On a slow afternoon at the circulation desk a few weeks ago, a teacher spotted me with a book and asked if I was reading for a class. “Just for fun,” I answered without thinking, and she smiled. “I’m so envious. I wish I had the time to read like that!”
I just couldn’t get this interaction out of my head. At first I thought it was the implication that independent reading time is some kind of luxury, something librarians have and classroom teachers want. You know, because teachers have real jobs, and I sit around reading all day.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it was my end of the conversation that was bothering me. Just for fun? Was that really why I was reading a book about the history of American intervention in Afghanistan?
While it’s true that I do have a lot of unscheduled time on my hands these days–no papers to grade, no curriculum meetings to attend, no homework of my own to finish–I can’t say that I could ever really divorce my reading from my job.
Let’s look at my current stack of books, shall we?
There are a handful of books on women in the military. Those were almost a natural progression from Afghanistan kick I was on, which in turn was inspired by reading a blog post about inspirational activists you won’t learn about in school–people I thought I should know about and share with my students. But I also realized I wasn’t sure I could give balanced resources to teens who might be interested in military service, so I thought it was important to give myself a more balanced perspective.
Then there are a few Henry Jenkins books. I started with From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games, mostly because it’s been bothering me that my gaming elective is made up entirely of boys, but then I remembered that I’d also been meaning to read Convergence Culture since college.
I’ve also just started The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which my boss recently recommended (and I take recommendations from other librarians more as mandates than suggestions), because I like to have at least one YA book going. (Don’t even get me started on my pile of ARCs, which are mostly from Midwinter but definitely include more than one from last year’s Annual.)
I also have a handful of memoir-type books in the stack, mostly titles I heard about on This American Life that sparked my interest.
Are any of these really books I’m reading “just for fun”? Sure, no one made me check any of them out, and they’re not necessarily required by any curriculum. But does that mean they have nothing to do with my job?
The way I see it, everything I read makes me a better librarian. The YA titles are the most obvious–I can do much better booktalks and share much better recommendations when I’ve actually read a book instead of just scanning its summary from the catalog. But every time I read something new, I have that much more to give to a student who might be interested in the subject. Every reference question I answer makes me that much better equipped to answer the next. Every genre I dip my toes into makes me that much more able to help someone find The Perfect Book.
How is your “just for fun” reading making you a better librarian?