Monday, March 18, 2013

Librarians and their Books

     While perusing Inside Higher Ed  today I came upon this little essay by a fellow librarian on the sad issue of Losing Touch with Books. He laments that since entering into our academic and esoteric profession, he spends less time reading his own books than he did before. That, and the fact that people he meets assume that he spends his whole day doing nothing but reading books. This is of course, rubbish. Much as I would likely enjoy getting paid to read, it just does not happen. Oh well . . .
     No one has ever, that I recall, accused me in so many words of getting paid to read books. But it is not uncommon that when I tell a new acquaintance what I do for a living I get in response a blank look and some vague reply like "that must be very interesting," while looking completely disinterested. Others have expressed jealousy for my being surrounded by books all day (I'm not, in fact. My office is above the main stacks area)and every now and then someone actually asks me to tell them more about what librarians do. Well, you asked for it . . .   

     Like the essayist, I am dissatisfied with the amount of time I  devote to personal reading. The author identifies his problem as having so much professional reading to do that it squeezes out the reading for personal gain, whether entertainment or edification. How much time do I spend with my books, whether fiction or non-fiction?  Not as much as I would like, and my reasons are different from those of the essayist. Maybe I've been at this longer than he, so my learning curve doesn't require as many hours of Pro reading as his does (no judgement, we just have different requirements put on us). I try to keep up with some Pro Lit; I consider it part of my job to be at least a little informed about the state of our profession. My reasons for not having as much time as I would like are my wife, my kids, my church, my house and my dogs; none of which I would give up just to read more. Well, that explains most of it. I could surely put more time towards reading, once the dogs are walked and the kids are in bed.
     However, I can't read in bed. I really can't. I try and try but it just puts me to sleep very quickly. I've never had trouble going to sleep anyway, but put me in bed with a book, fiction or non-fiction, and I'm asleep inside of ten minutes. And whatever I did read, I didn't comprehend, so I'd have to go back and read it again when I'm awake anyway. So that's no option. I've recently begun an experiment in getting up when my alarm goes off (instead of using the snooze button) and reading downstairs before my kids wake up. We'll see if that works any better.
     Some of the commenters on this essay who are librarians express concern that even at work they don't spend that much time with the books in their collections, probably as a lot of librarian jobs are administrative, or work with electronic resources rather than print. I appreciate the time I get to spend  with the print books, which are my particular charge in my library. I spend time every week down in the stacks (Hence the title of this blog, btw) looking for lost books, or evaluating condition and relevancy. I even allow myself some time to sit down with a book I've come across and read bits of it. You just never know what interesting tidbits you might learn from a book chosen semi-randomly. I got my idea for the Reading Lists display I mentioned here while reviewing the books in Class Z. That's Bibliography, Library Science and Information Resources (General), for those who don't use the LC system.
     Another commenter says that she still has to deal with that other librarian misconception, that we go around "shushing" people. I've had to, in the last week, explain to someone I'd met that no, we don't really do that anymore. I will tell the really raucous students to keep it down to a dull roar, but that's not the same thing. Last week I had something that's never happened before; a student reading outside of my office came over and just about asked me to turn down my music so he could study. My colleague, whose office is right next to mine, pointed out that he couldn't hear the music, and directed the student to a dedicated quiet zone on the first floor. Yes, folks, a librarian almost got "shushed". Go try to process that idea. I'm off to read an article about the library's role in dealing with textbook affordability.

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