Public Libraries as Centres for Formal and Informal Learning
Context and Background: From their earliest beginnings, public libraries have been associated with education. Supporting learning, both formal and informal, remains a core public library activity and the British Government has recently emphasised their educational nature, calling them "street corner universities". The implementation of the People's Network (linking all public libraries to the Internet) has further reinforced their role as providers of material and resources to support study. This paper will explore how public libraries in the United Kingdom facilitate lifelong learning and how they contribute to the UK Government's skills and education agenda.
Public Libraries as Learning Centres: Public libraries have a tradition of providing for broad-based educational needs and they have a number of advantages which can make them ideal sites for individuals to pursue educational development: they are accessible (in all senses); they have a wealth of resources (staff, space, printed and electronic material and ICT facilities); and they are perceived as being non-threatening, neutral and less intimidating than other more formal learning environments like schools or colleges. Working in partnership with other education providers, public libraries can truly be regarded as supporting lifelong learning in its widest sense, from cradle to grave. They support children's literacy skills from the earliest age, provide space and resources for school children's and older students' study needs and make available facilities and guidance for adult learners.
Research Evidence: Using data from two recent research projects, this paper will explore how public libraries are positioning themselves within the skills and education agenda, illustrated by examples of best practice drawn from across the UK. It will also analyse the challenges that public libraries will have to address before they can fully realise their role as centres of learning.
Keywords: Public Libraries, Lifelong Learning, Community-based Learning
Dr Anne Goulding
Reader in Information Services Management, Department of Information Science, Loughborough University