Business or Pleasure?

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?

About mk Eagle

I'm the librarian at Holliston High School, a bit west of Boston. In my spare time I advise my school's yearbook and Gay Straight Alliance, write about food, and root for the Red Sox.
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8 Comments

  1. I’m a teacher who has on many occasions felt the way that teacher felt. However, I’ve recently made time in my life for more reading – don’t know where the time came from, maybe it’s just hormones. I blame everything on hormones. But, the more reading I do, the better teacher I become. Yes, it makes it easier for me give book talks on YA lit, but it also shows the kids that I’m a life-long reader and learner. I also learn so much from what I read, and I try to share that with kids. I let them know that I’m a life-long learner which means that I’m a life-long reader. It’s what we do.

  2. Hi Anne–I hope I didn’t come across as bashing classroom teachers!

    Your wording is really important–we make time for the things that are important to us. I’ve certainly been guilty of claiming I don’t have time for something, but really all that means is that I’ve chosen to allocate my time differently.

  3. so true and well said. Regarding Oscar Wao – I had a telephone reference call for material on Trujillo (of the DR) and after going through all these sources, I had to slip in an “you know, a fiction source I just read about Trujillo is Junot Diaz’ book…..”etc etc etc. We had such a good conversation, and I loved being able to share that book with her.

  4. I’m an author, and I know that reading makes me a better writer. But I suspect that, regardless of our work, reading makes us all better people. Reading stretches our interests and our tolerance. It introduces us to new ideas as well as new friends. And it ignites our passions – by which I mean the positions, events and ideals we feel passionate about. Reading is a life choice that keeps us growing instead of leaving us standing still.

  5. I’m an author, and I know that reading makes me a better writer. But I suspect that, regardless of our work, reading makes us all better people. Reading stretches our interests and our tolerance. It introduces us to new ideas as well as new friends. And it ignites our passions – by which I mean the positions, events and ideals we feel passionate about. Reading is a life choice that keeps us growing instead of leaving us standing still.
    Sorry, forgot to add great post! Can’t wait to see your next post!

  6. I started thinking about the ideas in this post in terms of how, as librarians, we present the concept of reading to teens. In my mind, if we can help teens understand the idea that reading should very rarely be considered a heinous forced activity, and instead know that even reading about “school” related topics can be interesting and useful. Then reluctant readers might become more interested readers. Gaining insight into the world can come from reading Gossip Girl, Body Drama, Grace After Midnight, True to the Game, or Wolverine.

    Of course, this means that the reading teens are assigned in classrooms needs to be related to topics in which teens are interested. It also means that librarians and others have to be willing to see the reading that teens choose to do as something that might be “fun” and informative.

  7. I am new to the public library scene, and in the past 20 months I have read more books than I have in the past five to seven years. both in YA and Adult. While I do enjoy most of the books I read, I feel it’s an unspoken obligation to my new position. In this way, the job never ends. And I am inpatient towards those outside libraries to think all I do is “just” read books all day.

  8. I struggle with this, too! Sometimes on a slow day I’ll read a book, and I always feel guilty. But so much of my “just for fun” reading turns into book talks and recommendations to students, which results in higher circulation. I have the feeling that the more I read, the more they read!

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