A Place To Practice Lifelong Learning

student studying among the stacks

photo by Tulane Public Relations on Flickr

The classroom is a wonderful environment. I truly enjoy teaching students in the classroom and I loved taking classes. That is the principal place we think of where learning takes place. But the sort of learning that takes place there is facilitated. It is instructor directed and mediated. As educators though, both professors and librarians, we’re trying to help students become lifelong learners. This means gaining the ability to learn outside a classroom environment as well.

This is why the library is such a perfect place. It’s a place where students can struggle with assigned readings before class. It’s a place where they can go after class to reflect on things that were discussed, or debate the concepts with friends or classmates. It’s a place where students can work on a project or paper and focus on what they find interesting and follow research paths that speak to them. It’s a place where students can go to learn with and from one another.

If the classroom is a space dedicated to instructor facilitated learning, the library is a space dedicated to self-directed learning. The library is the place where the rubber meets the road learning-wise. It’s a place where failure happens, but also discovery. There’s a lot of trial and error, but also many insights. Students get to take concepts they learned about in class, examine them and then either reject them or build on them in the library. It’s a lab for testing out ideas or digging deeply into a subject of interest.

Sure, self-directed learning happens all sorts of places: the dorm, student unions, coffee shops. But the library purposely creates an environment where they can practice being a lifelong learner. There are quiet areas — carrels, cages, nooks — for solitary reflection and concentration. There are louder areas for students who prefer a buzz in the air in order to get work done. There are group meeting rooms and spaces for collaborative and team-based learning to take place. And there friendly experts available when students get hung up and need a little encouragement or a nudge in the right direction.

To create lifelong learners there of course need to be classrooms, but students won’t always have classes and professors to direct their learning. Ultimately they need to figure out how to learn on their own. The library is a space to facilitate that endeavor. The library is where students shape themselves into lifelong learners.

Andy Burkhardt

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