Infinite Learning: A TTW guest post by Dr. Mary Vasudeva

Dr. Mary Vasudeva wrote this post in response to readings in her MLIS course INFO 298 The Hyperlinked Library

“Leave the library and go where the people are.” (Stephens, 2017, Built for people).

I happened to be in a situation where I couldn’t listen to the lecture for this course module (on an airplane), so I was going through the slide show. . . which made me think about learning modes in general. And then, I got to slide 5, which states “The heart of libraries is learning and supporting our users’ curiosity through every means possible” (Stephens, 2017, Library as classroom), which made me think about what it means “to learn”.

Learning obviously need not have anything to do with education (and in most people’s lives learning is separate from education, which tends to end quite early in life). Libraries may be a factor in that “learning” mode that need not remind us of or resemble “education”. This perspective from structured institutional education to learning platform is a bit of shift for me because I am so immersed in the structured education model as both a teacher and a perennial student that I forget that learning has a life all of its own. Simon (2007) notes in her Web 2.0 blog that institutional education can, in fact, create zombies—okay, she acknowledges that they aren’t literally the walking dead but that the institutional nature of the system does not promote creativity and engagement but distance, rote learning and codified knowledge. She thinks museums offer an alternative possibility, and it seems clear that libraries do as well.

Later in the course slideshow, Stephens writes, “it [fluid infrastructure of the 21st century] is a platform to share and network imaginations” (slide 29). This is also kind of a radical revisioning of learning: a library is a stable structure/institution, but a platform, well that’s something totally different. Platforms have the potential not just to link and connect and transfer but to transform. In the platform world, learning becomes not just that which we “take in” but that which we create. Platforms are interactive, participatory, multidimensional and fluid. Libraries, unlike schools, have done a much better job of opening their minds to the possibility of creation, participation and interaction.

I teach online and f2f, and the only thing that has changed between these two models is the method of delivery—the learning itself has changed very little (though I loved the idea offered in the MOOC (Maggio, Saltarelli, A., & Stranack, 2016) reading about crowdsourcing curriculum and building resource lists with students—think of all the materials we would have access to if we all pooled our knowledge?!). In the library, in contrast, the changes are not only significantly greater but always in progress. To quote Pam Smith in the Anythink Strategic Plan, “The idea of a library is morphing from a place of books to a place where the community connects with information and creates content”. I’d like to change this quote just a little, and substitute that second place with “platform” where the community connects. Libraries do not need to be a place, they just need to be a platform. A library is a possibility. . .

Later (off the plane), I was reading the article, “The Library as a Gateway to 21st Century Skills”, and thinking again about what it means “to learn”. In this article, the author talks about “learning circles” in libraries. In these classes, adults with low-skills take free training classes in a variety of skill areas from writing to using computers. And the Fountaindale Public Library (2013) recording studio is incredible. These classes sound great, but they also sound limited. Offering basic skills is clearly important and kudos to all the libraries that are picking up the slack from schools, but how can libraries re-envision this process to move beyond place? Could these classes be brought into neighborhoods and communities?

I was doing some research just thinking about different ways of learning and how libraries could reach more people and came across this taking art to the streets article in the NYT (See the Truck Art Project). It made me think of how platforms can be anything, even semi-trucks. In San Francisco, trucks have begun to offer shower facilities to homeless people. Trucks could certainly offer all kinds of variety of services that we expect in an actual library, and they are mobile.

As I was doing this limited research, I began to notice all these interesting programs that libraries were offering to help people learn that were new to me. I decided to begin a list of these and also to be mindful of how wide ranging “learning” can be—we can learn from books and teachers but we can also learn in lots of other ways.

  1. Library walks: patrons meet at the library and the group goes on a walk (these could be combined with a resident expert on plants or bugs or buildings or anything the community was interested in.
  2. Library on a bike in SF that includes bubbles and wifi!
  3. Story walks with young kids for early literacy
  4. Little health libraries where librarians carry their ipad to the streets and provide health information as part of outreach
  5. Mesa County Library’s Wild Colorado App (From Stephens, 2017, library as classroom).
  6. Supper Club: people eat dinner at the library while the librarian introduces kid friendly apps (I have to say that this website needs some work—hard to be sure if this program is still going, but even if it isn’t, it seems like a great idea to have dinner at the library and do almost anything fun!) (From Bookey, 2015). Apparently, Philadelphia free library has a big kitchen, so cooking is also possible (Michaels, 2017 Built for people).
  7. Viola’s yoga room
  8. Library as retreat space (Stephens, 2017, Built for people).
  9. Instructions for getting lost (Stephens, 2017 Built for people). Couldn’t people do this in a library just for fun (the library could offer instructions like this that change regularly—this could also be done online and it could be done as an assignment for students to do online).
  10. Social Justice for teens event at the Philadelphia Free library, (This library also installed a solitary confinement cell on the premises,
  11. Civic Lab at the Skokie Library,
  12. This is a facebook timeline slideshow that highlights a variety of different life-changing library programs that the Aspen Institute has supported with links to a variety of programs and initiatives: Really amazing look at all the things libraries can do from developing food desert apps in Indianapolis to increasing broadband access in NC.

One thing that became really clear to me as I’ve done these readings (and reflected back on the others across the semester) is how incredibly diverse a library’s community is. The readings we have done include how to personalize learning in MOOC (Maggio, Saltarelli & Stranack, 2016) and how to help those with “low skills” (Digital promise, 2016). Libraries really have to be the learning platform for everyone. What a complicated and perhaps impossible task. But the evident efforts are really inspiring.

Self Image of Dr. Mary VasudevaDr. Mary Vasudeva has her Ph.D. in English and is currently working on her MLIS at San Jose State University. This summer she completed an internship with Wikipedia working on Open Access. She is interested in social justice issues and technology as they relate to infoliteracy. She currently teaches composition and critical thinking at San Ramon College, and contributed the “writing and speaking sections” to a Critical Thinking textbook in its twelfth edition,Asking the Right Questions.




Bookey, J. L. (2015, Jun 29). 8 Awesome ways libraries are making learning fun. Huffpost. Retrieved from

Digital Promise (2016, Jan 28). The library as a gateway to 21st century skills. Digital Promise. REtreived from

Maggio, L, Saltarelli, A., & Stranack, K. (2016, March 21). Crowdsourcing the curriculum: A MOOC for personalized, connected learning. Educause. Retrieved from

Fountaindale Public Library (2013, May 6). Studio 300 Picture Tour. Retrieved from

Simon, N. (2007) Warning: Museum graduate programs spawn legions of zombies! Museum 2.0 Retrieved from

Stephens, M. (2017). Stephens, M. (2017). Library as classroom. Lecture. San Jose State University.

Stephens, M. (2017, Oct. 21). Built for people. Lecture. San Jose State University