Who's learning at the library?

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Answered by: Sarah, An Expert in the Lifelong Learners Category
I will never forget how dismayed I felt one afternoon when I opened the local newspaper and discovered a letter to the editor calling the public library a "mausoleum of dead trees," irrelevant in the computer age and not worthy of community support.

Spoken like someone who hadn't been to the library lately.



I would like to tell him the story of Balbir. Balbir was born in the Punjab region of India in the 1950s. At that time, girls had no place to attend school in her village, so she grew up without learning to read or write. As a young adult, she followed her husband to America. They had three children before his death in an accident at work. Suddenly, she was both an illiterate and single mother. What was she going to do?

I don't know exactly when she figured out that answer for herself, but having met her now in her early 60s, the answer is clear in everything I see her do. Her answer was, and still is: learn, and therefore, grow.



Today, she is doing her learning at the library. I am a volunteer technology tutor in the public library, and am one of the many resources there that Balbir consults to her full advantage. I have never known someone so dedicated to improving her knowledge and skills. Three years ago, she could not write her own name either in Punjabi or English. Today, I am helping her learn touch typing, how to send e-mail to her grandchildren and how to create simple graphics in MS Word. The library also enables her to constantly improve her written and spoken English, both with the books in the ESL collection and in a volunteer-run weekly conversation club.

Balbir means serious business. She meets me at the library for her computer lessons every Saturday morning without fail. I can tell every time she practices touch typing in front of me how diligently she's been practicing at home. She explains her motivation behind all this hard work is her desire to help others. One day, she will be the tutor herself. She knows firsthand how it feels to be on your own in a strange place, unable to speak the local language or even write your own name. She's going to use her knowledge to its full capacity and spread it. And for her, there is never going to be a point where she has "learned enough." She may not be young anymore, but she is not going to stop.

It's almost impossible to believe how far Balbir has come in the three years since she has mastered writing her name. She can articulate complex rules of English grammar, write her thoughts down in coherent paragraphs and find videos and articles by her favorite Sikh philosophers on the Web. She is able to do all of this now because of the human, print and computer resources that are available at the public library.

Every Saturday morning, I am newly inspired by this passionate, fiery, dedicated and forward-thinking woman I find learning at the library.

A mausoleum of dead trees?

Hardly.

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