Category Archives: Education

The Importance of Librarians

Some readers at Andrew Sullivan’s blog have excellent responses to the notion that librarians are becoming obsolete. For many students, internet research really does mean Googling it or getting some quotes from Wikipedia. Librarians help students understand how to judge the quality of information, find good sources, and make sure they’re considering all the relevant sources. Librarians also determine the kinds of information that are most important for patrons to access, and make it easier for people to view these sources through the library. I could go on indefinitely in this vein, but in general, the point is that increasing availability of information through new media does not make librarians any more obsolete than they were when people were using the card catalog.


In-state tuition laws upheld by Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently upheld a California state law that permitted illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities. Several other states, such as Nebraska, have such laws, so the Court’s decision has broader implications beyond the California case. I am glad that the law was upheld, not only because these decisions should be left up to the states themselves but also because the laws are a good idea. The immigrants in question are residing in the state, even if they would not otherwise have been considered legal state residents. They and their children are going to continue living in and contributing to the community, and it is better for them and for the community in general if they can more easily advance their education and develop successful careers. If a state finds that it is unable to offer such tuition rates, or that doing so is increasing the growth of an illegal immigration population it cannot afford to sustain, then it can always decide against such a program. Otherwise, I doubt that the states in question have found negative changes resulting from the law that would outweigh the economic and social benefits of increasing access to higher education.

[Above: The CPACS building and campanile on the University of Nebraska Omaha campus, from

Bubble Bursting in Lincoln?

The Street (via Yahoo Real Estate) recently took a look at five places where they speculated that an economic bubble might burst, affecting the otherwise relatively stable real estate and employment markets. First on the list was Lincoln, Nebraska, which they said might be vulnerable, “if higher education costs ever find a ceiling.” The problem with their analysis is that costs at the University of Nebraska have not risen at the same pace as counterparts elsewhere, and are still a good bargain. This is especially true for in-state students, the biggest share of the University’s recruiting pool. So, even if higher-education costs reach a settled peak, it’s not clear that this would have a severe effect on Nebraska’s schools. The University already has faced several rounds of budget cutting over the past decade, as state appropriations have shrunk and health-care costs for employees spiral out of control. Even so, they continue to be a stable, large-scale employer in the area.

If Lincoln is vulnerable, it might be because of general difficulty attracting or retaining major employers in pace with the city’s growth, or to weakness in the industries of large employers like Crete Carrier, Kawasaki, Goodyear, or various insurance companies.

DiFiore on Music Education

Vince DiFiore, who plays trumpet in the band CAKE, has written a lovely piece for on the importance of music education. As he notes, participation in music is not only good for the social lives and leadership skills of the students involved, but several studies have now shown a connection between music education and greater success in mathematics.

The joys, challenges, and social benefits of being involved in music programs truly saved me in junior high and high school. I was blessed to be in a school district that valued and supported regular music education for all grades. When I felt trapped and bored in many other classes, I could always challenge myself to perform better and learn new things with my instrument. Playing as part of an ensemble required improving skills in attention, mutual cooperation, and listening to others. The stresses, fears, and problems of the teenage years faded away, at least temporarily, while becoming immersed in play, and most of my close friends were found through music. I hope that all young people can have these experiences, and that we have the wisdom to support music education in our policies and public institutions.

Scripps Spelling Bee

As a Nebraskan, I’m very excited to see that Jenny Solheim of Westside Middle School in Omaha has made it to the 6th round of the Scripps National Spelling Bee! She did not make it on to round 7, unfortunately, but she was among the top-26 national finalists, a terrific performance. Congratulations to Jenny and her family. I think all the kids who get that far deserve a major prize, not to mention great celebration. What if we treated these intellectual achievements the way we treat achievement in sports? I love sports and am glad we promote and celebrate them, but just imagine if we did something comparable with academics…

The Importance of Libraries

This is a good piece by Charles Simic on “A Country Without Libraries”, discussing the loss and shrinking availability of public libraries. Although people increasingly rely on information obtained via the internet, the access to such information made possible by the library is crucial for those who cannot afford their own computers and connections. In addition, librarians are experts who can help people navigate to useful, accurate information on the web, as opposed to whatever may show up through a cursory search.

My experience with libraries was similar to Simic’s. I too felt a sense of awe at realizing I could freely browse a vast array of books and other materials on all subjects, and even take some home with me for a while. Each time I realized the potential of some new library resource–rock albums, opera CD’s, government documents, maps–this sense of awe and joy was renewed. The physical library itself was a place to escape undisturbed into the delights of reading and studying. For my children (ages 4 and 8), the library is primarily a special place one goes to have fun–and think of the lifelong lesson this teaches, that a roomful of books is a place of fun! They love to walk the seemingly endless rows of books we don’t have at home, and find colorful, comfortable places to sit and read them. Sometimes a librarian even reads books to a group of kids, with interesting props. Narrowing down the “take-home” books to a reasonable number is always a tough decision–a bit like being loose in a candy shop!

In college, I shelved books in the library and thereby gained a wonderful education in philosophy and religion (i.e. the “B” section, the special area assigned to me for regular organizing). When serious quiet was needed for studying, I sought out the tiny physics and chemistry libraries on campus, which inevitably led to browsing and then learning much more about both of those subjects. Though I browse many good sources on the internet, time spent there is also filled with other distractions, like checking email from work, the weather forecast, or the status of the recent online purchase. In the library, browsing usually began by finding a book I needed, followed by noticing other exciting books nearby on the shelf, and then tracking down further citations from a footnote. Though some of the books weren’t great, most were excellent sources of in-depth information and analysis. Such works are also found online, but much of what I see here is designed for brevity, for the reader who wants to take a quick look and then move on. This can be convenient, but sifting through whole books at a time requires a different set of intellectual skills. One learns to recognize quality sources, to locate details without being guided, and to be patient enough to follow complex ideas down a longer path. The library allowed me to exercise those abilities in a pleasant environment. I hope that people continue to recognize the importance of these wonderful institutions, and fight to ensure that we don’t lose them!