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“Learning Everywhere” and the Changing Role of the Library in Maker Culture

Something that really stood out to me as a core concept in the “Learning Everywhere” module was the quote from Thomas & Brown that Professor Stephens highlights in his lecture; “The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life.” I think it is incredibly important that we recognize the fact that our world is changing and the effect that will have on what we learn. It would be easy to construe quote as evidence that education is devalued in our time. Why learn skills and information that are going to be different in ten years or less? This is the mindset that wants to see libraries as things of the past, book repositories that are dying or already dead. However, in typical fashion, Michael Stephens points to the importance of the message in this quote as identifying the value of a learning mindset. This is what should be emphasized in schools and what should be taken to heart by librarians. If our skills have a shorter lifespan, we must focus on learning how to learn and how to adapt. Identifying these as our core skills enables to embrace and seek change rather than resist it.

“Learning everywhere” invokes many ideas that we have discussed in this class such as participatory culture and an emphasis on community and technology. The rising prevalence of maker spaces speaks to shifting perceptions of the library as a space and the role of librarians. As Lauren Britton, Jennifer Koerber, and Sue Considine discuss in their three-part Digital Shift article on maker spaces, there is move towards a mindset of creation and exploration rather than simply consumption. This shift sees users taking a more active role in the information environment. Users not only produce information for themselves and others to fill a need, but also gain an appreciation and some insight into the importance of creation. Rafael Alvarado, a professor of mine at the University of Virginia, used to make a point that highlights this same shift in perspective. He would use Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” as a way of explaining the effect of removing the veil of digital technology by learning to code. The 2015 “Hour of Code” movement also speaks to the importance of recognizing the fundamentals of digital technology and hopefully eliminating some of the rejection or even fear that can be associated with things one does not understand. Experiencing the creation of computer code, music, film, or 3D printed objects offers insight that enables lifelong learning.

Cory Doctorow points out the importance of the library in this process in his article “Libraries, Hackspaces, and E-waste: How Libraries Can Be the Hub of a Young Maker Revolution.” Doctorow argues that libraries and internet access “should be the gateway drug for building a PC of your own.” He wants computer users to become familiar with how computers and operating systems work. While this goes beyond where many maker spaces currently are, with a current emphasis on 3D printing or participatory programs like the Idea Box, his assertion that one can learn more about the inner workings of computers by starting with junk material is not farfetched. In time, more libraries can develop programs that incorporate coding and collaborative making as in the DOKK1 library in Aarhus, Denmark.

“Learning everywhere” is closely tied with the idea of lifelong learning. Programs that encourage community participation and co-creation can help maintain the role of libraries as important information centers, but they should also be aimed at enabling users to take what they learn with them outside the walls of the library in order to meet the ever-changing world of technology.