Make Your Own Learning

Several weeks ago I wrote a post about courses that I wished that they had offered in library school. There were a lot of great comments from folks about knowledge that they wish they had. These were things like event planning, research methodologies, programming, and others. The reason I wrote it was not so much to complain about the lack of opportunities in library school, but for it to be a signpost for current MLIS students about what they may want to investigate. It was also a recognition of skills that I would like to learn and skills that are useful for librarians today.

After the post, Fiona Bradley wrote a related one saying rather wisely that there is no way that we can learn everything in library school, and that it doesn’t matter because “librarianship is the ultimate extensible profession.” We have the skills for lifelong learning. She says in her post to go out and “make your own learning.” I love this sentiment, and it is getting easier all the time.

Education is noticeably changing. It is becoming less centralized. People with initiative can gain new skills or get a very good (though perhaps not credentialed) education for free or cheap. People who want to improve their skills can brush up or take a class any number of ways online or in person. There are a wide variety of tools available to get those skills in things like event planning or graphic design.

You can learn about entrepreneurship and innovation by watching lectures (like the one above about change and fear) from Stanford’s eCorner. You can learn how to code the fun and easy way with CodeAcademy or learn Python at the Kahn Academy. You can learn how to host a conference or basic graphic design from SkillShare.

With the vast amount of content available, instead of finding a teacher you could create a learning community on a service like Google+ and design lessons that center around shared readings and videos and host discussions via text or video chat.

Anne Murphy Paul at a Time Magazine blog says that projects like these are “ushering in a new golden age of the autodidact: the self-taught man or woman.” I tend to agree with her. Learning is not merely going to be students passively receiving knowledge from teachers. It will be a proactive pursuit for people who are curious and want knowledge that will benefit them either for personal growth or additional job skills. As librarians we are the “ultimate extensible profession.” We can learn graphic design if we want to. But are there also ways for us to help our students and users learn outside of the classroom? Can we somehow connect them with resources like those mentioned above? Can we facilitate peer to peer learning among students and community members who want to share their expertise? How can we create more opportunities for our community members to make their own learning?

Andy Burkhardt


  1. Libraries have historically been the essential tool of autodidacts (e.g. think of the stated goals of the Carnegie libraries), so I surely hope we can connect our patrons with the interactive learning resources now available!

    So far I’ve found that these more interactive tools come up in the context of an individual interaction, like at the reference desk. A while ago I referred a student who was curious about programming to HacketyHack (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hackety_Hack).

    Library social media accounts offer a way to broadly publicize things like CodeAcademy, Kahn Academy, and Open Courseware (etc.). Subject guides are an obvious choice but getting users to visit them is a challenge for many libraries.

    I’m interested to hear suggestions from other commenters, because I think this is a promising trend that I hope keeps growing.

  2. Sarah, I love the idea of sharing things Kahn Academy or Hackety Hack or other interactive learning tools via social media. Could we promote them in other ways to? Your comment made me think of hosting workshops called “Learning Outside the Classroom” (or something more flashily titled). They could show a lot of different learning options or they could go into depth on something like “teach yourself to program.” I wonder if any libraries are doing something like that.

  3. The workshops sound neat – and for something that seems “practical” and job-related like programming, I’d imagine these workshops would be popular for students looking to concrete develop job skills while in school.

    I know at the hospital where I work, the Excel workshops I offer are usually well-attended. The participants usually cite a desire to improve job-related skills and prospects. Maybe it’s not as great as folks coming for the joy of inherent learning, but it seems reasonable to me.

  4. And in this economy it seems like students are looking for job related skills as well. I know our school attracts a lot more professionally focused students, which is kind of a cool thing. I wish I knew what I wanted to do at their age. But students everywhere I’m sure will want to gain skills that will make them employable and set them apart from other grads.

  5. Great post. I’m not sure that I agree 100% with the author of the Time article, however. When public libraries began to proliferate, there was a similar belief that we were entering a golden age when people would be able to educate themselves. Some people did, of course, but we didn’t see change that some people predicted. I suspect the same will happen now with the wide spread availability of info on the web. I will say that I think the potential for more people to educate themselves is greater now, because some of the access barriers have fallen.

  6. So you’re saying that there is a difference between increased opportunity to educate yourself and people actually taking the initiative to do it. I think that is a very good point. Not everyone is going to seize the opportunity to learn a new skill. People might not have time or motivation or whatever. I wish there were ways though to spark curiosity in people and make people want to explore and learn. Is it possible for libraries to spark curiosity?

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