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?

Author: Maura Smale

Maura Smale is Chief Librarian at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.

9 thoughts on “Fitting In Reading”

  1. Such a big issue. Aside from news books coming out and books that I get through ILB, I have web pages left open in tabs with articles that I should get to, and PDFs open in my screenreader waiting for me to have time to read them. When times are a little slower at work, I have taken a day at home to focus on reading. That does help. I think your most pointed questions, “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?” are at the heart of my dilemma: Is the reading that I feel that I should do as important as my other tasks?

  2. Exactly! I’m glad to hear that I’m not the only one who struggles with reading at work. I’m trying to take advantage of found time more, e.g. I’d originally planned to be out today but am in instead, so I have no classes or meetings scheduled. Here’s hoping I can make a dent in some of that pile of paper today.

  3. Wow! I’m so glad you wrote this! I am a solo librarian and I struggle to “do it all” (which, of course, I can’t). I can manage to read on screen or even an article, either in a magazine or one that I’ve printed out. But it is difficult to keep the train of thought. I seldom read a book sitting in my office. Too obvious, too many distractions, etc. And I agree with you about not wanting to ready work-related material at home. I want to keep that as family or personal time (and I’m often too tired to focus anyway). I also appreciated Lisa’s comment. Nice to know I’m not alone in having so many tabs open in my browser. Sometimes they are open for weeks before I finally give up on them! So much to read … so little time.

  4. I’ve started a monthly professional reading group at work. So far I’ve chosen the readings around a specific topic and then offer a couple topics to choose for the following month, but I’ve encouraged others to put together monthly readings too. We meet once a month at lunch and discuss the readings. I think this is the best way for me to keep up with professional readings as I know I will do it if others are relying on me. Having said all that the readings are expected to be done on personal time. I’ve been able to squeeze them in at night after my son goes to bed or on the weekends during his nap.

  5. I struggle with this concept a lot at work. I’m a social media and information literacy librarian in an academic library. My position requires a lot of reading long or short form, paper or online. I am pretty sure people walking past my office think I am goofing off all day, as I am staring at a screen 80% of the time. I’m trying to quell the problem of looking busy vs. interruptible but using my door. If I am watching a webinar or webcast, reading something important, or on my lunch break I tend to close my door. Otherwise, I leave it open all day. People are still somewhat hesitant, but they are more likely to walk in or knock when the door is open. As for making time for long form reading…ip have as hard a time as you do. I have four professional books stacked on my desk and they have been there since December. I feel a little guilty doing that reading at work, even though it is 100% applicable to my job. I’m trying to get over that guilt, and I am beginning to make time to read a little a week, in section or chapter chunks. I opted for section the reading up so I am not buried in the book all day but it will still allow me to get the reading done (just a little slower than I’d like). I don’t usually get too off track if I am interrupted during reading, but I see where you’re coming from. I think I would just end up using a post-it as a bookmark so I know exactly where I left off and re-read a couple sentences if I must. I pretty much refuse to read work stuff at home, because I heave a personal reading list I’ll never finish,

  6. I deal with that as a PreK- 12 School Librarian in charge of two libraries, teach 6th grade computer skills class, Future Teacher’s of America HS Sponsor, Discovery Education coordinator, Six Flags Read to Succeed coordinator, Scholastic Book Fair chairperson, and many other hats to numerous to mention. I have had parents and community members say that “it must be nice to get paid to read all day,” but really the only time I get to read during the school day is when I read a book during storytime or during my 4th/5th grade read aloud time. There isn’t enough time in the day to read and get all of my administration paperwork done. I try to read at home, but usually fall asleep doing it. I look forward to the weekends when I can read for at least a few hours.

  7. It’s so interesting to hear everyone’s experiences, thanks! Carla, a reading group is a great idea — I’ve thought about this intermittently but haven’t ever taken the plunge. And I wonder whether it would scale to books, perhaps, as Paige suggests for keeping up with books, focusing on smaller chunks, maybe a chapter at each group meeting rather than the entire book? Lots to think about.

  8. I am having such a hard time with this! I am a first time (and part-time) reference and instruction librarian at a community college. Although my title is librarian and I do have my MLS, I feel like the powers that be around the system feel like the part timers aren’t real librarians and don’t always want to give us time to do the things that the full timers do. My direct boss is excellent at being an advocate for us, but I sometimes feel like I need to be doing, not reading about doing. Does that make sense? I have a Nook full of articles I have pulled about creating apps for libraries, starting reading clubs, and about gaming – all projects we’re thinking about for work – but I’m hard pressed to get around to reading them because it looks like I’m not doing anything! It’s a relief to find others in the same boat.

  9. I do try to include long-form reading in the summer, when I get a significant break from teaching and consulting. (That’s also when I get caught up in my RSS feed/short-form reads, which is why I read your thoughtful February post in June, Maura.) One suggestion regarding concern of looking like we aren’t working, or looking like we shouldn’t be interrupted: take your book (and a note-taking device) outside with a banana or snack and sit and read as if you are on a lunch break. Walking there and back might help with memory and brainstorming/creativity, too. I realize a solo-librarian might not be able to leave the library like this during business hours…

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