Wednesday, April 29, 2009

27 Things Lifelong Learning: Adding to the Learning Toolbox

I used to move furniture for a living. At one job I was the "Line Supervisor". I had a bunch of guys who were given the job of assembling furniture for delivery. We all carried a tool box, a leather pouch filled with the tools we would need to accomplish any task expected. We opened boxes, installed all the hardware on appliances, put feet or casters on chairs and recliners, put finials on posts and lamps, etc., and made sure everything was undamaged. Our customers didn't buy damaged goods. We did $5 million a month out the door.

As I've already said, experience with a tool becomes automatic the longer the tool is used. Some tools are not tangible; they are electronic, or interpersonal, or self-developed. Learning is a creative process. It is possible to learn something by rote, repeat it back parrot-fashioned, know it so well you don't have to think when using it. But to use "it", like a language, for instance, properly, "it" has to be thought. I don't know another language. My brother does. He "thinks" in French and Welsh. I can parrot certain phrases. He can communicate, creatively assembling the words and phrases in a comfortable conversational style. When we stop being creative, or stop thinking, we stop learning. The tools for learning cease being tools and become anchors, holding us in place.

In the mid-80's, in-between school and jobs, I did some volunteer work for a local 501-C-3. They needed someone to help them keep track of the donations, from whom, how much each month and each year, and print receipts and donor letters. I learned how to work a relational database to manipulate the data to keep track of all information pouring into the office. This work squeezed my brain cells until they hurt, but I learned something. I learned how databases work. Back then they had just gotten a "state of the art" 286 and still used the IBM System 6 around the corner.

Everything a Librarian does is with a database. The Catalog is a database. So is the books and magazines on the shelf, or the patron records we use. The Internet is a huge database of information with an organizational system built by thousands of different access points. We take the information on the Internet and organize it in personal databases called bookmarks, or tags, or search engines, or ... .

Here is my opinion: if every librarian learned how to create a database they would learn how to better search the myriad of information sources available. Creating the database forces the brain to think differently than normal. Discovering the information to include in the database enlarges their world. Entering the data builds discipline and reinforces memory. When a question comes there comes a new way of finding the appropriate answer. Building, working with, adding to, using databases makes better librarians.

Add this to your toolbox.

1 comment:

  1. I concur - my MLS required a computer course that included building a database (this was pre-internet, but only just). It also required two semesters of cataloging. I've only done a few stints of cataloging for money, but I use what I learned in that class regularly...