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.