Siouxland Libraries in South Dakota are offering 365 six-week courses at no charge to its 100,392 cardholders, demonstrative of a growing trend of public libraries offering online courses.
Mary Johns, director of Siouxland Libraries, calls it lifelong learning and a way to learn new skills and enhance skills already in place. Included in the course offerings are several prep courses for tests like the SAT and ACT. Also available are 16 classes which can be used as continuing education units for medical skills.
The rest of the courses are similar to those at a small community college. Jill Callison, writing for Argus Leader, reports that two new lessons are added each week for six weeks. When these hours are completed, participants will receive a written record. Although the courses cannot be transferred to an accredited college, the skills and knowledge attained can become part of the student’s business portfolio. New lessons begin every month and are taught by professional instructors, who will respond to questions by email and will monitor online discussions between students. Trent Endsley, inside sales manager with course provider Gale Courses, explained:
“Libraries are all about education. Public libraries can actually reach people, develop their skills from the kiddos to the retirees and every age in between.”
In Maryville, Tennessee, the county library is offering computer training classes, according to The Daily Times. The plan is to offer assistance to those who need computer training so that they can search for jobs more effectively. The project has corporate funding and includes courses in Windows, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, online job searching, online applications, email, LinkedIn, resume development, interview skills, and other similar skills.
The library in Grand Island, Nebraska, says Steve Fosselman of The Grand Island Independent, is ready to take on the new year by focusing on early childhood education and lifelong learning. The library has created a Discovery Center, to provide children and parents with resources, hands-on activities, learning projects, outdoor learning spaces, and more. The new year will include new technologies for elementary and high school students, financial literacy courses, and computer coding classes.
And on a much grander scale, the award-winning Chicago Harold Washington Library, for six months in 2013, offered its “maker lab” to the public free of charge, wrote the Huffington Post. The innovation lab included 3-D printers, laser cutters, and a milling machine and invited its patrons to use them. Makers were allowed to print small objects of their own or to use pre-loaded templates. The usage was free, but makers were asked to pay for the plastics and other materials that were used. Teachers, businessmen, instructors, and the general public were standing in line to get involved in the space.
Signe Brewster, writing for GigaOm, was impressed. He said that resources like Chicago’s maker lab will bring in people who may have never had the chance to build something. He said that he is aware that not all libraries can afford hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for such equipment and the staff to monitor and use it. But, imagine, he says, what would happen if libraries offered similar opportunities.