Special Librarians: Continuing Education for Personal Enrichment

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

August 04, 2020

Working from home is here to stay for most office workers and many information professionals. As teleworkers, we’ve been thrust into providing information and services from remote locations. 

Since March, we’ve learned that organizing our time is an imperative as is staying focused and on task. Keeping current in information science is another key component of our working week.

Now is the time to motivate ourselves to learn something new, to take a deep dive into a topic we want to explore or skill that we’ve always wanted to master. 

Think of self-education as a form of self-care which is particularly important in this period of social and physical isolation. It doesn’t have to be onerous; make it fun. Now is the time to nurture our desire to learn for the sake of learning—whether we read in the subject domains of our daily jobs or feed our curiosity. Make it fun. 

Motivations

It’s easy to feel unmotivated or too burned out to engage in yet another marathon session of stuffing information into your tired brain. In this case, learning for personal enrichment, for self-education, is an opportunity to learn for fun. Set learning up as its own reward and be willing to start small and be easy on yourself. Enrich yourself and feed that inner scholar and researcher, and, at the same time, your inner professional. Squelch the inner finger wagger and forgive yourself if you miss a session or do less than you originally planned; it is okay. You are still building up the habit.

Self-education is essential for information professionals, particularly for those of us who are introverts. Learning is just one more way to keep your brain happy and engaged. Personal education is an internal force that staves off depression and procrastination.

Initiate your self-education plan by plugging into something you really want to know or do. Set up some rewards and then have fun. 

  • Model your self-education plan on summer reading programs with little prizes after finishing each step along the way.
  • Take advantage of these long quiet weekends or evenings, after days of working at home non-stop, to learn because you want to continue to grow intellectually. 
  • Engage in personal education because you want to know, not because you fear being obsolete in your job. 
  • Fill that internal need to know. Personal learning and self-education fills a need within yourself, for you and no one else. 

Continuing education for personal enrichment is flourishing on the web and in bookstores. Since we are still fairly isolated, you’ll have to motivate yourself to feed your own interests. For me, self-education almost always involves a book or books, but for you it may involve learning a new manual skill, craft, or sport, like woodworking, embroidery, gardening, or even yoga or bike riding. Don’t limit yourself to the “printed” word, grab an audiobook, view the companion DVD, or movie.

A colleague wanted more hours in her day to meet her fitness goal and to read more. She paired her fitness activities with audio books. The result, she doubled up the use of her time and pleasure. The takeaway, hook your new endeavor to something solidly ingrained. Rather than building out of thin air, add a new component to your daily routine.

Personal enrichment doesn’t have to be a solo activity. Find a friend or neighbor who wants to learn the same subject or skill. Set up a weekly or bi-weekly phone or video chat to talk about what you’ve been learning. 

Need more motivation? Check in daily with your study partner and confirm that you fed your brain a small dose of learning.

Rewards

Rewards work well.

  • Reward yourself for finishing a book or an online lecture series.
  • Reward yourself for spending thirty minutes a day learning something new. 

Rewards can be as simple as chocolate or as fun as binge-watching a new series, walking through a beautiful park or museum with a friend. 

It’s a privilege to learn something. Give yourself a treat, a reward!

Pick a topic

Picking a topic doesn’t mean you’re locked into that subject forever. Set an initial period of one month. Still want to learn more on the topic? Extend your goal month by month. 

Pick a topic or subject by browsing your own bookshelves and find a book you’ve been meaning to read. If you are like me, you’ve purchased books you want to delve into but put aside for lack of time. You might find that you have a number of books or articles on the same topic. 

Consider the group of books as a self-made, self-directed study of the topic, almost a course without an instructor. Now’s the time to pick up the book and dive in. 

For example, an email arrived recently that promoted a read-along in conjunction with the release of a movie. The read-along is two months long and involves reading 13 pages a day. That’s not too bad, not too much of a commitment. After signing on, I’ve been ploughing through the book thirteen pages at a time. While reading, I’ve been intrigued about the geography of cities and battlefields so I pulled out a little thumbed atlas of the time and location. I read up on the time period and politics in one of those massive, all-encompassing history books, and even watched a documentary on the topic. My reward for finishing the doorstop of a book? Maybe another book or perhaps I’ll stream a movie I’ve always wanted to watch. 

You’ll note in my example that I followed some tangents. That’s okay too, because exploring tangential leads and subjects is part of lifelong learning. How else will you expand your knowledge of a subject if you don’t reach for more?

Ready for more on the topic? Peruse the bibliography or endnotes of a book or article on the topic for something enticing.

Perhaps historical fiction or mysteries set in the past or in exotic cities more to your liking, or maybe you prefer movies with an historical or literary twist. Mine bibliographies and other books by the author and the time period to feed your curiosity. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how enriching learning for the sake of learning can be. Don’t forget to reward yourself along the way.

Summing it up

As we adjust to working from home, to having more “me” time, consider adding personal education and self-enrichment to your schedule. Most of us want to learn something new. We’ve been putting aside books and articles for years just waiting for a few spare minutes or a vacation to dive into a new topic or hobby.

Take advantage of teleworking and non-commuting time and set up a personal education plan. Learn something new for a month or two, reward yourself and then move on to a new topic or dive deeper into the original one. 

Build a new self-enrichment habit. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or two. Give yourself rewards along the way until the learning itself becomes the reward. After all, you can’t begin lifelong learning too soon.

My next blog post will discuss sources for personal education and lifelong learning. 

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam Kahn, MLS, PhD

Miriam B. Kahn, MLS, PhD provides education and consulting for libraries, archives, corporations, and individuals. See Miriam’s pieces for Lucidea covering library technology and skills and strategies for special librarians. Refresh your knowledge of Lucidea’s flagship ILS, SydneyEnterprise, here.

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