Review of From Lending to Learning

There is nothing quite like a good professional reading to inspire and excite you. That’s what I have found with the latest professional resource I’ve been reading. It is From Lending to Learning: The Development and Extension of Public Libraries by Rónán O’Beirne.

O’Beirne is a librarian based in the UK. His examples are British libraries, and there are some differences between public libraries in the UK and those in Canada, there are plenty of similarities to make this a worthwhile read.

The Chapters are:

1. For what are libraries if not for learning?

2. Understanding today’s public libraries

3. Public libraries lost in the learning landscape

4. Developing learning services in public libraries

5. Digital citizenship in a learning community

6. Information and knowledge in the learning society

7. Technology for learning and citizenship

8. Looking to the future

I found the beginning chapters interesting, and found it to really come together in the end chapters. O’Beirne is building the case that he is making that public libraries need to embrace the potential of public libraries to aid in the informal learning of today’s citizens. Discussing various issues from the threats of library closures, the short-term success of the bookstore model applied to libraries, to the shift in collections to an emphasize on purely entertainment material, to the growing number of citizens who are socially excluded, I could see some real truth in what he was saying. I work in a downtown central library in a growing city. We are currently experiencing a boom with large numbers of new immigrants coming to the city. We also have a large First Nations population, which presents unique opportunities and challenges to library staff. Illiteracy and the huge need for English language instruction are some of the challenges we are trying to come up with programs and services to meet the needs our of community. We have a mandate to provide programs with a literacy component. All the programmers are having a tough time figuring out how to provide these programs for adults. This book has given me an idea of how we could perhaps achieve this mandate by looking into the possibility of providing information literacy in our public library.

O’Beirne argues that “the primary task of the public library should be to broker and sustain social inclusion, and that this brokerage should make explicit reference to elements of digital citizenship. There are three ways in which the library should do this. First is through developing more effective services for learning support. Second is to undertake reader development and literacy activities in a much more direct and forceful way. The third way is through information literacy, which is an absolute prerequisite for social inclusion, digital citizenship and learning.” (p. 94)

In addition to building partnerships with organizations who work in the provision of literacy services, the public library can play a role in helping our users, the citizens of the community we live in, to learn to understand they need to find information, how to find that information, and techniques for understanding the information they find – this will help them to make informed decisions and to be part of society. Without this skill, many individuals may not be able to sift through the overwhelming number of information resources, especially as many of them are on the Internet, a resource we all rely on. As O’Beirne says, public libraries that provide space and resources for learning provide the opportunity for democracy and citizenship to flourish. It is a space to learn.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It has refreshed my thinking on public libraries and the types of programs we can provide. One of the best books I’ve read in a while.

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