Reinventing Libraries - Interview with Elaine Pinheiro and Mariana Castro

What if libraries were transformed into places for experimentation and free learning, more similar to makerspaces than the current quiet, shelf-filled environments? That is the provocation made by Elaine Pinheiro in her speech given at the October edition of D.A.T.E, an event held by Creative Mornings in Belo Horizonte, mediated by the journalist and author of the book Empreendedorismo Criativo (Creative Entrepreneurship), Mariana Castro.

Elaine is the CEO of the NGO Recode, an organization dedicated to digital empowerment that, among other initiatives, is responsible for Conecta Library, a program that believes in social transformation through public libraries. In an interview for CER, Elaine Pinheiro and Mariana Castro talk about the future of educational spaces and how change can foster more entrepreneurial education.


1 – What is outdated in libraries and educational spaces nowadays? Which changes should be carried out?

Elaine: The model we have today is still tied to past agendas, and we have the opportunity to use these places to help us deal with more current issues. Today’s problems are more complex, require more collaboration, participation and co-creation. These places will be more connected to the present when they stop being seen as places of knowledge delivery but as places of knowledge generation.


Mariana: Since we are speaking to an entrepreneurship educational platform… People often ask me if I think entrepreneurship should be taught as a subject in schools and universities. I think it would make a lot of difference if entrepreneurial education was taught across and within all subjects. A discipline taught separately hardly has the potential to prepare someone to be an entrepreneur.


Elaine: We must remember that businesses that are created out of real needs experienced by entrepreneurs have great power. So we must gather people around these spaces of knowledge, so that schools or libraries are the means by which a person will think a social problem and idealize or manage a business based on that issue. The way we think about entrepreneurship must be renewed. An entrepreneur must be a solver of social matters in the community he lives.


2- Thinking in practical terms, what would a maker library maker or maker school be like?

Elaine: It’s important to have more open spaces, without a very specific agenda, so everyone can have access. But beyond the structure, we must think about the agenda of that place. When you decide that you will address issues in that community that involve aging, health, empowerment, for example, that is school! These are real problems experienced by girls, parents, grandparents. The structure must adapt to the need. And every place will have theirs. Sometimes when we travel outside Brazil and see a super cool library, we think that that same structure should be replicated. There are 5,500 cities here in Brazil, we will not get to the same place as other countries. And if we get there, it will not work.

Also, I find it a mistake to think that technology alone solves problems. I often compare the tablet and other technologies to television. If you just hand it to someone, it can have the same role that the blackboard had two centuries ago: put the individual in the place of someone who just watches. There is no authorship in the process, the student is not invited to make, he is invited to watch another person’s experience That’s why structure is important, but I think it must always be thought of to serve a purpose.


Mariana: I agree. And I think it is important to say that these places must be built with the contribution of those who will use them, they must meet their needs.


3 – How can these places contribute to the dissemination and strengthening of the entrepreneurial culture?

Elaine: To be an entrepreneur is to not wait. Not to wait for the state, company or school. To not expect someone to do it, but to go ahead and do it yourself do. We still need to work on that as a society, but if the beginning of some things is still school, maybe school is the place for it.

The library is more democratic and autonomous. We have 6,100 public libraries in Brazil. We need to occupy them as places to rethink youth, rethink the future, rethink the job market – whether through entrepreneurship or employability.

In Brazil, we still think entrepreneurship meaning creating good managers. Entrepreneurship, in essence, is not knowing how to manage. It is being daring, prototyping, applying, being resilient, among others aspects. And once a person becomes a true entrepreneur, he will undertake within the company in which he works, in his personal life. It is important not to see entrepreneurship as a subject.


Mariana: Entrepreneurship can also mean opening your own business, but it goes way beyond that. The person may have an entrepreneurial attitude within the company in which he works, in the community or creating new ways of political mobilization, for instance. And for that, we must stimulate curiosity, which prepares us for future unforeseen events, to reduce the fear of failure, to create spaces for experimentation and in which diversity is seen as something very important, because we do not get to different solutions with people who think the same way and come from the same place.


4 – What does young people expect from libraries and schools today? What are the new demands for professionals who work in these educational environments?

Mariana: Students now question the content they are learning much more than in the past.  They want to know how it will be applied in practice and how it will be useful for their lives.

We are also seeing a major shift in the model we have followed so far: to study in a traditional school and then go to college, being educated to have a single profession during the entire life. This is not the context of the future job market. People will become more versatile, in the sense of getting involved with specific and different projects throughout their lives. That requires different skills. The system we follow today does not meet the needs of a new reality. That is where the change needs to start.


Elaine: With Conecta, we offer training to library professionals. And we have talked a lot about participative management, networking and partnerships, communication and network engagement. These are essential skills, either for a professional who is already in the market or for a young person in the future. Today, when students arrive at school they have already had access to the content they will learn. They are thirsty for learning its application or understanding their conclusions about that theme. What is the project? What is the challenge? Without challenge a student does not move forward. They are not not passive, they want to have a voice, authorship, challenge and context for learning. So, the big question they make is: what else can we do here together?


Mariana: The role of schools is now teaching how to learn, not just providing content. Before, school was the place where you first had access to content. Today you can have access to information much faster and easier. However, school has a key contribution to teaching young people to be content curators, selecting what will help them get where they want to. Another aspect is connecting content to things that have meaning and purpose for the student.

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