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?

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Have Your Librarian Buy My Outrageously Expensive Book

It was quite considerate of this blogger to share with his readers news of his soon-to-be-available book, and to show deep concern and remorse for their inability to purchase it because a print copy for individuals costs a mere $180. Not to worry if you can’t afford it he tells his readers. He even suggests they’d be crazy to buy a copy at that price. But there’s an easy solution to this problem. It’s found right in the title of the blog post: Tell Your Librarian. That’s right folks. Just march on over to the library and tell your friendly neighborhood librarian to purchase a copy today. But wait. There’s more. Your librarians will be overjoyed to learn that my publisher actually has multiple pricing schemes for my outrageously expensive book, meaning they can spend even more of the limited book budget to add it to their collection. Just take a look at these bargains:

Sure looks like a bargain to me
Sure looks like a bargain to me

Fantastic. Let’s buy two of them.

The moral of this story: Everyone knows that academic libraries have deep, deep pockets, and they can be readily exploited by authors and publishers who will encourage faculty to demand ridiculously expensive books based on a pricing model that makes absolutely no sense. It may be that this book is the best in its field. I don’t know. But at this price can we afford to find out? Talk about a broken system.

Only Ten Minutes a Day?

I’ve always thought that if the academic library profession had a younger age demographic (the average age is just shy of 50) we’d have more readership at ACRLog. Just based on anecdotal evidence, many of the senior librarians I speak with are not ACRLog readers. They don’t have something against ACRLog. They just never got into the habit of reading librarian blogs. Print publications were always good enough for them. Now we may have some evidence that there’s some truth to this. According to a recent Primary Research Group study that surveyed 555 full-time academic librarians, they average only 10 minutes of blog reading a day. And the older a librarian is (I’m just basing this on what I read about the study – no way did I consider buying a copy – it’s not that important) the more likely he or she spends the bulk of their “keeping up” time with print publications. The demographics of ACRL aside (average member age is about 50), I’d like to think that we’ve been able to reach a good number of the younger demographic of our profession, the ones who are less likely to be ACRL members.

But my overall reaction to reading about this study was “you have to be kidding me”. Am I the only one who spends about 90 minutes a day with blogs, listservs, email newsletter, twitter feeds, etc., all in an effort to stay alert to what’s happening in and beyond our profession? If there was ever a time to be spending more time on keeping up, this is it.

What Do You Want Me To Write About Anyway?

I can’t even remember how long it’s been since we last did a survey to find out what you ACRLog readers really want us to write about. You no doubt gave us some good ideas which we most likely completely ignored. Write more about information literacy! What do you think this is? A library journal? Write more about tenure and titles for academic librarians! Yes, I want people intensely hating on me for the next month. Write about yourself Steven! Talk about a boring topic, and besides, other bloggers have this territory covered quite well. The problem of trying to figure out what ACRLog readers want us to write about may be solved by software – from our friends at IBM. You see, IBM had a problem. They had all these blogs for their employees to use to share important ideas about IBM. But hardly anyone was blogging and when they did hardly anyone was reading what they wrote – sounds like most blogs. As their guru put it:

The writers surveyed often weren’t sure how to interest readers, and many of their posts got little to no response. Readers, on the other hand, couldn’t find blogs on the topics they wanted to read about.

That’s a great problem find – how do you match what the readers what to read with the bloggers who are writing about that stuff – or put another way – how do you create the blogs that have the stuff the readers want. Being IBM, they created some new software to solve the problem.

So Geyer and his colleagues built a widget to bring these two halves of the problem closer together. Readers use the widget to suggest topics they want to read about, and they can vote in support of existing suggestions. Those suggestions then get sent to possible writers, matching topics to writers by analyzing his social network connections and areas of expertise. The researchers found that writers were most likely to post on a topic suggested by a sizeable audience, and that audience members followed up by read posts on requested topics.

I really like this idea. So much so that I just submitted a request to ACRL for funds to buy it from IBM. While I’m waiting for approval on that request, I guess we’ll just continue to write about whatever we want. But if you do have a good idea for a topic or you want to write a guest post for us – just use “Story Idea” link on our home page to let us know the blogging topics you’d like your favorite bloggers to blog about.

Kindle Is A Failed Concept Says Jobs

There was lots of excitement generated by yesterday’s Macworld 2008 presentation by Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Bet you can’t wait to get your hands on a MacBook Air. In an interview with some New York Times technology columnists after his presentation (the columnists called it “his performance”), Jobs had something interesting to say about other technology gadgets. The one comment I thought of most interest to our profession had to do with Amazon’s Kindle device for reading e-books. Jobs doesn’t have a problem with the technology, he just thinks it’s a pretty bad idea – and not because people don’t like to read e-books, they just don’t read much at all anymore. From the article:

Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading. “It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

When the Kindle first appeared there was a fair amount of discussion among librarians about how the device might be used to encourage reading. Jobs is pretty savvy about technology and consumer trends, and just the fact that he doesn’t see it going anywhere because people don’t read should be a cause for concern. Now perhaps his observation only concerns whether it can be a huge hit with consumers, rather than a niche product that will catch on with the 60% of people who do still read with some regularity. Perhaps the ultimate fate of books and reading will depend to some degree on academic librarians and things we might be able to do, perhaps working collaboratively with faculty, to encourage more reading and develop lifelong readers.

Then again, maybe Jobs would be satisfied if we all just watched television shows and movies on his company’s gadgets.