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Library as a Classroom: Messiness

“What’s this say?” One of my co-workers calls out as I’m about to exit the office. I turn around, walk back in and look at where their finger is pointing, at one of my notes: “Patient sleeping.” “Oh, I thought it said ‘Politely Sheeping’.” “My doctor’s handwriting” they call it. At work, I’m usually in a rush so I scribble down my notes. Same goes for class. Usually I’m sitting there with the reading and my notebook open, trying to make my motor skills match my reading skills. Sometimes I’ll use shorthand—a smorgasbord of my own lines with my own meanings—to try to keep up. For example, “c~~~~~” is “collection” in my Collection Development notes. Notes are also generally all over the page, wherever I can fit writing. If I’m interviewing someone or getting quick info, I’ll start somewhere, run out of room, move to the middle, etc. Later, I remember the path of the conversation and am able to make some sense out of it.

Photo of a notebook, laptop, set of keys, iPad.
My messy work/study area

TLDR: I’m messy.

As a result, the articles within the Library as a Classroom module that stood out to me were Block’s “Embracing Messy Learning.” Reading this article had me thinking about the messiness of learning. Reading Bookey’s “8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun” and Mathews’ “Curating Learning Experiences: A Role for Future Librarians?” afterwards helped me think about this in the context of libraries. “Embracing Messy Learning” emphasizes the importance of the “messy” part of a project. This quote stood out to me: “If I don’t allow learning to be messy, I eliminate authentic experiences for students as thinkers and creators. I find it important to regularly remind myself that frustration leads to insights and that learning is not necessarily the equivalent of mastery.” This has been my experience as well. So often I’m obsessed with perfectionism at the early stages of either a creative or educational endeavor that the project will flounder, stop entirely, or depend on that age old fallback—a frantic and sometimes last-minute rush to finish it. I’ve come to realize that the first draft will always be messy, the outline will only make sense to myself, only I can read this handwriting. Embracing that is difficult because growing up I was taught “do it right the first time” which works for cleaning and chores, but not for learning.

Messy notes
Messy Notes

In the context of libraries, embracing messy learning should be practiced. Usually in pop culture we have an artist, a student, a mad scientist at a desk surrounded by a slew of papers, drafts, art—libraries are no different. Libraries should foster areas were learning can be messy, play is encouraged, ideas fleshed out over time. To go back to my messy notes and terrible handwriting, my notes are the beginning stages of my assignments, my writings.

This led me to think about some of the projects in Bookey’s article “8 Awesome Ways Libraries Are Making Learning Fun.” Most of the projects described depend on creativity and engagement, along with some level of messiness. Cleveland Public Library’s ArtLab began because one of the unused storage rooms had a sink in it. Even Skokie Public Library’s program, talking about issues of race, has an element of messiness to it as new thoughts, concepts, ideas that we haven’t thought of can be messy at first but become developed and articulated as we think about them. Providing these spaces for creative and thoughtful reflection in libraries is important.

The last article that links with all this is “Curating Learning Experiences.” Not so much in the actual events of the article (a librarian purchases a premium WordPress theme), but the bigger idea of collecting any material that facilitates and encourages learning, even in a virtual space. He asks “Where does this fit in?” Which to me expresses the messiness of collecting these materials. How do we catalog premium WordPress themes? How would we catalog an app that could be used for an event or program? Where do these fit in? In thinking about all this, librarians should be curating, encouraging, providing the space (both physically and intellectually) for messiness. This isn’t advocating messy stacks, disorganized books, a badly designed webspace, but in terms of individual and group learning, messiness should be embraced in libraries, from specialized research to art to children’s programming. It has a place in the library.

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