Lifelong Learning Never Ends

By Ambrose Thompson
October 18, 2010
Tompkins Square Library

We are born with scarcely any of the skills or abilities we need to survive in the world and must amass skills to succeed. Without care and guidance from family, we would not survive the first day of life. While we all walk down different paths in life, the one common feature to all paths is that the path is never perfectly straight and narrow or clear of debris as we might like. There are pitfalls as the skills or abilities we possess don’t match the pavement we find ourselves on. Unexpected twists or bends change our world view as society evolves in unprecedented manners we are not ready for. Blocks form that we must find a way around or over by increasing our problem solving abilities or quickly altering our intentions.

Because lifelong learning is about reacting to an evolving world, lifelong learning is not something we do after retirement or on weekends to pass the time. Rather, lifelong learning is about going from day to day and trying to cope and prosper. And sometimes, lifelong learning is about coming to the hard realization we are not perfect and innately capable in all areas we find ourselves interacting in.

Take the Born Digital generation, people born with computers as a given and who grew up interacting with computers without fear or trepidation. There is the assumption that kids who grew up using computers are by their nature computer literate and savvy. But then a young adult will ask how to cut and paste on a word processor document, try doing research by typing a query into the URL box, or think Wikipedia and Google are primary sources.

Among the younger set, children will know how to get to the coolest game website but not know how to find a book in the library or even what it means to reserve materials on the online catalog. Computer use is just an example since youth are often touted as being natural computer users. It could be any field of knowledge and any ability base we wish to talk about.

First, getting by and actually excelling are two different things. I can speak a few words of Spanish and get by in an emergency but that is far different from fluency or literacy. Second, lifelong learning is not a sign of poor education or limited mental skills; actually it is quite the opposite. Lifelong learning recognizes that life is chaotic and dynamic. We are all throughout the day akin to babies taking their first step, and that is because we are alive and growing, finding ourselves in new and expanding communities with new needs and expectations.

The key to lifelong learning success is to see a dualistic aspect to it. There is the realization that we cannot possibly be born or have learned all we need in formal education settings. Also, there is always a nervous factor in learning new material as our brains rewire and find different ways of processing the world around us. To inspire lifelong learning it is necessary to address both facets of the process.

As a public library is open to all and serves all ages in their recreational and educational pursuits, we are well aligned to support lifelong learning. By creating open and inviting spaces with staff that are easy to approach, we can leverage our already existing placement in the community to more conscientiously design lifelong learning initiatives by meeting our patrons where they are in their lives and helping solve information gaps in whatever manner is best for them.

To read more on lifelong learning and learning options, check out these books at your local branch: