Love Your Library

So, I received this email a few days ago about the value of higher education. It kind of looked like spam… well, it probably was. However, I thought it was interesting, none the less. The email linked back to a website called Webucator. First time I’d ever heard of it, and I haven’t really browsed it other than to read the related post. However, the email posed two questions:

  • Could you have gotten as much out of four years in the public library as you got out of college?
  • What would you do with a year in the public library now?

Ejumacate me!

I’m a huge fan of education… especially the good education (wink)(wink). I have a bachelor degree and a master degree. I started working toward a PhD but dropped out about a year or so before completing the program, when I decided psychology wasn’t truly a career I wanted to dedicate myself to. Now, I’m knocking out some prerequisites so I can earn a MBA. I’ve spent more of my adult life enrolled in school than not. For me, learning is very rewarding. Even when I’m not in school, I spend time researching and learning new things.

Public Library VS College

In my mind, the first questions is rather loaded. It makes the assumption that individuals will go to the public library for education if they opt out of college. I personally don’t go to the public library for education. I go for entertainment. Before eBooks were popular, I’d check out fiction. Those occasional instances I did check out non-fiction, it again for entertainment.

Entertaining Subject Matter

Maybe I wanted to learn how to craft something specific. Or perhaps I was interested in Victorian dresses in order to research a book. I was fascinated with bugs at one time and might have gathered books for the science section. However, my interest in non-fiction was never focused. The books I checked out wouldn’t have provided me the knowledge I needed to get my foot in any particular door, because my interests were so varied. Also, reading books typically is a lone project. I sit down and read without necessarily discussing it with other students or a professor to act as a mentor. There’s no one to challenge me when I read a book. It’s purely for entertainment.

Who’s Responsible?

Secondly, there’s no accountability for the books read in a public library. Finishing a degree or even taking specific classes gives the assurance that the student has learned key pieces of knowledge. I don’t have to learn anything when I go to the public library. I can just sit back, ready, and enjoy. What I retain, I retain. What I learn, I learn. What ever doesn’t happen, well… who cares? There’s more entertainment in the next book, which might be completely unrelated to the book I just read.

Now I’m Tracking

A big bonus for formal education is that it keeps me on track. I may not particularly enjoy the subject matter or the book knowledge required for a course or degree. However, knowing I have deadlines that are externally enforced keeps me on top of things. For me, that’s important, because it keeps me going; it keeps me focused on the end results… finishing the course or obtaining the degree. Others might work differently, but that’s me.

So, if I spent 4 years straight in a public library, I highly doubt I would have obtained the same knowledge as going to college. Now it’s certainly possible to obtain a college education in a public library. However, how many individuals are willing to do that? How many individuals will take the initiative to do so? I might have pose different question: Was the knowledge I obtained through college beneficial, applicable, and useful in the working world? Now that I’m a working girl, how much book knowledge do I still use?

A Year in the Public Library

Hmmm…. Just the idea of spending a year in a public library fills me with anxiety… almost a sense of claustrophobia. I hate to say it, but public libraries are outdated. They’re filled with books, most people would rather have in eBook format. They have sections of VHS and cassette tapes, which should be decommissioned to a museum. Why would I go to a library? For the quiet? Are the shush rules still enforced?

Earlier this week, I went to the state capitol. The library happened to be visiting and had an event to check out mystery books. Now when I say mystery books, I’m not talking about the genre. I’m talking about books wrapped in paper bags, so you can’t see what’s in them. On the outside was a clue to what kind of book it held. I picked up two. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten into reading, and I’d hoped those books would jumpstart my desire. However, even as I checked out these mystery books (which I still haven’t read), I couldn’t help think what a pain it’d be to flip through the pages or lay down in bed with a book vs reading a digital copy. I still haven’t opened the books to see what they are.

So… what would I do in a public library? Probably every thing I’d rather be doing at home… or perhaps I’d be doing less than what I’d be doing at home since the library has limitations I don’t have at home… like walking around in my underwear. 🙂

In Summary

There’s a place for formal education. That’s not to say, formal education couldn’t use some improvements. A large percentage of required courses don’t prepare individuals for real work. However, formal education does give an individual a little foundation. That way students can at least carry on an sensible conversation. Above all, I hope a student would learn some basic writing, math, or whatever skills. From there, work experience is there to help push an individual into expert-hood.

I think an even better approach would be to match formal education with work experience, similarly to what’s expected of doctors, nurses, or other programs which required internships/residencies. Make internships mandatory for all degrees rather than electives.

But let’s face it, public libraries are not the happening place they used to be. Downloading an eBook is far more convenient than visiting a library. Furthermore, digital books tend to be more convenient to read than physical books.

So, my not so humble opinion says public libraries lose this round.

2 thoughts on “Love Your Library

  1. Ha! That’ll get ’em going Reena. You are right I think that public libraries are having to find a new way or are just going to be dinosaurs. where I live most of the use of the public library is as an internet cafe – there are maybe thirty net-connected PCs and they are always in use when the place is open. Otherwise, it’s a relaxing stroll.

    I have a post-graduate diploma in librarianship, and know about the institution historically as well as practically, and hardly ever go there nowadays. Google searching has taken most of the reason for going away for me. There are still uses for libraries, especially when it comes to research using printed material that isn’t online and would be be pricey to buy. But my experience of both uni and public libraries is that most of the people in them are not using much, if any, of the material.

    In the 19th century, when public libraries got their big boost, there was no either/or for many people: they were initially called “Mechanics’ Institutes” and were there for people who wanted to get an education as there was typically no other avenue for them. Andrew Carnegie, who built so many libraries in the English-speaking world, was a beneficiary of libraries in this way: I have been to the tiny cottage in Dunfermline, Scotland where he grew up and learned to read, write, and more in the small public library of the toon. Today that role is taken by other institutions.

    That said, I’m not sure that formal education isn’t also due for a shakeup. I went to university to learn, which turned out to include meaning to learn how to learn, not to gain a ticket to some profession or other. It’s not at all clear that universities are the right places for people to learn a trade. In countries like New Zealand, until not long ago there were clear distinctions between trade-focused education and universities, but these distinctions have fallen away and degrees are now available in “disciplines” that when I was in school would have been the source of sniggers. Plumbing, for example.

    For me, university education was about learning how to think, and I think now that is what it should be meant to be about. Learning how to think may seem facetious, as thinking is characteristic of our species, but it remains – fifty or so years after I left uni – the most important feature of my formal education.

  2. I love the idea of incorporating an internet cafe into a library. If libraries are trying to get people in the door, I’d think that would do it… especially for those traveling out of town or working nearby. I can envision librarians using their research skills with online searches.

    People do tend to use libraries for different reasons these days. I spent Wednesday and Thursday at the library for work purpose. I was there one day for a board of directors meeting, the next day to do some outreach while my co-worker taught a class in the library. Later, the GED teacher came to help students. In another town I lived in, it seemed as if parents dropped their kids off at the library for some “free” babysitting. In one corner of the VERY small library was a gaming console, which was in use.

    In terms of education, I would like to see some changes. Not knowing any better, I started my formal education at an unaccredited technical college. The skills and knowledge I obtained there was very hands-on. A lot of what I learned there, I still use today. When people have questions in the subject areas I learned at the unaccredited school, I tend to be the go-to person. On the other hand, the degrees are earned from accredited universities are just piece of paper for the most part. In one ear, out the other knowledge. I get to say I have a degree, which helps me meet the education qualification.

    I’m a huge fan of technical schools though. I see them as more than book knowledge. Whether it’s a plumber or computer geek, hands-on experience is huge. But like you said, perhaps university education is about learning how to think. I’m not so sure universities are making the cut in that area. I’ve been working with interns lately, and I’m surprised at the lack of common sense sometimes. I’m getting up there in years, so I’m not sure if my expectation is set too high. Was I like that when I was younger? Is critical thinking and problem solving come just a part of growing up? Some people learn it and others don’t.

    One thing I do think higher education should prepare someone for is research and writing. No one should be able to graduate from college without knowing how to write a well researched paper. I’m constantly surprised when students will ask me questions that a quick internet search could answer. I’m even more surprised when I get intern requests back that are riddled with spelling errors and improper grammar… stuff which should have been learned in grade school, junior high at the latest..

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