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Library still a place for learning

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 2:24 p.m.

When my wife and I entered the Bridgeville Public Library for the third talk in our “Bridgeville Remembered” series and read the words “The William and Grace McDivitt Center for Lifelong Learning” on the face of the building, I was reminded of the library's mission.

Recently I accessed the library's website to make sure I was quoting the mission statement accurately.

“The Mission of the Bridgeville Public Library is to serve as a center for lifelong learning by providing free access to informational, educational, cultural and recreational library resources that address the interest and need of all ages in the Bridgeville area.”

Reflecting on that mission statement, I realized that what we (the library and the Bridgeville Area Historical Society) are doing is a perfect example of this mission. The three dozen or so folks in the audience at our presentation were certainly engaging in an exercise of “lifelong learning”, albeit in an area of very limited interest.

Perhaps it is important to consider the concept of lifelong learning and pass judgment on its importance. It certainly is significant in the engineering field.

For me to retain my professional engineer's license as a civil engineer in Pennsylvania, I am legally obligated to spend 12 hours a year on continuing education, earning Professional Development Hour credits. The profession believes that this form of lifelong education is essential to keep the practicing engineer up to date on technological advances in the field.

The extension of the concept to the general public is less practical, but easily as worthwhile. We each have natural curiosity about a wide variety of things; this often leads us to very specific (often considered eccentric by other people) interests and hobbies. My list includes brick collecting, covered bridges, old water-powered mills, local history, the Civil War, the Oyler/Klees family genealogy, sports trivia, geology, and a dozen more.

I think my life is richer because of my interest in all these things, and I am grateful that current information technology makes it easier for me to research all of them than it was a generation ago. I'd like to think that our series of local history talks make it easier for folks interested in that subject to obtain relevant information.

The mass media certainly doesn't do much to foster lifelong learning.Newspapers, radio, television, and the major Internet websites spend so much time squeezing every last detail out of the “important” topics that there is none left for the semi-trivial things that interest us.

We know far more about the least important Steeler, or something named Wiz Khalifa, or the pregnancy of the next Queen of England than really is necessary. We are forced to look elsewhere for the unique, specific things that interest us.

Perhaps that is where the library can make its most effective contribution, by providing the opportunity for niche groups like us local history buffs to get together occasionally and share information.

In the past year, the library staff has offered numerous limited-interest specialized programs that provide lifelong learning to a wide variety of groups — students of Italian culture, Scrabble addicts, toddlers, lovers of mystery novels, chess players, fourth- to sixth-graders who are home schooled (a book club), beginning computer users, and arm chair travelers. Bill and Grace McDivitt would be proud!

The audience for our talk was composed of people who have a genuine interest in local history, and it included folks from communities beyond the immediate Bridgeville area. Their feedback converted a monologue into a true workshop, a place where everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

A perfect example of this is Lorraine Forster.

She is an avid supporter of the effort to retain and restore the Old Stone Tavern. Located at 434 Greentree Road in Pittsburgh's West End, the Tavern may well be the oldest existing building west of the Allegheny Mountains. Some records suggest it was originally constructed in 1756. Mrs. Forster had with her copies of account ledgers from the late 1700s; she reported that five names that were mentioned in our talk showed up on the ledgers, including Christian Lesnett.

I hope that each of the members in the audience left the presentation with a better understanding of life in this area 235 years ago. I consider that to be an excellent example of lifelong learning.

The library is an invaluable asset for the Bridgeville area and its neighboring communities.The folks who run it are to be commended for their efforts to follow their mission statement.

John Oyler, a columnist for Trib Total Media, can be reached at 412-343-1652 or joylerpa@comcast.net.

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