I have just been reading the report - "Learning through life" - from the Inquiry into the Future for Lifelong Learning. Based on the belief that access to learning through life is a human right, Learning through life argues that our current system has failed to respond to the major demographic challenge of an aging society and to changes in employment patterns.
There is much in the report that librarians would agree with. Indeed there is much that libraries already deliver e.g.:
"In the face of massive economic change, people need to be able to adapt, not just through acquiring new professional skills, but by having the resilience to search out job opportunities and to face the uncertainties that recession brings." p13
The report proposes a new four stage model of learning: up to 25, 25-50, 50-75 and 75+. This emphasises the need to focus on learning not just at the compulsory and post-compulsory stage but also on three phases after that. The first two feature a changing mosaic of work, unemployment and learning time while the "Fourth Age" will grow in importance. To support this, the report proposes a shift from the current funding allocation of 86 :11: 2.5 : 0.5 to approximately 80 : 15 :4 : 1. This suggests a shifting of funding towards the area in which public libraries are operating.
The report makes the case for lifelong learning and its benefits for individuals, families, communities, regions and the nation. It proposes a citizens' curriculum based on four core capabilities: digital, health, financial and civic. The report further recommends that local authorities, as the key democratic agencies responsible for the welfare of local communities, should act as the key strategy-makers at local level, promoting lifelong learning. It also proposes that a partnership between a college and a public library should be the default model as the main axis for local collaboration as these two institutions bring together "… the formal and the informal…". The MLA has picked up on this and is working with the Inquiry on developing the proposal and will publish its conclusions early next year.
Learning through life is an important document and all librarians with a responsibility for strategic development need to study it. It does not give much space to the current or potential role of public libraries although this is covered in one of the supplementary papers How Museums, Libraries and Archives Contribute to Lifelong Learning: IFLL Sector paper 10 which is not yet published.
Specific references to libraries in report.
Chapter 6 Enabling demand for learning. Access to the digital world. p125
"We urge that libraries should be supported to play a full part in [a minimum level of digital inclusion], as places of universal access serving the community."
Chapter 8. Capabilities and capacity p179
"As with other capabilities, civic capability can be developed through both formal and informal modes of learning. Evidence submitted to the Inquiry on the part played by cultural institutions such as museums or libraries in fostering civic engagement illustrates this breadth. As one submission put it, '…the values of a democratic society rest on information, understanding and engagement. The public library service, a free, accessible and non-judgemental service reaching into the heart of every local community, espouses all those ideals'. [Submission to the enquiry from Derbyshire County Council] Several submissions stressed the role of libraries and museums in enabling marginal groups such as refugees or asylum-seekers to find their way into civic activity…"
Chapter 9 Organising locally: governance and institutions.p197
"Beyond favouring greater local autonomy as a general approach, what are our specific suggestions on how this might work? They are as follows…
· strongly promote the role of libraries, museums, galleries and sport facilities as learning institutions"
"Libraries already operate the People's Network, with 30,000 free or low-cost internet-enabled PCs, available in every public library, giving them a vital role in reducing digital exclusion. As we noted in Chapter 8, many of them actively seek to include marginal groups in a process of civic engagement. They are a crucial part of any system. We would like tosee stronger links between local libraries and schools and colleges, including the possibility of co-location (as we saw with one example under Building Schools for the Future)."
"We suggest that Local Learning exchanges (LLEs) be developed. The Exchanges would:…
· provide a physical venue for people to meet, explore opportunities, and run their own courses. This is the spirit of The Learning Revolution's recommendations on the use of premises. Fifty libraries have recently opened new community spaces."
"A governance system closer to the ground
· A partnership between a college and a library should be the default model for the foundation for local collaboration. Other models are possible, but these two institutions bring together the formal and the informal in ways which make it particularly appropriate."