Tag Archives: reading

Fitting In Reading

It seems like every year one of my New Year’s resolutions is to read more. Read more? But I’m a librarian, I read all the time, right?

Over the 7 years that I’ve been a librarian I’ve heard that misconception all too often upon meeting new people. “Oh, you’re a librarian? You must read all the time/love to read/spend your days reading!” Of course the context of that statement ultimately determines my response (and I am always polite, even when slightly exasperated), but in truth the answers are no, yes, no. Of course I love to read, as I always have, even before I was a librarian. But the amount of long-form, focused reading that I typically do during my workday is very, very small. Not that other forms of reading don’t matter — I can usually keep up with my work-related RSS feed and the newspaper, and like most office workers I read many many MANY emails each day. But sit down in my office with a book? Not often.

While I’ve found blogs and other online sources to be useful in keeping up with the academic librarianship and higher education more generally, lots of scholarly research and practical information is published in books and journal articles, too. Reading a book about information literacy, or the latest issue of C&RL, or a book about student retention that specifically addresses commuter colleges is totally, 100% relevant to my job as Coordinator of Library Instruction at a non-residential college.

So why is there a stack of books and articles 8 inches high on my desk? And a book due back to ILL tomorrow that I haven’t even cracked open?

Reading, and especially reading in print, is tricky in an office environment. To me it has the appearance of being simultaneously uninterruptible and leisure-like, which I realize are somewhat at odds. The focus that someone reading a long-form text brings to the task, perhaps taking notes as they read, sometimes makes it seem almost rude to bother them. But that’s contrasted with the popular image of a professor with their feet up on their desk, surrounded by books, just waiting for students to stop in with questions. I’ve exaggerated both of these scenes, but I think there’s a grain of truth in each.

If I’m reading at work, will folks not stop in because I seem focused and they don’t want to interrupt me? Or, on the flip side, if folks do stop in will I lose track of the thread of the reading? And, perhaps the core of the issue, is reading “work” in the same way that other office-bound tasks we may do at our jobs are “work”? Or does reading at my desk make it seem like I’m not working, especially if there are other tasks that need doing on my to-do list? Alternatively, I could bring work-related reading home to tackle on evenings and weekends, but then I’m shortchanging my opportunities for leisure reading (which I never feel I have enough of anyway).

Keeping up with the scholarly and practical literature in my field is professional development, and as such it’s an important and worthwhile undertaking. So maybe it’s as simple as that — reading for professional development is a work-related task like any other, and I should add it to my to-do list for each day.

Do you read books and articles while at work? How do you find the time and space to keep up with longer form professional reading?

“We Don’t Read That Way”

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Laura Braunstein, English Language and Literature Librarian at Dartmouth College.

I was chatting recently with a professor in my liaison department who was beginning research for a new book. Did she have everything she needed? Was there anything I should look into ordering? Yes, she said, the library was pretty well stocked with books and journals for the topic. However, many of the books she needed we only had as ebooks – for those, she would order print copies through interlibrary loan.

One of my colleagues had a similar experience. He was talking to several of his liaison faculty about a new ebook collection in the Humanities. The collection would be great, they told him, when they needed to look something up quickly, or search for a mention of a particular topic. But they would still want print books for serious study – ebooks weren’t the same, they told him, “we just don’t read that way.”

Many of these professors own Kindles or other ereaders, and love them – for reading the latest Ruth Rendell mystery on a six-hour flight to France to visit an archive. It’s one thing, they tell us, to read for pleasure on a screen – but it’s quite another to read for understanding, for critique, for engaging in the scholarly conversation. And this isn’t a generational matter – some of the faculty I know who seem most committed to print are younger than forty.

Does reading in the Humanities necessitate the long-form, linear, analog experience of the codex? Even when I tell these professors about the features available in some of the new ebook platforms – highlighting, annotation, sharing notes, etc – they still assert that they “just don’t read that way.” (And what applies to reading is even more crucial in writing – when it comes to tenure or promotion, they tell me, no monograph “born digital” would ever “count” in the way a print book would.)

Ebooks seem like sweet low-hanging fruit – they have enhanced searchability, accessibility at any time or place, and reduced storage and preservation costs. What’s not to love? Ebooks seem to make our students very happy. Often they don’t want to read a book cover to cover (although their professors might wish they would), and searching for relevant passages seems to satisfy their needs for many assignments. And journal literature seems exempt from the preference for print – I haven’t heard many complaints about deaccessioning back runs of print journals represented in JSTOR’s collections, for instance.

Is a user who routinely requests a print copy when the ebook is in the library’s holdings just multiplying the costs we thought we were saving? Should we deny these requests? Should we tell our Humanities faculty that even if they “just don’t read that way,” they should, because that’s the way the world of scholarly communication is moving in most other fields? Do we need to change their habits of reading, and habits of mind? Do we lead them to new formats or follow their preferences?

Ketchup is a Form of Exercise

Catching up on a couple of previous posts . . .

There are two must-read discussions over at if:book on the NEA’s latest threnody for reading. The first looks at Matthew Kirschenbaum’s interesting take, previously published in the Chronicle. The NEA report assumes one sort of reading – solitary, linear, purposeless, and sustained. Yet there is a certain kind of reading that is lateral (and very common in academic libraries) – comparing texts, following footnotes, pursuing leads from one line of thought to another, books spread out for easier access – that has been around long before the digital era. (And, of course, now we even have a primer on how to talk about books we haven’t read.) The NEA assumes there is only one sort of reading that has value. I like a long, sustained read as much as anyone (I was a Russian Lit major, fer cripe’s sake!) but I do plenty of the other, and it’s valuable, too.

The other if:book instant classic is Nancy Kaplan looking at the NCES data that the NEA uses to link declines in “reading” (narrowly defined) and reading test scores. The NEA report skews it – and they’ve been outed. This is an important critique, and a fascinating example that demonstrates critical information literacy. This would actually make for a good classroom exercise – look at press coverage, go to the NEA source, then look at the underlying data. It’s a corker!

Finally – Facebook faced up to the storm of criticism that met their plan to broadcast to members’ friends what members are buying at other sites. (A few Christmas present surprises were spoiled in the process.) They’ve decided to make it opt-in, not opt-out. Let’s hope they learned something in the process.

Kindling Debate

It’s a trifle ironic that, on the same day that the new NEA jeremiad, er, report on how reading is going to hell in a handbasket (again) Amazon finally released its e-book reader, Kindle. So, if nobody reads anymore, is Kindle – or, as Newsweek puts it in swooningly glowing terms, “the future of reading” – doomed?

According to the NEA, using a Kindle isn’t reading. As Linda Braun points out at YALSA’s blog, reading online texts does not count (and, in fact, the report expresses astonishment that using the Internet to find information correlates positively with reading proficiency. How can that be?) Also, the report continues to lament the decline in reading without really looking at it historically. Only half of Americans between 18 and 24, the report says, read a book for pleasure. (The only reading that counts is in print and for no particular purpose other than pleasure; I wonder what the faculty who assign all those books would think about that?) They note that’s a decrease in the past ten years – but is probably higher than fifty years ago. Steve Wasserman said in an article in the LA Times last August that a 1955 Gallup poll found only 17% of Americans “read books.” Oh – and multitasking is bad. So stop it. Right now. Get off the Internet and go read something.

All in all, there seems to be a bit more skepticism about the NEA’s doomsday scenario than the last time they reported the sky was falling. And given the vigor with which the Kindle gadget is being debated, the death of reading – and books – seems to be greatly exaggerated.