Daily Archives: November 12, 2008

Is Lifelong Learning an Academic Library Core Value?

Articulating “core values” has been touted by many conference speakers as a magic bedrocky goodness that will shield us from all sorts of scary nasty change that is getting up and roiling all our stuff.

One problem is you have to figure out what your core values are.

My library is up to the core values step in our strategic planning process. At our first meeting I attempted to participate by honestly and openly voicing my views (duh, rookie mistake!), but I think that just prolonged the meeting and earned me dirty looks from my colleagues. At our second meeting I tried the “just keep your big mouth shut” strategy and hoped that it would all soon be over. Of course that didn’t last long, especially when we got up to the part about considering “lifelong learning” as an academic library core value.

Who could be against lifelong learning you say? I’m not against it at all, but is it really a core academic library value? Is a list of core values a laundry list of all the things you are for and want to promote and encourage? Is it really one of our core values to provide services to our students and other adults throughout their entire lives?

Maybe I’m taking “core” too seriously, but I’d argue that our core values strictly speaking have more to do with meeting the information needs that arise from the current classes at our institution. If some lifelong learning needs get met because of that, fantastic!, but lets not overreach and call it a core value. If you asked a history professor if they wanted to instill a love of history such that their students read history throughout their lives, I’m sure they’d say yes. But would they say it’s a core part of what they do? Lifelong learning is a good, no doubt, but it’s something additional. A cherry on top.

My colleagues disagreed with me and contended that supporting lifelong learning is a core academic library value. They said something about we promote the disposition to engage in lifelong learning. I’m not really so sure what that means either. I suggested that perhaps what lifelong learning has to do with libraries is that libraries support independent learning, and for that libraries are useful. So I got the word “independent” added in front of our core value of lifelong learning.

This is what often happens when you write core values by committee. Eventually everyone adds their own words and you have a fairly long list of overly broad and not very readable “core” values that don’t offer too much guidance when really tough decisions have to be made. Then they get put in a drawer and no one ever looks at them again.

This one, however, might actually have some relevance to our collections and services. Like providing database access to alumni (or pushing hard for open access), creating a leisure reading collection, or offering information literacy classes on consumer, health, or political information.

The world would be a better place if there were more lifelong learners and if they had easy access to high quality information. What role should academic libraries play in bringing about such a world?