After a work life ruled by a cluttered desk calendar I’ve shed blind allegiance to a schedule. Evolving technology has only reinforced my disinclination to commit to the calendar or clock. This somehow justifies my reluctance to register for classes, concert series, monthly meetings, haircuts and most especially medical appointments.
The drive for independent, affordable learning is reinforced by the inability to pay for OLLI or college credits, health club membership or store-bought books. I find that learning thrives when sparked by the freedom to carpe diem and that an active life of the mind is best measured not by the learner’s ability to pay but by his or her thirst for knowledge
Thinking and writing about Older Americans Month which starts today (May 1) sparks thoughts about the freedom that seniors have to explore the borders of knowledge. I originally categorized this independent path as “random acts of learning” – till I compulsively googled the phrase and learned that there’s a blog thus named….A little learning can be a deflating thing….
Still, “Poking Around with Mary” fairly well describes my thrifty and rigor-free methodology. “Poking Around” is the term my friend would use to describe my learning style — how I would hop off the bus to check out a neighborhood or drop in at an outdoor concert or start up a conversation with a stranger while we stood in line for a common purpose, or pursue a person, place or idea on the web. That, she said, was “poking around” and the blog could simply reflect the “pokes.”
Writing for the blog frequently inspires me to poke a little deeper. Now, when I hear of or see something of interest – a display, an event, a park, a coffee shop, a reading space, a specialty shop, a book – I want to learn more – and to share what I’ve learned. Blogs are great for ad hoc poking around, especially when fueled by a compulsion to share….
Since most of my learning is random it’s a challenge to list, much less categorize, the options. Some random thoughts:
- My favorite poke is probably bookstores, especially used bookstores, where it’s all wonderfully random – authors, subjects, eras, format, language. I tell myself I can identify with all those writers, then internalize their ideas and literary style through osmosis. In fact, it’s the bibliophiles who tend these bookstores that truly inspire me to hang out and learn. Several blog posts reflect this love of bookstores – more to follow.
- Similarly, many libraries are good, some are great. Librarians are often genetically disposed to share the quest for knowledge. Libraries of all types – public, college, even corporate, church, ethnic and other special libraries, are interconnected in functional networks that facilitate access through any portal – physical or digital. For most learners, the public library is the best port of entry and the most convenient way to explore the learning opportunities, ranging from public programs to home delivery. MNLink https://www.mnlinkgateway.org/zportal/zengine?VDXaction=ZSearchSimple offers a handy gateway to the endless possibilities. Still, especially with libraries, it’s often best to shop locally.
- Those who work in great libraries are fortunate and indispensable fellow travelers on the path to learning, James K. Hosmer Special Collections at Minneapolis Central Library (http://www.hclib.org/specialcollections\ is unchallenged as my favorite because of the incredible collection, stellar service, and the ambient environment that inspires serious research. Check the website – hours are severely limited.
- The archives at the University of Minnesota are beyond wonderful. Exploring the Archives blog http://www.continuum.umn.edu/primary-sourcery/#.VyShhUtEB4M is both random and revealing of unimagined – yet essential – resources. And if you’ve been wondering about what’s planned for the Bell Museum Library check https://www.bellmuseum.umn.edu
- Libraries and librarians are inclined to listen to the needs of learners who have physical challenges to reading or to poking around the collections; seniors sometimes fail to realize how many learning options are accessible at or through their local library. In fact there are statewide and national networks set up to expand options beyond the local collection. One of several good starting points can be found here: http://education.state.mn.us/MDE/StuSuc/Lib/MBTBL/AudioBks/index.html
- For a thorough and timely guide to resources there is no more comprehensive resource than that prepared by staff of the Legislative Reference Library. http://www.leg.state.mn.us/LRL/LINKS/links?links=disabled
- You’ve probably visited the Minnesota History Center, but have you checked out the library? (http://sites.mnhs.org/library/) Though it’s accessible virtually the setting inspires the will to know more. I am always in awe of the serious learning in progress as scholars, genealogists, History Day students, journalists and PhD hopefuls plumb the State’s historic record. [I find it’s best to refresh with coffee and a muffin at Café Minnesota and/or a stop at one of the irresistible museum shops.
- Though I have made pit stops at most state agency libraries that collaborate through the Capitol Area Library Consortium I know for certain that all constantly evolve and grow, add resources and programs, and create a unique corporate culture. The great news is that searcher can take a virtual tour with just one click of the CALCO directory. http://mn.gov/library/directory.pdf) A quick tour underscores Governor Perpich’s vision of the “brainpower state”, built on a firm foundation of accessible information services and top-notch professionals who build and mine the power of the resources accessible through this network of libraries and librarians.
- Over time Pokings have taken me and readers to unique library settings. One of my former Northeast neighborhood haunts, the Polish American Cultural Institute of Minnesota (PACIM http://pacim.org) has found new digs and new life on the banks of the Mississippi. The original blog post is woefully dated so check out the new profile and site to learn the latest – and check the online catalog to learn more about the library collection.
- Though I haven’t visited yet I’m impressed with the collection, the programming and the mission of the East Side Freedom Library. The very special library fosters ideas and action in the former Arlington Hills branch of the St. Paul Public Library. Again, the library features a unique collection and a robust public programming agenda. https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/east-side-freedom-library-gives-new-life-to-carnegie-library-st-paul-neighborhood/
One goal of taking this approach on the first day of Older Americans Month is to ease the way into a longer range goal – to demonstrate in tangible and useful ways far exceed most newbies expectation – it just depends on the keeper of the keys to envisions worlds far beyond shopping, paying bills, FB and email. Armchair learning is within ready reach of any keeper of the keys for whom the goal is to learn.
Life experience tells me that everyone wants to know more about something – it might be presidential politics or polo, violin making or veterans, Iron Range history or hieroglyphics, football or food safety, car repair or climate change, Russian literature or road construction, immigration or isotopes, antiquities or animal protection…
The pitch today is “there’s an app for that” – in my mind, “there’s an opp for that” – an opportunity to enrich the life of the mind. Though the app may unlock the digital door it remains to the seeker to carpe diem. Bear in mind that “on the Internet, nobody knows [much less cares] you’re an “’Older American.”(1)