The Value of Libraries

I’m putting together the slides for my presentation next week, and I came across the following passage by Ken Bain. I’m going to attempt to distill the following into a slide or two, but I thought the whole sentiment was worth sharing.

Ken’s answer is from an interview he did with Alison Head (of Project Information Literacy). You can find the whole interview here:

[[NEXT WEEK’S PRESENTATION: I’ll be giving a presentation on the importance of research at the following times in Reeves Theater. The presentation will be the same, only the times will be different. Monday 9/30: 2:00-3:00pm; Tuesday 10/1: 10:00-11:00am & 2:00-3:00pm; Wednesday 10/2: 2:00-3:00pm]]

Ken: “Reading is the way to explore other people’s ideas, and through that exploration to make them your own. I think the people I explored understood that through reading they could develop and expand their own minds and become more productive and creative people.

“Libraries play a huge role in this process. I think you are right: the lifelong learners I profiled in the new book explored constantly and saw connections between everything they encountered. They did more than just pursue some private taste. They became interested in everything. It’s like the profile of Sherri Kafka and what her father told her. The most productive people, the most satisfied people, are the best-integrated people who see connections between every subject.

“I think libraries and librarians can help with that process. In the new book, Liz Lerman just loved to explore the open shelves of a library. Other people—Tom Springer and Dudley Herschbach, for example, benefitted from the suggestions that librarians made. None of these people could have grown without books and the other resources that libraries offer.

“Libraries can also help raise questions. They can help learners see the connection between some problem and some new area of investigation. If we just understand the simple notion that people are most likely to take a deep approach when they are trying to answer questions or solve problems that they regard as important, intriguing, or beautiful, then we can imagine lots of ways in which libraries can play an essential role.

“The people I profiled did have a deep curiosity, but they also had a purpose for their lives. Often that purpose involved serving other people or some larger cause. As I argue in the book, many of them had a strong sense of justice and sought to create a better world. They often wrestled with their own purpose in life, and the values that they held, but those struggles helped define who they were as individuals.

“The problem that often arises is that we strip people of any sense of purpose. We give them assignments to do rather than stimulate their curiosity with fascinating questions that provoke and challenge. We hold them responsible to a rigid code of conduct rather than helping them to grow. We say to them, I’ve got a mold, and I’m going to fit you into that mold, and if you don’t fit, I’ll trim something off around the edges. We should be saying: what are your questions, what is your background, have you considered this possibility, have you explored this avenue?

“In reality, libraries and librarians often do a better job of fostering deep approaches to learning than does the typical classroom. For many of my subjects, libraries became places where they could explore, get help when they needed it, and grow from the experience. Sometimes through a strange and unexpected process. In the book, Duncan Campbell looked for a thin book to complete a reading assignment and found the world of great literature through John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.”

Ken Bain is the author of What the best college teachers do, and What the Best College Students Do (which is available through the library’s online catalog as an e-book.)


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