Libraries = Learning and Fun

Two doors, one labeled business, one labeled pleasure

Photo from v.h.d. on Flickr

Libraries come down to two key concepts: learning and fun (in the context of information). We’ve known this for years. An example is our collection of both scholarly works  and more leisurely reading.

These two concepts are the reason why we collect content in varied forms. They are the reasons we host events for our users. They are the reason we provide access to the web. They’re the reason why there are librarians working at the library. Libraries are all about learning and fun.

We have books and ebooks so people can gain new ideas or enjoy a tale of adventure or suspense. We have videos and games so users can be entertained or educated. Events hosted by the library allow people to have fun as a community or arouse their curiosity together. People go to the library so they can interact with other folks who are learning and having fun, or they’re going to find a quiet place to learn or have fun by themselves. Use of the internet allows users to access a vast array of resources that can contribute to both fun and learning.

Moreover, fun and learning must not be too out of balance. If we became places that only had first person shooter games and romance novels, we’d quickly become obsolete. Humans need intellectual fulfillment.  Conversely if we only have scholarly tomes and documentaries, users will quickly become bored.

Libraries improve people’s lives through free access to information that contributes to their fun and learning. Keeping these two concepts in mind when delivering or improving services is key. “Did I help this patron learn or have fun?” “How does this new initiative contribute to patron fun or learning?”


Slow Down People!

Image from rogiro on Flickr

Image from rogiro on Flickr

My last post was about how students often have very little time. But thinking about the way we consume information in general these days got me thinking more about my personal experiences. I often catch myself with a dozen tabs in Firefox open, Tweetdeck running in the background, Outlook pinging me every few minutes with a new email, and my Blackberry constantly vying for attention. I do find about all sorts of interesting things (like the Leonid meteor shower which I took time to watch this morning), but what is getting one bit of information after another really doing for me?

Students consume information in much the same way, getting updates from Facebook or Twitter, reading stories or blog posts but not digging much deeper. Nicholas Carr compared it to flying along the surface on a jet ski as opposed to a scuba diver exploring what is beneath the surface.

It seems to me that there is much to be gained from slowing down in our information consumption. When we just skip from blog post to blog post, tweet to tweet, we get information, but it never becomes knowledge and we don’t use that information. That’s one reason why I blog, so I can synthesize different thoughts and make a personal connection. Thinking about something and then writing about it makes it more concrete. That’s also why I find it necessary to take time out when I’m feeling overwhelmed and simply drink some tea, or write ideas down in a notebook, or watch a meteor shower.

Slowing down allows you to make connections between those eight articles you just read in your feed reader. It allows you to internalize pieces of information that you otherwise might simply forget or not really understand. That’s why in our information literacy program at Champlain we devote part of one session to talking about slowing down and reflecting. We ask students how or if they slow down to make connections. I feel it is something that is extremely important to discuss when talking about information.

Students are actually pretty thoughtful about it too. I learned about this enlightening TED talk called In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore from a student in one of my sessions. It’s about 20 minutes long. Give it a watch…if you have the time…

Can’t see the video? Click here.


Library School

There are those who say that library school is not rigorous enough and not teaching enough technological classes. While it may not be as rigorous as law school for example I believe that my time here at UW Madison has done a great deal to prepare me for a career at the top of the information food chain.

I purposely sought out tech classes because I realized how useful they would be right now as well as in the future. I now know how to: design and construct a database, build a website, and use the web in ways I never had even thought of before. I recently solved a problem I was having with a copy of “Sicko” that my dad burned for me.

The CD that I had would play the sound but not the actual video of the movie. I am subscribed to the blog LifeHacker, and one post on there was serendipitously for a piece of open source freeware called CodecInstaller. I learned all about codecs from my amazing “Digital Trends, Tools, and Debates” class with Dorothea Salo. I quickly realized that my problem was that I was missing a codec for the video. I downloaded the software and it automatically analyzed what codec I needed. I then chose it from a list in CodecInstaller and it automatically downloaded it for me. I was watching the movie within five minutes of downloading the software.

It is something as simple as this that shows how library school has actually put me at the top of the information food chain. Before going to library school I would have simply given up on the disc, deciding it was unplayable. Instead I used all new knowledge to solve an information related problem. I used an RSS feed to find free software, and because I knew about codecs I was able to understand why my disc would not play. I successfully wielded computer technology to solve a problem.

I know that I am not as technologically savvy as some of the real geeks out there, but I have the tools and training to quickly adapt, learn, and find solutions to any information problems that may arise. There may be some library school classes that are not as useful but I have found at least some value in every class I have taken. If I find I need to learn more though, I have the opportunities to do it. I have taken PowerPoint, Dreamweaver, and JavaScript classes through DoIt, the on campus I.T. people. I have also joined Toastmasters International to improve my public speaking skills. Library school may have its flaws but your education is simply what you make of it.