In defense of reading
30/04/2012 § 12 Comments
One of the long-standing jokes of librarianship is that we all got into the profession because “we love to read”, the punchline of course being that we’re all too overworked to read for fun. While I don’t think anyone should enter professional librarianship with the expectation that reading is a requirement of the job (note: it isn’t), I do wish information professionals had more incentive to incorporate a love for recreational reading into our everyday practice.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: I’m very lucky to have two internships in two different library settings doing very different jobs. In my youth services position at a large public library, we are expected and encouraged to read fiction and be aware of young adult writing trends. Half of the questions I get on the youth reference desk are readers’ advisory and I regularly host book clubs, create book displays, and plan programs that promote reading.
As a reference and instruction intern and my university library, though, I hardly ever talk about books professionally. To some extent, this makes sense as our job is primarily to facilitate information literacy and more often than not, we aren’t providing readers’ advisory services (though it does happen from time to time, especially when our two copies of the Hunger Games each have 50+ holds).
I (and others, see references below) contend that readers’ advisory and leisure reading does have a place in academic settings. The concept of a “whole collection” readers’ advisory interview isn’t particularly new. The idea is that we can serve our patrons better if we consider the entire library collection, and not just fiction or books when we have a conversation about reading interests. In a readers’ advisory course I took last semester, I explored how the concept of the “whole collection” could be applied in an information literacy or academic library setting and found that promoting leisure reading supports several competencies of information literacy.
Looking for leisure reading is a type of information-seeking which requires skills librarians develop. Deciding what you’d like to read, evaluating books you’ve read in the past and what’s available to you, and synthesizing and processing what you’ve read is, essentially, the research process in a nutshell. Encouraging students at the reference desk to explore fiction or popular non-fiction related to their research topic can help students make connections between what they learn in lecture and what they experience outside of class. A subject specialist could create an annotated book list or book display to encourage students to further explore a research or course topic. Indeed, a librarian could collaborate with faculty to develop an assignment where the students choose and read a fiction or non-fiction book on the course topic and present it to the class.
During my readers’ advisory course, my classmates and I created a readers’ advisory event for the school. The purpose of the event was to encourage our cohort to read for pleasure and we selected our book (Atwood’s Oryx and Crake) with the hopes of making connections to information science work. The event was well-attended and everyone seemed to enjoy the “excuse” for reading for pleasure. Do you think there’s a place for leisure reading in academic settings? How can you incorporate the idea of a “whole collection” into your own work?
For scholarly resources about the intersection of leisure reading and academic libraries, please check out:
Dewan, Pauline. 2010. “Why Your Academic Library Needs a Popular Reading Collection Now More Than Ever.” College & Undergraduate Libraries 17 (March 3): 44-64. doi:10.1080/10691310903584775.
Hallyburton, Ann W., Heidi E. Buchanan, and Timothy V. Carstens. 2011. “Serving the whole person: popular materials in academic libraries.” Collection Building 30 (2) (April 19): 109-112. doi:10.1108/01604951111127498.
Smith, R, and N. Young. 2008. “Giving Pleasure Its Due: Collection Promotion and Readers’ Advisory in Academic Libraries.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34 (November): 520-526. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2008.09.003.