Tag Archives: education

Aspiration: A Very Short Introduction

All right class, raise your hand if you’ve ever had the feeling that you didn’t make the most of the educational opportunities offered to you in your youth. Whether you dropped out or just got an occasional B+ instead of straight A’s, do you ever wonder what could have been if you had just applied yourself a little more?

You’re certainly not alone: a Northwestern study published in 2011 asked a sample of adults to name one regret that really stands out in their memories, and 13% of respondents passed up lost loves, trips not taken, and childhood cruelties to identify a missed educational opportunity as a source of regret. I suspect it’s a common theme among adults — maybe as a kid you spent most of physics class studying the trajectory of a spitball, and now you can’t resist refreshing NASA’s Twitter feed when there’s a big announcement pending. Or perhaps your interest in verse during 7th grade English was limited to finding that just right word to rhyme with “smells” in an ode to your sister, but now you make sure not to miss a reading or 3 Poems By session here at the Library.

Now, we all know there are great pleasures to be found in being a full time student of the People’s University. I’m sure I would have pulled a much better GPA in 10th grade had my schedule resembled my current reading list…

and so forth. (n.b. Obviously pleasure reading and formal schooling are two different things, and I’m sure my dream schedule would be someone else’s [namely, my wife’s] nightmare schedule.)

I think the  dream of a lot of us academic underachievers, however, is that we could somehow suddenly have a broad, traditional, liberal education behind us. Do I want to learn Greek? Um, maybe next year. But do I wish I already knew Greek? Heck yeah!

The publishing industry has long recognized this impulse of wanting to take the easy path to enlightenment. Dr. Eliot‘s prescription at the beginning of the Twentieth Century — 15 minutes a day of hard reading — was supported by a widely-advertised series of books that promised readers the opportunity to become well-educated generalists with just a little effort. The Harvard Classics, and a number of similar publications such as those put out by Library of America, Oxford World Classics, Everyman’s Library, and The Great Courses have long been a great boon for educational late-bloomers as well as people for whom good schooling wasn’t available, offering anybody with access to a library (or some cash to spend on books) the chance to participate in intellectual life that may have otherwise been out of reach.

Even now, in an age in which anyone with access to broadband can sit in on MIT courses, there’s something welcoming about limiting your self-guided education to a book or two on a given topic. After all, it wouldn’t be hard to spend your 15 minutes a day clicking deeper and deeper into a hyperlinked detail in a Wikipedia article, and who needs all of those diversions when there’s a liberal education to be had?

In my opinion, there’s no better resource for the time-pressed aspirational reader than Oxford University Press’ “Very Short Introduction” series. These tiny books — typically between 100 and 150 pages and perfectly sized to fit in the back pocket of a pair of Levis — offer the broadest treatment of the most difficult subjects imaginable, written by top experts for a lay audience.

Imagine if you ran into an CMU professor at a party and, over the course of a drink, she explained her research using analogies, real-life examples, and maybe a quickly drawn graph on a napkin. These are the book version of that.

Very Short Intros

A dabbler’s delight.

There are hundreds of these things, covering topics from Angels to Writing. (I guess they haven’t gotten to X-rays, Yemen, or Zoroastrianism yet.) Some topics seem to better lend themselves to this treatment; I find the natural sciences, psychology, and theology are strengths in this series. But really, I haven’t found a dud in the bunch.  I recently had a good time reading Very Short Introductions to dinosaurs, Bertrand Russell, and the Old Testament. And while I certainly can’t say that I’m now an expert on these subjects, or even have an above-average knowledge of them, I figure that I’ve retained about as much as I would if I had payed attention in school, which is really all I’m after.

Perhaps the American Library Association should have a marketing campaign — “Make up for your misspent youth @ your library!” It has a nice ring to it…



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Summer Learning

Another academic year may be coming to an end, but that’s no excuse to stop learning. Personally, I’m going to take some time this summer to dig into the vast store of knowledge found in the Great Courses Series, a collection of recorded lectures given by great teachers on myriad topics that we have available for free in our Film and Audio Department. Here are some highlights:

Exploring the Roots of Religion with John R. Hale, Professor of Archaelogy at University of Louisville

War and World History with Jonathan P. Roth, Professor of History at San Jose State University

Masterpieces of Short Fiction with Michael Krasny, Professor of English at San Francisco State University

Earth’s Changing Climate with Richard Wolfson, Professor of Physics at Middlebury College

Other great free sources of learning worth exploring are MIT’s OpenCourseWare program, and Harvard University’s Open Learning Initiative. Each of these sites offers free course materials from actual classes taught at MIT and Harvard.

All of this open access to higher education makes me feel bad for Jude the Obscure, that sad character of Thomas Hardy’s who wanted nothing more than a university education, but was restricted from it by the powers that be. Happily, these days anyone can use the public library to tap the great minds of academe.



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Supporting Education in a Digital Nation: Live Homework Help

LAV’s database series continues with an overview of one of the Carnegie Library’s most versatile digital tools.

Libraries have a long tradition of supporting schools, students and adult learners.   As today’s knowledge-seekers become more digitally savvy, library workers have bent over backwards to keep up with them.  At the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, this includes adding digital materials and services to complement our print collection.

One of the most amazing services we offer is free cardholder access to Tutor.com’s Live Homework Help, which you can access via our Kids, Teens, and Adult Services webpages.  The name Live Homework Help doesn’t really do justice, though, to the staggering amount of information and assistance you can get from it.  In fact, it would be more accurate to call this resource the Super-Awesome All-Ages Education Value Pack (sorry Julie), but I suspect the folks at Tutor.com might balk at that:  as a title, it’s much more enthusiastic than it is concise.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of good reasons for you to check out Live Homework Help, no matter what your needs are.  To get started, log in to Tutor.com with your Carnegie Library card (scroll down just a little bit after the click).   Once you’re logged in, you can choose the right learning center for you.

Student Center

Live Homework Help’s student center is designed to help students in 4th through 12th grade with their questions about English, writing, science, math and social studies.  Services include:

  • Live chat tutoring sessions with subject specialists every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Live revision of a research or writing assignment with a qualified writing tutor every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets, tutorials and study guides in the Skills Center.
  • 24/7 access to practice tests and other study guides to the PSAT, SAT, ACT, and other college entrance exams.

College Center

The college center is designed for first-year college, community college and university students of all ages.  When you enter this section of Live Homework Help, you can choose from:

  • Live tutoring sessions and paper review sessions every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Interactive GED preparation sessions every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Interactive resume reviews, job searching assistance, and career assistance every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets, tutorials and other study guides to the GRE, LSAT, MCAT, TOEFL and other graduate/professional exams.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets and information about military, civil service, and other technical careers.

Adult Education and Career Center

Going back to school?  Changing careers?  Have other concerns?  When you select Live Homework Help’s adult center, you get access to:

  • Real-time back-to-school preparation sessions with a qualified tutor every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • Live chat assistance with questions about citizenship or career exploration every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • The chance to have your resume, cover letter, or writing samples reviewed live every weekday between 3 and 10 p.m.
  • 24/7 access to worksheets and tutorials about helping your kids with their homework, improving your financial literacy, reviewing subject material you might need practice with, earning college credit for life experience, and more.

Thousands of Pittsburgh residents benefited from Tutor.com in 2009.  Why not try it in 2010?  After all, in a competitive economy, you’ll want every possible success tool you can get in your arsenal.

The Carnegie Library, for its part, will continue to provide access to this resource for as long as we’re able, because libraries aren’t just about information and recreation:  they’re all about education, too.

–Leigh Anne

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Recently, I’ve been thinking about teachers and what a profound effect they can have on our lives.  I have a special place in my heart for certain teachers I remember, whether it’s the first grade teacher we called “Mrs. Good Guy” because she’d let us have candy from her desk drawer, or the social studies teacher I had my senior year of high school who let me write a fictional account of Romany life as my one and only project because I was stuck in a 9th-grade level course due to transferring schools and making up credits. 

I’ve also been inspired by stories about teachers, particularly in films like Stand and Deliver and To Sir, With Love.  In that vein, I’m offering a film and book list that includes old favorites and new possibilities.


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