Lifelong learning, and the library’s role

December 7, 2011

Albert Einstein once said:

Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.

There is something within people that drives them to continual learning in one way or another.  Whether this is watching PBS/NPR news programs (like my grandfather, who only had an 8th grade education but was one of the smartest people I knew) or following up via your mobile device on something you heard, saw or were curious about, learning is always happening.  And it should always be happening.  In order to grow as a person, you need to try to always seek your truth.  It is important to attempt to understand all points of view, whether you agree or not.  Most points of view (if not all) have some elements of truth, and this can help bring us together in a better understanding of each other.

What role does a library play in lifelong learning?  Although much has been said about the fact that everything is “on the Internet” and libraries are obsolete, libraries serve an essential role in their local communities in the following ways:

  • Libraries are  places that offer a variety of materials on different viewpoints without regard to judgment (that means, you can get both Bill Clinton and Ann Coulter and decide for yourself).
  • Libraries are an alternative haven for various groups (teens, homeless, seniors, GLBT, children) to explore interests.  
  • Libraries offer a serendipity that happens when this exploring is free from judgment.
  • Libraries are places that offer a reflection of the community itself (through history, collection development, and even atmosphere).
  • Libraries support the community when “the going gets tough”.  This includes times when natural disasters happen, or when people lose their jobs.  Libraries tend to be places everyone feels comfortable in seeking assistance, and librarians, as part of the community they work in, are eager to help.
  • Although people often think of libraries as places that contain the latest best-selling books, they also have items that are no longer in print or that are not available electronically.  To get to the truth of an issue, it can help to know what someone wrote during the time period, or find items that contains primary resources.  Libraries are often the “memory keepers” and to be without this would be a detriment to society by not providing this essential aspect of information.

By always researching and offering their communities a plethora of information on a huge variety of topics, librarians provide access to an intellectual oasis amid the “reality TV” and quick text options that pervade our culture.  As this oasis has existed over many generations, it is still a pervasive part of a majority of people’s lives.  It is a place where, even if you haven’t used it for a while, you can count on the library to be there so that you can obtain reliable information on a topic no matter what point in your life you are seeking it. 

If everyone doesn’t have the money to seek their truths on the open market, where will people go?  And, if knowledge is power, what does this say we are doing to those who cannot afford to “buy” this knowledge?  According to Einstein’s definition, lifelong learning will stop if there is nowhere to attempt to acquire this knowledge.  We do a disservice to our communities and our country by ignoring what libraries offer to everyone who chooses to seek knowledge, information, and truth.

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