Lifelong Learning, Even for Undergraduates

I just listened to the latest episode of Steve Thomas’s podcast, “Circulating Ideas,” with academic librarians Lauren Pressley and Lynda Kellam. Towards the end of the show, they discussed how they’re teaching their students to evaluate information but questioned how they’re doing with the “finding things” part. “Are they [the students] making the connection that they can go to their public library to do this kind of work?” asked Kellam. “How are we making that jump into – what does this mean for when you get out of here?” Kellam and Pressley pointed out that in school, the students are educated with resources that may not be available to them once they leave. How does information literacy as it’s taught in college library labs translate into living in the real world after they graduate? And, as they put it, how do you make the connection to the public library in an instructional “one-shot”?

A few months ago, I talked to a librarian at one of the City University of New York (CUNY) campuses who had also started thinking about how the concept of “lifelong learning” fits into what he does at work. I don’t know whether he’s been able to incorporate any new techniques into his instruction, but I think it’s a great thing for academic librarians to consider. After all, we spend many more years – decades – navigating life and (ideally) learning as we go along than we do figuring out how to limit proprietary periodical database results to peer-reviewed articles just because the professor told us to. More recently, a colleague and I met with a few librarians (including the marvelous Alycia Sellie) at one of the local CUNY campuses. We talked about creating handouts that would cross-reference community college and public library resources, and we brainstormed programs at the public library that could supplement academic library instruction (such as “Got a Paper?” clinics).

Because, of course, we in the public library are already seeing your students, academic librarians – at least in my system in NYC, we get lots of CUNY and other college students coming to the reference desk, usually in search of books on their various syllabi. Sometimes we have what they’re looking for, but often we have to gently explain that the public library doesn’t have any university-level economics textbooks, much less the 12th edition of the one that their professor has assigned. Many times the patrons are just accustomed to going to their neighborhood library when they need a book or articles or “information,” and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to disabuse them of that notion – even though at this stage in their life they need to realize that we’re more likely than not going to refer them back to their school.

In California, LILi (Lifelong Information Literacy)  is “a group of librarians from various types of California libraries, investigating information literacy definitions, standards and instruction in California, in order to craft effective models of lifelong, sequential information literacy instruction.” Maybe one day we’ll have something similar in New York City (and in your town or city as well) that formally brings together school, public, and academic librarians. But regardless of whether it’s institutionalized – how can academic and public librarians work together now to prepare students to handle all of the information needs they’ll encounter throughout their lives?