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Lifelong learning

I was asked yesterday to write something in defence of  the library service against public sector spending cuts. This is it:

We all know that times are tough, and we all complain about rising costs. But how many of us relate those costs to value? We can see the cost, but what’s the value of education? Incalculable. And when do we stop learning? We don’t, it’s a lifelong process. I have a principle that’s with me all the time, and it’s one that I commend to everyone; I try to learn something new every day.

I can do this more easily than most, because I have a wealth of resources at my fingertips, but I’m fortunate. If I hadn’t, I’d be looking for others, and  the first place I would look would be in what is currently called my local library. For we’ve moved way beyond the days where libraries are simply places where we go to borrow books. They’ve evolved, as the means by which we learn, interact and communicate have evolved, and we need to look at changing the name to make people, and politicians first and foremost, understand that. In Gullane, where I live, we are about to see our Senior Citizens’ Day Centre absorbed into a new and badly needed health centre. I may upset friends by saying this but I doubt if any of the people who  came up with that proposition thought of the psychology of it. Indeed I doubt if they thought beyond expediency, period. We stop learning when our brains die, and we will not enhance and maintain the quality of any healthy person’s life by dumping them into a medical environment, especially when a much more attractive option exists.

If Andrew Carnegie was alive today he probably wouldn’t be an industrial baron: he’d be an IT billionaire, and the institutions his charity funded would reflect that. So if I was asked to support my council library service, I’d say sure, ‘But I’d much rather support my lifelong learning resource centre, and see it develop to meet new needs. Same cost, added value.’

And I do say that, vociferously; not as an author who should be encouraging people to buy not borrow anyway, but as a concerned citizen. I’ll defend today’s library service with the same vigour that I’d defend my local primary and secondary schools, and with the same force with which I declare my opposition to central government’s attack on tertiary education by hanging its cost like a millstone around the necks of our brightest and best. My dad used to say, ‘People are afraid of death, but they’re not afraid of ignorance.’

In my experience that is true in particular of politicians, so if mine try to tell me that my lifelong learning resource centre is expendable, I will be right in their faces. ‘If they say, but we need to empty the bins,’ I’ll say, ‘Then empty them once a fortnight instead of once a week; people will cope.’ If they tell me they have to mend the roads, I’ll say ‘Here’s my bus pass. Now stop handing them out to people who don’t need them, and redirect that resource. And by the way, scrap the Edinburgh tram project, because that’s going to cost everybody, and deliver value to  no-one.’

If they don’t get the message after that, I will turn into Howard Beale, stand up in a public place and yell, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.’ Our politicians are probably too culturally bereft to know who Howard Beale was, but they needn’t be alarmed. They can always find out at their local lifelong learning resource centre.
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