Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Not the Fun Centre

Previously I'd considered the rebranding of school and university libraries as 'learning centres' to be no more than a bit of harmless nonsense, but then I heard a piece on the Today Programme this morning with Charlie Higson and Frank Cottrell-Boyce about encouraging boys to read.

Higson pointed out that reading is not primarily about learning but about fun, and Cottrell-Boyce picked this up to talk about how learning centres increasingly focus on providing IT facilities rather than books, despite the fact that more children have access to computers at home than to a wide range of books. And it occurred to me that the shift from 'library' to 'learning centre' encodes a shift in attitude, in which books are no longer seen as fun, as an end in themselves, but as a 'resource' for learning. In that view a book really is no different from a computer in that it is a vehicle for content, and in many ways it is less powerful and versatile. Such a change suits bureaucracy and government because 'learning' in the sense of 'training' can be measured, tested, recorded and used. But there is also the joy and pleasure and useless mental profit of reading good books, which a library, as opposed to a learning centre, exists to provide.


Blogger Ben Wilkinson said...

Thanks for a thoughtful and lucid post, Tony. I too worry about the library-to-learning-centre shift; the value of books is certainly immeasurable. I'd be interested to know how the budgets for university libraries have changed (assuming they have) in recent times - that is, what proportion is set aside for new books, and what for adding and improving existing technological facilities.

9:49 PM  
Blogger Tony Williams said...

Hi Ben - I don't know what the answer is to your question, but my own _very_ limited experience of academic library acquisitions involved staff (and PhD students) being asked what books they wanted in the library; these were then acquired. Which seems heartening!

8:03 PM  

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