#hyperlib: the library (and everywhere else!) as a classroom.

When I was small, I thought I wanted to be a teacher. I loved learning, and I just knew that someday I was going to help other people love learning, too.

Now, I realize that I would have made a terrible teacher — I’m a tour guide currently, and I am very good at what I do, but there is a crucial distinction between teaching students and teaching the public (even when the public is students on field trips): the general public is, for the most part, learning because they want to be. No truant officer is going to arrest an adult for not visiting a cultural site, vacationing children are not at risk of getting grounded for low grades. I love the fact that I am teaching people who are choosing to spend their time with me.

There are drawbacks, of course. I rarely spend more than an hour with any individual and almost never get to develop any long-term relationships, and I have to teach people the same thing over and over and over again (albeit with slight variations).

Librarianship, to me, represents the best of both worlds: I get to interact with a variety of people who, for the most part, are at the library voluntarily, and given enough time in a community I will hopefully be able to develop long-term relationships with at least some of the patrons.

And so, I love the idea of the library as a classroom — I especially love the use of the word “classroom,” since so many adults are laboring under the misapprehension that their educations ended on their graduation days. Since I personally am a traditional learner of the nose-always-in-a-book variety, I was originally looking forward to performing reader’s advisory and reference more than any other aspect of my future career. But now? I am amazed with the possibilities.

Most of all, I think it’s wonderful that libraries are helping people learn what they want to learn even if what they want to learn is way outside of the library’s traditional purview. There’s an organization here in Washington called Knowledge Commons (KCDC) that partners with the DC Library fairly often, and they describe themselves as “a free school for thinkers, doers, and tinkerers – taught anywhere, by anyone, for everyone.” I’ve attended classes on DC History, on math theory, and on Go-go music — and I only discovered them last year! I was not surprised to learn that many of its organizers are librarians.

There is a definite desire out in the zeitgeist right now to keep learning, keep consuming, and keep improving. Libraries should be right in the middle of it — and it’s gratifying to see how solidly they already are.

Read 6 comments

  1. Hi Monica,
    You nailed it! I used to think I wanted to be a teacher, too–and you said it perfectly: “I love the fact that I am teaching people who are choosing to spend their time with me”. They’re learning because they want to and not because I’m making them–this is a big reason I didn’t go into traditional teaching as well–and why I feel librarianship is so rewarding–there’s no better feeling than getting a genuine ‘thank you’ from a patron!

    Similar to your tour groups, I have to teach the same Basic Computer Skills I class over and over, and that’s sometimes very taxing…but focusing on each person as an individual helps with that–plus seeing that lightbulb go off when they finally get it is awesome!

  2. “Most of all, I think it’s wonderful that libraries are helping people learn what they want to learn even if what they want to learn is way outside of the library’s traditional purview.”

    This is a great example of listening to the community. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  3. Hi Monica, thanks for your post. I know exactly what you mean about the positive types of interactions that are possible when the people you interact with are all there by choice. This is something I love about the public library–by and large patrons are glad to be there!

  4. Hi @monica! I had a very similar experience but I took it one step further and I actually have a BS and MS in childhood education. When I graduated the job market was terrible and I went to work in library as a technology trainer. I LOVED IT and still do! Teaching people who want to be taught and providing critical technology skills is my calling. Helping adults is so rewarding and I am glad that my life didn’t work out as I planned it!! It sounds like you are very fulfilled by your job and I understand it completely 🙂

  5. @monica, thanks for sharing about Knowledge Commons DC — when I hear about organizations like them, my brain exclaims, “Now THAT is where librarians and LIS organizations are going!” It is an especially nice example to share with skeptical folks who raise an eyebrow and say things like, “What could libraries do these days anymore?” To which I would say, “Well, what would you like them to do for and with you?” Easier, simpler, or innovative ways of sharing, exploring, and doing!

Leave a Reply