Just keep swimming




Have you ever heard that sharks have to keep swimming or they’ll die? Turns out, it’s not necessarily true. It depends on the species of shark. Some are equipped, anatomically, to move water through their gills when holding still or even buried in sand. Pretty cool, huh?

Well, I just learned that, so I’m sharing it with you to illustrate a point on learning. There are a lot of analogies out there about learning as you get older. Know the phrase “Can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? Also not so true. And not applicable to people, either.

Libraries are one place people go to learn new tricks. The concept of life-long learning got big a few years back. I imagine the aging population had something to do with that, along with an economy that forced people to develop different competencies to find work. Toss in constantly shifting technology and you’ve got a populace facing the swim-or-die situation.

A recent Pew Research Center report looked at how people approach life-long learning in the United States. They separated learners into two categories, personal and professional. Personal learners pursued learning opportunities on subjects of personal interest. Professional learners were those people who sought learning to increase their skills for their job or career advancement.

Personal learners were the ones who cited libraries as one place to meet their learning objectives through magazines, classes, groups or online classes. The events they attended helped them to feel “more capable and well-rounded,” “more connected to their local community,” and gave them “new perspectives about their lives,” as well as helping them make new friends.

That’s a pretty important impact that libraries can have. And yet the study suggests ways libraries can improve their role as promoters of life-long learning. People in lower-income brackets are less likely to take advantage of learning opportunities, as are those with less access to technology. These people are more likely to depend on a physical place, such as the library, for their learning rather than turning to electronic resources. People in the study were also unaware of  the many online resources open to them for learning.

So, what does that mean for libraries?

Well, I know my library has some work to do. We’re looking at the end of our construction which will provide us with two spaces custom-made for hosting groups or classes and it’s my challenge to find programming. I’m always looking for ideas to bring in more people to the library. We also need to promote our resources better, along with online resources that are free for people to use. To belabor the earlier analogy, if our patrons have to keep swimming, we need to give them a bigger pond in which to move around.

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