A Musical Library

Pretty soon I’m going to have my fifty-fifth birthday and as I sit here thinking about things I realized that I feel good about myself when I’m learning something new. So my goal is to complete my second Master’s degree in Ancient and Classical History. Although my kids will tell you I’m the one who is ancient- I prefer to call myself a “classic.” I enjoy interacting with my classmates, especially as many of them realize I’ve got kids their age- and shirts that are even older.

For my fiftieth birthday I took some dance lessons with my wife, alongside our youngest daughter and her friend. I understood the basics of the dance steps, but had a little trouble keeping the beat and remembering which foot goes where and when. By contrast, my daughter and her friend picked up each step quickly, and in no time my daughter became the instructor’s “go to” girl for demonstrations to the class.

Something else I tried was keeping my French and Arabic skills up to speed. The only problem was the fact that having no one to talk to on a regular basis has meant my skills have eroded to the point where I can order a coffee and ask where the train station is, and that’s about it.

By contrast I watch my daughter dance around the house years later and she looks like Ginger Rogers. She’s also taken to correcting my French grammar- a few years of high school has a way of making your child feel superior.

My other goal for the next few years is to learn how to play an instrument. I’m trying to learn to play the mandolin as I hope the skinnier neck of the instrument will be affected less by my arthritis then a guitar would be. As everyone knows, there are eight strings on a mandolin and there are certain chords that are used extensively in most popular music. I figure by learning the repetitive patterns of the chords, scales and arpeggios, I just might have it figured out by the time I’m 75.

I’ve noticed that when I watch music videos, or listen to music, I find myself listening for the individual notes, and trying to separate out the individual instruments that join together in each song. I listen over and over again to the same song trying to hear “how” it is played. I find it exciting to look at something that’s been a part of my entire life in an entirely new way. Plus repeating songs has the added benefit of irritating my kids.

Something I’ve realized from all this is that the more senses a learning experience engages, the more interesting it is. Whenever I go to a new place, I find it much more exciting to try the local cuisine, or go for a walk outside the tourist areas, and try to speak the native language.

I’ve also realized that I learn best when there’s also some kind of visual aid. So when I’m trying to learn mandolin, I watch an instructional DVD, or I check out the latest YouTube video. I also sit there and draw diagrams of chords with the individual notes, I’m hoping that these mental tools will help me get better, and learn faster. By constructing a “mind map” I hope to eventually get all the steps down. I’ve found this approach useful for all kinds of things.

By now you’re probably wondering how this applies to the library. You have to look at a library the same way I do- it’s a living organism that is most alive when the people in it have the opportunity to explore, discover, try, and grow. The richer and more varied we make our environment, the more we incorporate a range of bodily, emotional, social, and intellectual tasks and settings, then the more involved, and better balanced our staff will be. Inevitably, that translates to better service.

This being said, we need to thoughtfully develop a mix of tools and visual aids to teach our staff, and to help our patrons find their way around our facilities, collections, and services. We need to address patron concerns in a timely fashion, keeping in mind our goal- an organization that is constantly adapting and growing. In musical terms, a library that rocks.

Ronald W. Shaw