August 20 2017 – The Public Library = The People’s University

Crawley Library

Being inspired

Several weeks ago I was asked to speak at South Hills School of Business and Technology new student orientation. “Oh gee,” I sort of whined to the person making the request.

“Are you sure you want me to do this again?”

“Oh yes,” enthused the caller. “You are just great and so inspirational.”

Gulp. No pressure in that statement. So I agreed to speak and noted the date on my calendar.

Before I knew it I started to stress about the speech. I don’t usually have this kind of reaction about public speaking. As a matter of fact, I generally seek out opportunities to share my passion for libraries, reading and life-long learning. Maybe it’s because I’m a wee bit tired from the busy summer. Perhaps it’s because I’m a little worried about our 2018 budget and 2017 fundraising efforts. Then, there is THE GNAT which is still driving me to distraction.

Chastising myself for dithering around about this, I pulled out the file folder labeled “Speeches” and opened the electronic file by the same name. Repeating over and over again, “You can do this,” I put together some notes/ideas/quotes and decided I was ready. I’d talk about how exciting it is to learn new things. That would lead into “the smartest card in your wallet” library infomercial. As a resounding finish I’d quote my favorite philosopher, Dr. Seuss. OK. All set.

On the day of the orientation I was driving to work envying the students who would begin a new adventure that day. I was also thinking about my first days of kindergarten, first grade, high school, college. I could be the eternal student and am always a little nostalgic about school.

I watched as the students filed into the classroom. Some were young and had freshly minted high school diplomas. Others were a few years older. Several were more mature and returning to formal education after years in the workforce. I stood in front of this group, and looked at the first note which read “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”(Dr. Seuss)

I opened my mouth and said, “You must learn to love the question.” Huh? Where did that come from? Why did I say that? Before I could figure out exactly what was happening I was describing a first day of school I’d had 17 years ago. Long story short, a professor said this to a new group of PhD students and frankly I thought it was not the brightest statement I’d ever heard. After enduring a semester with this guy I realized that what his statement really meant was, “You must learn to love to learn.”

Public libraries are the People’s University. Every time you visit the Library it is a first day of school. Your student ID is your library card. Your curriculum is custom designed and self-directed with only one required course. You must have completed and mastered the Learn to Read class. There is no paper writing or lab sessions. We even offer distance learning via our electronic resources, PowerLibrary and eBooks. Our professorial staff offers one-on-one instruction to guide your learning.

You are a life-long learner when you enroll at the People’s University. We are here when you realize you’ve learned to love to learn.

The latest brain research clearly demonstrates that learning begins at a very early age and builds skill upon skill. We create scaffolds as new skills become interconnected with things we already know. This knowledge scaffold is deep and wide as we continue to build throughout our lives. Even as we age and our brains become less elastic we continue to retain what we learned. While disease can certainly impact the strength of the scaffold, a bit will always remain even if it seems invisible.

Just as K-12 pupils prepare to return to school and college students pack their belongings for campus, the students at South Hills have started the next phase of their formal education, hopefully remembering and being inspired.

No matter what happens in your life, education can never, ever be taken away from you. Dr. Seuss reminds us that “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

To every student reading this, have a great school year!


Molly S. Kinney is the Director at the Mifflin County Library

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