the heck do we get people in the doors?

This issue led to the movement to make libraries more fun, largely through the materials held and programming.  Materials now are much more likely to include popular books such as ones written by Heidi Pratt.  Programs include videogaming with games that aren’t educational.  For non-public libraries, some academic libraries have started offering a “fun” reading section with similar, non-educational books.  The movement is pretty universal across types of libraries.  This has led to a backlash though.  Some are stating that sure, people are coming in through the doors, but they aren’t learning anything.  We’re so focused on making patrons happy that we’ve stopped actually helping them improve their mental capacities at all.

I don’t think it’s an easy issue to address because a love of learning is largely something that is instilled in childhood.  Even someone who does love learning doesn’t always find it fun.  I don’t particularly enjoy reading the dense management articles for my graduate research paper, but I value what I learn from them.  I enjoy the fact that I know my knowledge of these management techniques will make me better at my job.

The problem is less a lack of a love of learning and more that a love for being entertained and instant gratification is drowning out the more subtle enjoyment that comes from expanding your mind.  It’s basic psychology.  A famous experiment was done with mice where if they pushed a button, it gave them an orgasm.  The mice repeatedly pushed the button, obsessively, ignoring the needs to eat and drink until they died.  They died from too much pleasure.  Life isn’t all about pleasure; we also need to work to survive.  If all libraries do is provide the pleasure button and not a food button, then we’re not actually helping our patrons are we?

With this in mind, libraries need to be careful to maintain a balance of pleasure and effort.  People attending a Rock Band evening, for instance, could be informed of books and materials the library holds that teach you to play a real guitar or real drums.  Conversely, in special libraries, there is often too little focus on fun learning.  A recent visiting lecturer to one of my classes who works in an engineering library showed us the engineering “toys” she has in her library.  Her library has lego’s and other materials lying around for the engineering students to play with as a study break and inspiration.  I immediately thought how awesome it would be if medical libraries had those anatomically correct dolls or skeletons or jello brain molds lying about.

As with most things, the key to learning as fun or learning as effort is maintaining a balance.  Librarians need to focus on how to naturally connect the two so that patrons on either side of the divide will make the connection and, hopefully, take a leap.

What Public Libraries Should Be

February 2, 2010 8 comments

There is a debate going on about what public libraries should be.  So far, the librarians seem to be presenting a near united front, repackaging the library as a social place.  A place filled with programs such as speed-dating, Rock Band night, rent a person events, and more.  A place where you can rent newly released movies and videogames.  A place where, “Books are being pushed to the side figuratively and literally.” (source)  The few detractors from this mindset are generally portrayed as old, crotchety patrons who just don’t understand the times.

Well, I am a young librarian, and I don’t like where public libraries are headed.  To be clear, when I say young, I’m 23 years old.  Additionally, although I spent one summer working in a public library, most of my experience is in academic and medical libraries.  However, I think this puts me in the semi-unique position of understanding some of what public librarians deal with, but also being a member of the general populace they are seeking to serve.

I’ve made some rumblings about how I don’t agree with certain aspects of this modernization of the library.  The response from other librarians is generally a truly puzzled, “What’s wrong with it?”

What’s wrong with it?  When did public libraries turn into community centers instead of centers for life-long learning?  In a democracy, it is vitally important that the populace seeks to self-educate, to question, to delve into matters themselves.  A key element of that is literacy, and of course it is important to draw reluctant people into literacy in creative ways.  To this end, I’m supportive of libraries containing genre fiction, romance novels, graphic novels, etc…  However, whatever happened to the materials that truly make people think?  I used to frequent the public library, but last year, I just got sick of the junk I was seeing in the “nonfiction” section.  Autobiographies of the most recent reality star and not a single one of Albert Einstein, for instance.

Public libraries are not only supposed to encourage literacy but also thought and learning.  True, deep thought about serious issues.  I remember stumbling upon a book in high school in my public library about the controversy surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  It presented a fair portrayal of multiple sides of the controversy, and I was floored to see such intelligent debate.  It made me think about the mores and ideals I was raised with, and questioning their own validity in much the same way.  This is the kind of experience literate patrons should be having at a public library, not digging through book after book about the last 20 years of pop culture and coming up empty-handed.  If I, a person trained in reference, can’t find thought-provoking books, what makes anyone think that untrained patrons will just happen to stumble upon them?

The public library is also supposed to be about equality.  Anyone who lives in the district can have a card and access the sources.  Now though we’re seeing libraries hosting various features that patrons must pay an additional fee to use.  An example of this is the Nevada libraries that now have Redbox vending machines.  Patrons must pay $1 a night, plus tax, to rent a DVD.  Some say this is fine, but I say, what about the homeless kids who come into this place that purports to support the idea that educating yourself is a right, only to see more things they can’t afford?  I’m sure it is disheartening, and it is contrary to the principles of a public library.

It sickens me to see the public library going from a place revered in the community as a place of literacy, learning, and equality to a bastion of the non-thinking, pop culture junk we’re fed by those who don’t want us to actually better ourselves.  You may as well be handing out Soma with the library cards, and if you don’t know what Soma is, try reading Brave New World.