Book Corner: How (and Why) to Keep on Learning

Are you familiar with the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? That turns out not to be true; the internet said so. The old-school way of thinking is that you can’t do certain things, such as learning a new language or instrument unless you start early in life. That sounds pretty discouraging. Luckily, mounting research is debunking this concept.

Take owls, for example, which have long been used to illustrate this “critical-thinking” effect, as scientists determined younger owls could easily adapt to a certain experiment while their older, wiser counterparts could not. Stanford neuroscientist Brian Knudsen kept working on those elderly owls, though and discovered he could teach them new tricks by breaking difficult tasks into bite-sized chunks. What does that mean for us humans? You’re never too old to learn something new, even if you have to break it up to digest it.

Why bother to learn new things? It can be necessary, for one (see How to Boil Water). Beyond that, constantly learning and engaging with your world is good for you. Practicing a new skill changes your brain chemistry and can help stave off dementia. It increases your learning speed. Partaking in continuous learning opportunities also fights boredom, makes you more adaptable to change, and recharges your thinking. Plus, learning new skills just makes you a fascinating person (see How to Be Interesting in 10 Simple Steps).

The sheer number of books available to spark every curious mind is astounding. You can learn how to do nothing, or you can learn 10,001 household DIY solutions. Learn how to understand the secret language of cats and do-it-yourself crafts for dog lovers. You can learn to make your own ugly Christmas sweaters; the time is now, as they’ll be in hot demand before you know it. Learn to hunt for ghosts and how to practice everyday mindfulness. You can even learn how to learn better! Or, you can completely disregard this article and just read Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything - Fast and just have everyone else do it for you.

It’s no coincidence that your library’s mission is to inspire lifelong learning. Whether it’s a Grow a Reader storytime or free online language learning, we have something for everyone. We’re very excited about our newest event, our first How-To Festival, to be held at Porter Library in Stafford County on June 1 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can attend up to 30 short presentations, 15 to 30 minutes each, on a variety of how-to and DIY topics such as podcasting, making wooden signs, writing your first novel and teaching your dog commands. Of course, the library itself is one big how-to festival! For more information, visit

Tracy McPeck is the adult services coordinator at Central Rappahannock Regional Library.

This column originally appeared in The Free Lance-Star newspaper and is published here with their permission.