Feb 072015

So, I received this email a few days ago about the value of higher education. It kind of looked like spam… well, it probably was. However, I thought it was interesting, none the less. The email linked back to a website called Webucator. First time I’d ever heard of it, and I haven’t really browsed it other than to read the related post. However, the email posed two questions:

  • Could you have gotten as much out of four years in the public library as you got out of college?
  • What would you do with a year in the public library now?

Ejumacate me!

I’m a huge fan of education… especially the good education (wink)(wink). I have a bachelor degree and a master degree. I started working toward a PhD but dropped out about a year or so before completing the program, when I decided psychology wasn’t truly a career I wanted to dedicate myself to. Now, I’m knocking out some prerequisites so I can earn a MBA. I’ve spent more of my adult life enrolled in school than not. For me, learning is very rewarding. Even when I’m not in school, I spend time researching and learning new things.

Public Library VS College

In my mind, the first questions is rather loaded. It makes the assumption that individuals will go to the public library for education if they opt out of college. I personally don’t go to the public library for education. I go for entertainment. Before eBooks were popular, I’d check out fiction. Those occasional instances I did check out non-fiction, it again for entertainment.

Entertaining Subject Matter

Maybe I wanted to learn how to craft something specific. Or perhaps I was interested in Victorian dresses in order to research a book. I was fascinated with bugs at one time and might have gathered books for the science section. However, my interest in non-fiction was never focused. The books I checked out wouldn’t have provided me the knowledge I needed to get my foot in any particular door, because my interests were so varied. Also, reading books typically is a lone project. I sit down and read without necessarily discussing it with other students or a professor to act as a mentor. There’s no one to challenge me when I read a book. It’s purely for entertainment.

Who’s Responsible?

Secondly, there’s no accountability for the books read in a public library. Finishing a degree or even taking specific classes gives the assurance that the student has learned key pieces of knowledge. I don’t have to learn anything when I go to the public library. I can just sit back, ready, and enjoy. What I retain, I retain. What I learn, I learn. What ever doesn’t happen, well… who cares? There’s more entertainment in the next book, which might be completely unrelated to the book I just read.

Now I’m Tracking

A big bonus for formal education is that it keeps me on track. I may not particularly enjoy the subject matter or the book knowledge required for a course or degree. However, knowing I have deadlines that are externally enforced keeps me on top of things. For me, that’s important, because it keeps me going; it keeps me focused on the end results… finishing the course or obtaining the degree. Others might work differently, but that’s me.

So, if I spent 4 years straight in a public library, I highly doubt I would have obtained the same knowledge as going to college. Now it’s certainly possible to obtain a college education in a public library. However, how many individuals are willing to do that? How many individuals will take the initiative to do so? I might have pose different question: Was the knowledge I obtained through college beneficial, applicable, and useful in the working world? Now that I’m a working girl, how much book knowledge do I still use?

A Year in the Public Library

Hmmm…. Just the idea of spending a year in a public library fills me with anxiety… almost a sense of claustrophobia. I hate to say it, but public libraries are outdated. They’re filled with books, most people would rather have in eBook format. They have sections of VHS and cassette tapes, which should be decommissioned to a museum. Why would I go to a library? For the quiet? Are the shush rules still enforced?

Earlier this week, I went to the state capitol. The library happened to be visiting and had an event to check out mystery books. Now when I say mystery books, I’m not talking about the genre. I’m talking about books wrapped in paper bags, so you can’t see what’s in them. On the outside was a clue to what kind of book it held. I picked up two. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten into reading, and I’d hoped those books would jumpstart my desire. However, even as I checked out these mystery books (which I still haven’t read), I couldn’t help think what a pain it’d be to flip through the pages or lay down in bed with a book vs reading a digital copy. I still haven’t opened the books to see what they are.

So… what would I do in a public library? Probably every thing I’d rather be doing at home… or perhaps I’d be doing less than what I’d be doing at home since the library has limitations I don’t have at home… like walking around in my underwear. :)

In Summary

There’s a place for formal education. That’s not to say, formal education couldn’t use some improvements. A large percentage of required courses don’t prepare individuals for real work. However, formal education does give an individual a little foundation. That way students can at least carry on an sensible conversation. Above all, I hope a student would learn some basic writing, math, or whatever skills. From there, work experience is there to help push an individual into expert-hood.

I think an even better approach would be to match formal education with work experience, similarly to what’s expected of doctors, nurses, or other programs which required internships/residencies. Make internships mandatory for all degrees rather than electives.

But let’s face it, public libraries are not the happening place they used to be. Downloading an eBook is far more convenient than visiting a library. Furthermore, digital books tend to be more convenient to read than physical books.

So, my not so humble opinion says public libraries lose this round.

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