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?

16 thoughts on “Is Lifelong Learning an Academic Library Core Value?”

  1. You raise a good question. What are the core values of an academic library? My immediate thought is that there may not be a common set. If you think back to what David Lankes said about core values (see the post you referenced) then it means working with your colleagues to figure out what business you are in. The education business? The scholarship generation business? The knowledge business? The lifelong learning business? If your colleagues want to take the core values seriously then they could say “we are in the business of creating lifelong learners” and then truly commit to a set of practices that builds on that core value. Of course, how would you assess your ability to meet the outcomes. You’d need to be in touch with your alumni on a somewhat regular basis to find out if they were pursuing continuing education, active in professional associations or whatever else constitutes being a lifelong learner – and is part of the challenge for you defining what it means for a library to create lifelong learners?

    It sure can be hard to say exactly what that means. Sitting through IL instruction sessions may help a student succeed academically and we can assess that, but does that mean you’ve instilled the value of lifelong learning – that would be hard to prove. I think there are some common core values we can establish as a profession. A commitment to supporting student academic success and faculty productivity would seem like a common core value to me. A commitment to integrating the library into learning spaces and supporting the education mission of the institution – that seems like a common core value – although there are many different ways to achieve it. I tend to agree with you though. Lifelong learning is a nice benefit if it develops, but I don’t necessarily see that as a core value – primarily because we have other “what is our business” concerns that take higher priority – and then there is the matter of how do you actually create lifelong learners through library services. What are some others?

  2. “Is it really one of our core values to provide services to our students and other adults throughout their entire lives?” No – as I commented on Steven’s last post. I think trying to be our students only library for life is a terrible idea – lifelong dependence rather than lifelong learning.

    But it is our job to prepare them for life after college, when we hope they will be inquiring adults who can find and use information and have the intellectual curiosity and drive to do so independently (which is what the disposition word is about). I consider that our (my library’s) most basic and important function.

    We don’t continue to mark up student’s writing for them or give them access to writing tutors after they graduate, but we don’t assume that when we work on making them better writers, it’s only relevant while they’re in college.

    What’s the point of working toward information literacy if it’s not for life?

  3. I think libraries can make searching more of a fun task rather than a dreary but necessary step in the research process. Searching for information — and not just using google — can be a puzzle; a treasure hunt. An enormous amount of satisfaction can be found in learning to be a thoughtful, effective, and comprehensive searcher.

  4. According to the ACRL documents, life-long learning is an outcome of an Information Literacy program.

  5. By all means, alumni should use their local libraries. I live in a town, alas, where the public library still doesn’t offer access to online databases (it’s on my list of things to lobby for). I’m sure there are other small towns where this is so. In my school’s case, offering access to one database hopefully won’t keep alums from using their well-stocked public libraries but it may provide a valuable resource to those who are not so fortunate. Sure, providing alumni resources for lifelong learning isn’t our primary concern, but it’s not a bad secondary one. Personally, I like to make time for lesser concerns once in a while. For my library, adding an alumni resource allowed us to partner in a new way with the alumni office and obtain special funding that we likely wouldn’t have received otherwise.

    I hate to sully the discussion by mentioning unseemly things like money and fund-raising, but I think one reason our alumni office was interested in providing a database to our alumni is that institutions such as mine want alumni to donate and one way to encourage that is to provide alumni with ongoing connections to the school through publications, email accounts, directories, and library databases. Call it a convergence of interests. Is that wrong?

  6. I think that fostering lifelong learning might be more of a college / university core value than strictly a library one. In looking back at my own college experience from a distance of 20-ish years, I don’t think I would focus on the library as the place where I developed my interest in lifelong learning. It helped, but the classes and the campus culture were also key.

  7. Reading this discussion made me realize that I have been using “lifelong learning” as a synonym for “critical thinking” and “finding information”. I think all three are part of a liberal arts education, and I think that what I do in the library furthers all three of them. So perhaps a clearer statement of this core value would be “educating library users for lifelong learning”, which implies that they go on to do it without us.

    We often get e-mails from recent grads asking if they can have access to LexisNexis, JSTOR, and others of their favorite databases and services (RefWorks is another popular one). Our answer, of course, is “no”, due to contractual agreements. I haven’t felt particularly bad about that, figuring that database access is one of the things their tuition pays for (and feeling a bit of regret that they may not realize this until after they graduate!).

  8. Steven, I agree that “a commitment to supporting student academic success and faculty productivity” seems to be a basic core value shared by academic libraries, but you’d have to add something like “with high quality information sources” to distinguish the library from other services on campus. “Integrating the library into learning spaces” sort of assumes that that the library isn’t already the primary or one of the primary learning spaces on campus.

    Maryilyn thank you for confirming my suspicion that “lifelong learning” is often used as a stand-in word for things like “liberal arts education, critical thinking, finding information.” That’s part of what I was trying to say.

    Aren’t people who go to college most likely to have lifelong intellectual curiosity anyway? Our job is to nurture it and let them pursue their curiosity while they’re here, but it’s misplaced self-importance to think that we are the primary cause of it.

    As for the databases, we can only do so much, but as a profession we want to push as much as we can to provide more access, which seems to be in keeping with the ethos of librarianship ever since we took the chains off the books.

  9. When your University’s mission statement includes the phrase “life-long learning” (, you’d better believe that the libraries’ core values will reflect that mission! You raise good questions, and I would just add this comment: there are different kinds of academic libraries. Our core values of necessity reflect those of our parent institution.

  10. It’s in our institution’s mission statement, too, and is one of the most relevant places where the library can play a role, it seems to me.

    And I agree with Marc that we should push for access – the current walled gardens we put up with are frustrating because once our students graduate, they can’t come back in. But then, this is what the OA movement is all about, taking down the walls.

    And maybe unwalled gardens may be the future for publications other than scholarly. There’s an interesting commentary by Georgia Harper at Collectanea ( on the Google settlement in which she says “open will win over closed in general, for many, maybe most types of books, in a marketplace where free overwhelms paid by orders of magnitude. So, no surprise, I’m betting more open will return more revenue.” It’s slowly happening to newspapers and magazines. I sure hope this is the future.

  11. “According to the ACRL documents, life-long learning is an outcome of an Information Literacy program.” How would you evaluate that? Should we tell students and faculty that we are trying to develop life-long learners? I think our audience would see our efforts of trying to instill “life-long learning” as flaky. I do not agree with everything that ACRL says an academic library should be doing. Each library will determine its priorities and mission and can follow the guidance of ACRL to a certain point. I do want our audience to see the value of libraries but I feel the priority is contributing to student achievement and to faculty research.

  12. “Developing lifelong learners is central to the mission of higher education institutions. By ensuring that individuals have the intellectual abilities of reasoning and critical thinking, and by helping them construct a framework for learning how to learn, colleges and universities provide the foundation for continued growth throughout their careers, as well as in their roles as informed citizens and members of communities. Information literacy is a key component of, and contributor to, lifelong learning. Information literacy competency extends learning beyond formal classroom settings and provides practice with self-directed investigations as individuals move into internships, first professional positions, and increasing responsibilities in all arenas of life. Because information literacy augments students’ competency with evaluating, managing, and using information, it is now considered by several regional and discipline-based accreditation associations as a key outcome for college students.” (Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education)

    This last sentence suggests how this is evaluated. It’s clear that Information Literacy by itself does not produce life-long learners, but rather is a key component in the institution’s goal.

    Just because you don’t agree with something that ACRL suggests doesn’t mean it lacks clarity.

  13. I think lifelong learning should remain a core value for academic libraries. In terms of information literacy instruction, the topic becomes more relevant to the students when we emphasize the lifelong value of learning information literacy skills. Librarians can focus on how information literacy skills are relevant in the academic setting (research and report writing) AND also in their daily life and future careers. When we showcase the benefits of the information literacy skills as applied in real-life settings, I think that students are more apt to pay attention.

  14. There is some irony in encouraging lifelong learning but not offering access to all of the library’s collectios. I can’t see most vendors being very willing to offer this kind of access without a considerable price increase, which most libraries would be unable or unwilling to pay. Which makes you wonder if it is really core value.

  15. I think we’ve let vendors and publishers call the tune far too much. We once built collections; now we rent access for a limited time for a restricted population. And more and more of our budgets goes toward this rental scheme.

    What drives me bonkers is the fact that libraries pay vendors for repackaged public resources, such as PubMed and ERIC, and don’t teach students that these resources are available after college.

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