I used to be a Constructivist educator. Now I’m just a Constructivist!
When I came into education I was way far to the left of the spectrum, always experimenting to get the desired effect, which, in my eyes, was real democratic education. I was at my most effective, exciting, and innovative when the students were leading their own learning, and creating the environment for investigation and discovery along with me. I learned from what they were learning, which all emanated from the tiny seeds I had planted. Learning has to be real and authentic, with useful and productive outcomes as the result of any learning experience. Even if it is a small thing, we of course always learn when we are curious, but the reason we sought out that that small piece of information was so we could apply it to something we were initially interested in.
There is no reason why I shouldn’t take this similar approach to my library career, however, I am now more focused on the learning of adults, be it a staff or group of colleagues, or young adult or adult clients who come into the library space. It’s refreshing to see that in making this mid-life (honestly, truly) career switch, that my skills and experience from the last twenty years will not be for naught. There are an infinite number of ways that we can expand on the learning and growth of groups and individuals who come into the library space. As Kenney states:
So what do people want from us? They want help doing things, rather than finding things. You could argue that users have always wanted this, and you’d be right. But the extent of this shift in recent years is unprecedented in the history of library services.
A lot of what people want help with involves technology. Sometimes it is assistance with the technology we offer at the library—downloading e-books for example. But often it’s more involved: creating and improving resumes, conducting job searches, uploading files, seeking insurance information. E-government has landed squarely in the library’s lap, and we’re finding that citizens regularly need help utilizing government sites.
From this starting point of learning how to use the technology, we can move our client-learners to expand their use of technology into creation using technology, if they so desire. The by-product of our work in these learning situations is to create, “surprise and delight” and to help our patrons discover concretely, or intangibly what it is they are wanting to learn.
Learning can happen anywhere, and it does. It is only a matter of time before the walls of our ancient boxes dissolve, and our spaces for learning more diffuse and diverse. Libraries, as Doctorow writes, are “community hubs, places where the curious, the scholarly, and the intellectually excitable [can] gather in the company of one another, surrounded by untold information-wealth, presided over by skilled information professionals who [can] lend technical assistance where needed.” There is no need for people to go to a separate building to learn something, or to “go” anywhere, for that matter. Learning automatically happens through existing or reading, or through our own investigations – we always learn something, no matter how small – with supportive, structured and unstructured learning, librarians can increase people’s knowledge exponentially.
Likewise, progress and growth will come from companies and organizations realizing that working from anywhere and learning in any place are part of a formula for greater innovation and growth. Organizations that do not allow for remote work are missing out on valuable candidates. Simple as that. If you want the best, you have to be willing to trust, and open your mind to thinking beyond the local talent pool, or attracting only those people who are willing to move away from families or communities to contribute to your project. For work that does not require face-to-face interaction with clients in a specific space, remote workers combined with flexible and creative thinking are going to yield a much larger pool of potential employable superstars. I can’t wait until folks figure this out.
There is also the issue of disparate organizations working to achieve the same or similar goals. Collaborating creatively, and combining efforts to solve a problem (or non-problem) is an effective way to achieve change. There were several times working in education where I saw this being successfully implemented. The first reminded me a lot of the YOUmedia centers. The school programs I managed were a group of small alternative schools under one organization. The director of this organization collaborated with local Boys and Girls Clubs, and through this work decided to put our classrooms inside their clubs. The centers were closed during the day because their usual clients were in school, which left all of the available resources, (computer labs, gym, qualified staff that liked kids, recording studio (!), and a lot of usable space) available for our students. As 18-year-old Dimress Dunnigan, an intern and mentor at YOUmedia stated, “It’s like a space for us, the creative people, to come here and be creative together.” In this instance, it’s the creativity of the two staffs that engaged the creativity of the students, to everyone’s benefit. I saw amazing growth in students come from this partnership between educators and the B&G club staff and leadership.
I also worked for a district that had school program available for pregnant and parenting students, which was housed in the same building as a public childcare center. Girls (and boys if they wanted, but it happened to be all girls) could elect to attend school with other pregnant and parenting students before giving birth, go on independent study during the birthing and recovery time, and then return to school with their babies who would be in nursery across the hall from their classrooms. Moms could breastfeed, and be with their kids during the school day, which allowed them to continue their education, through to graduation and into college. The school also provided an available feeder program into a local state college. Through creative, combined efforts, social progress is made.
What do these examples have in common? Creativity. Libraries are not only the center of knowledge, they can also be places for incubation of ideas and innovation. With partnerships with other organizations, and with the knowledge and passions of the existing library staff, learning can begin with individuals in the library learning themselves, who in turn continue to learn as they teach others – cross-pollination of ideas, and creative thinking. Looking beyond what has always been into what can be, even if it seems outrageous is the starting point for progress. As our professor has stated, “We discovered that it was a personal change for participants more than a sweeping organizational change. Words such as ‘confidence,’ ‘comfort,’ and ‘ongoing exploration’” are what we can foster not only in our clients but in each other through deliberate attention on learning and knowledge growth in library systems. What societal problems will our librarians, and therefore, our libraries help to solve?
Doctorow, Cory (25 Feb. 2013.). Libraries and Makerspaces: a match made in heaven. Boing Boing. Retrieved from https://boingboing.net/2013/02/25/libraries-and-makerspaces-a-m.html
Kenney, Brian (n.d.). Where Reference Fits in the Modern Library. PublishersWeekly.com. Retrieved from https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/68019-for-future-reference.html
Mathews, Brian (5 Sept. 2013.). Curating Learning Experiences: A Future Role For Librarians? – The Ubiquitous Librarian – The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://www.chronicle.com/blognetwork/theubiquitouslibrarian/2013/09/05/curating-learning-experiences-a-future-role-for-librarians/
Stephens, Michael (29 Nov. 2012.). Learning Everywhere: A Roadmap (Article from ACCESS, Australian School Library Association, 2012). Tame The Web. Retrieved from http://tametheweb.com/2012/11/29/learning-everywhere-a-roadmap-article-from-access-australian-school-library-association-2012/
Stephens, Michael (20 May 2014.). Library as Classroom | Office Hours. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2014/05/opinion/michael-stephens/library-as-classroom-office-hours/