Creating a Library Culture That Encourages a Love of Learning
I think most people in my generation who grew up with videogames and computer games know that learning can be fun. I distinctly remember MathBlaster helping me learn how to multiply but hardly noticing that because I wanted to defeat the aliens. However, should learning always be fun? Has learning that isn’t fun flown the coop? Is there a place for more tedious methods of learning?
I’ve been pondering this lately as libraries are places of learning. The surrounding culture of the library–whether a town, university, hospital, business, etc…–needs to encourage and embrace learning for the library to get used at all. Unfortunately, that is often not the case. In today’s society, learning is often mocked. It’s where we get the nerd jokes. Even the First Lady has felt it is a large enough problem that she has spoken out about it. So libraries are left with a conundrum: the surrounding culture doesn’t encourage learning. We’re a learning institution. How the heck do we get people in the doors?
This issue led to the movement to make libraries more fun, largely through the materials held and programming. Materials now are much more likely to include popular books such as ones written by Heidi Pratt. Programs include videogaming with games that aren’t educational. For non-public libraries, some academic libraries have started offering a “fun” reading section with similar, non-educational books. The movement is pretty universal across types of libraries. This has led to a backlash though. Some are stating that sure, people are coming in through the doors, but they aren’t learning anything. We’re so focused on making patrons happy that we’ve stopped actually helping them improve their mental capacities at all.
I don’t think it’s an easy issue to address because a love of learning is largely something that is instilled in childhood. Even someone who does love learning doesn’t always find it fun. I don’t particularly enjoy reading the dense management articles for my graduate research paper, but I value what I learn from them. I enjoy the fact that I know my knowledge of these management techniques will make me better at my job.
The problem is less a lack of a love of learning and more that a love for being entertained and instant gratification is drowning out the more subtle enjoyment that comes from expanding your mind. It’s basic psychology. A famous experiment was done with mice where if they pushed a button, it gave them an orgasm. The mice repeatedly pushed the button, obsessively, ignoring the needs to eat and drink until they died. They died from too much pleasure. Life isn’t all about pleasure; we also need to work to survive. If all libraries do is provide the pleasure button and not a food button, then we’re not actually helping our patrons are we?
With this in mind, libraries need to be careful to maintain a balance of pleasure and effort. People attending a Rock Band evening, for instance, could be informed of books and materials the library holds that teach you to play a real guitar or real drums. Conversely, in special libraries, there is often too little focus on fun learning. A recent visiting lecturer to one of my classes who works in an engineering library showed us the engineering “toys” she has in her library. Her library has lego’s and other materials lying around for the engineering students to play with as a study break and inspiration. I immediately thought how awesome it would be if medical libraries had those anatomically correct dolls or skeletons or jello brain molds lying about.
As with most things, the key to learning as fun or learning as effort is maintaining a balance. Librarians need to focus on how to naturally connect the two so that patrons on either side of the divide will make the connection and, hopefully, take a leap.