In operant conditioning, subjects (school learners in this case) learn by doing something, they can get a specific result that they desire. If they act in a certain way (i.e. ‘operate’ in some way on their environment), they are either rewarded or punished. The behaviour is reinforced (has a greater probability of being repeated), if it is rewarded. The behaviour is decreased or diminished (has a lower probability of being repeated), if it is punished (Louw & Edwards: 2005, p. 237)1.
Learning by doing (practice) increases the probability of children to learn how to learn – “an ability that will serve them well and position them for success all their lives” (Don Wood: 2009, §1)2. And libraries are there to nurture young minds as well as encourage and foster an inquisitive state. There is evidence that children and teens with exposure to adequately staffed libraries – school and public – learn critical skills that enable them to enter college better prepared to succeed. This, however, remains to be proven in the Namibian context. But what can be proven universally is that whenever children are exposed to a library (or study room in the house); they are more likely to achieve better results in school than those who are not exposed.
I am not ruling out the effects of heredity on learning, but rather that the environment (which is the library) may play even a greater role of opening up the child’s learning power. There is one more theory that can add up the equation: cognitive learning, which entails that information is taken in and organised. A photograph, for example, may have so much information which the child can decode. Therefore, “cognitive processes enable us to perform essential new response to reach a goal, so that we are not limited to our well-known, over-used repertoire of responses” (Louw & Edwards: 2005, p. 261)1.
Libraries ensure that children find information on their own and use it in a meaningful, yet productive way to achieve better results when doing their projects and assignments. To test their progress, all what the librarian has to do is evaluate how well the child remembers or knows a specific subject, topic or issue. In this way, libraries cultivate intelligence in children. This intelligence is defined by Linda Gottfredson as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings – “catching on,” “making sense’ of things, or “figuring out” what to do” (Nisbett: 2009, p. 4)3.
Coming to the library, therefore, ensures the perfection of what children are practicing in their learning processes. When children make these visitations to the library, they explore the environment and information resources available. This allows them to think “outside the box”, imagine the impossible, and turn dreams into reality. Actually, libraries give hope to children (and everybody else) who find answers to many questions and problems they encounter in school. Libraries, therefore, give them an extra mind, enhancing their capacity to think deeper.
1. Louw, D.A. and Edwards, D.J.A. (2005). Psychology: an introduction for students in southern Africa. 2nd ed. Sandton: Heinemann
2. Wood, Don (2009). Libraries make the difference. American Library Association. Retrieved on 24 May 2011 from: http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/advocacy/advocacyuniversity/additup/about/abt_1.cfm
3. Nisbett, R.E. (2009). Intelligence and how to get it: why schools and cultures count. New York: W.W. Norton & Company