I Don’t Read

I don’t read.

That’s not really true, of course. I read, some. I suspect that I read more than the average person, and especially the average man, but compared to other librarians, I don’t read.

If you look at my Goodreads page you’ll see that it lists five books that I’m “Currently Reading.”

  1. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, begun September 30, 2018, 397 pgs.
  2. Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War, by Mary Roach, begun September 15, 2018, 285 pgs.
  3. Debates in the Digital Humanities 2016, by Matthew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klein (eds.), begun April 18, 2017, 632 pgs.
  4. Be a Great Boss: One Year to Successby Catherine Hakala-Ausperk, begun July 27, 2018, 215 pgs.
  5. Build a Great Team: One Year to Successby Catherine Hakala-Ausperk, begun August 1, 2018, 224 pgs.

Three of the five of these books can be considered professional reading, and one of those is actually an old textbook. The other two are my fun reading.

I’ve read more in the past. If you look at my years on Goodreads since January 2010 I’ve marked 161 books as “Read,” nearly all of which were marked so upon completion (and by “completion,” I mean “stopped reading”). Yes, that’s less than 10 a year (1.53333… per month through September 2018, actually), but the first year I only marked one book “Read.”

Going over my reading challenges, I read 12 books in 2012; 8 books in 2013; 34 books in 2014; 43 books in 2015; 26 in 2016; 17 in 2017; and thus far 8 in 2018. Thirty-four, forty-three, and twenty-six books in a year are pretty good, though. What happened? What happened is that I stopped listening to audiobooks. Prior to my move to Vegas I frequently had 1-2 hours a day commuting to work in which I could listen to books as much as I wanted. I also had a job that was so pointless that I could listen to books at my desk with no repercussions. Since summer 2017 I’ve had no such luxuries. I live two miles from work and am so busy that that I don’t have time for anything but work. I would have to walk to work everyday alone to be able to the through half of the books that I got through in 2015. But I have a car and a wife who also works on campus, so that’s not going to happen. I like my car and talking to my wife.

Why does this matter? Why should you care? Who even are you?

Honestly, you probably don’t care. But, every time I try to read librarian blogs or search for new ones I’m inevitably met with “Sally’s Best Reads for Autumn,” “Bill’s best Sci-Fi Books of 2018, So Far…,” etc. I have to ask. Who are you people? Where are you making time to read this much and still get your job done? How do you read this much and still be able to watch television or movies, or listen to music, or watch sports, or spend time with your family, or go grocery shopping, or eat? I don’t believe you people are so removed from the culture that you just sit in a quiet room with a stack of books in all your waking hours, nor, do I believe the stereotype of the socially awkward librarian too inept to make eye contact with other humans.

I know you, librarians, you are frequently the most outgoing and dynamic people I’ve ever met. I don’t know any of you that are book hermits afraid to speak to other humans. You can’t be, or you couldn’t function in your jobs.

I grew up in a reading household. My mother was fond of romance and historical fiction. John Jakes was a particular favorite of hers. We saw her reading and also read. My sister read. I seem to remember several Babysitter’s Club and maybe a few Sweet Valley High around the house (It was the 80’s!). I was fond of Bunnicula. My first “adult book” was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, still a favorite. Later I read Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury. I had a Steven King phase in high school. Those were the first books I read with swear words in them. When I found Carl Sagan as a late teenager I really began the transition into my adult life. I had a C. S. Lewis phase, too. I read about both eastern and western religions. I read about science. I saw the first Harry Potter movie so that I wouldn’t have to read the books and it just made me plow through all the extant books at that time and continue the series through its fruition. I read through my teens and early adulthood. I started college at 23 years-old and spent all my time working on my bachelor’s degree over the next five years. I read more on religion and fell in love with theatre in which I read a great many plays. By the end, though, I was so burned out that I just couldn’t bring myself to read anything anymore.

It took six month after graduation before I could read again, and it was Harry Potter that got me back to it. It was 2007 and the sixth book was out. Everyone else was reading it, and the fifth movie was about to come out. I had managed to read book five, but couldn’t muster the energy to continue. Then, I think, we saw HP:5 and that was what peaked my interest again, and I finally picked up book 6. After that I was more or less back on the reading train.

Throughout my life, my pleasure reading had almost exclusively been done in bed at night before going to sleep. Typically, I’d read for twenty or thirty minutes until I got sleepy and then go to sleep. It was rare that I was so enthralled with a book that I would stay up late to read. That was my connection to reading. It was an activity for the end of the day immediately before going to sleep. So, through out my entire school experience studying by reading a book was an extremely difficult thing for me to do. I’d read for twenty or thirty minutes and start to nod off, because that was what my brain associated with reading; sleeping. Then, later, in my thirties I went to the eye doctor who told me that while it may well have been conditioning it was also that I have an astigmatism that creates eye-strain and that also makes me sleepy. That’s when I started wearing glasses regularly.

Since getting glasses I can, indeed, read for longer periods of time. I find that I get bored only getting one kind of entertainment for too long. I prefer to have at least two different books going at one time. Usually, there is one fiction and one non-fiction. Usually, also, there is one ebook and in paper. They both have their charms and their conveniences. I tend to read a chapter of one, then put it down and read the chapter of another. (BTW, I don’t like to binge watch, either, after one or two episodes of something I’m bored and want new flavors in my entertainment)

Reading, this way, only increases the amount of time it takes to get through a book, though, and I’ve always been a slow reader. Primarily, this has been because of the limited amount of time I can give a book once I’ve found or made the time to read it.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

I think this blog post began as an expression of self-consciousness about my reading habits in a profession so closely associated with book-nerds and voracious reading. They’re out there, certainly. I have a good friend with whom I work that will go through six YA novels in a weekend, and she’s not a YA librarian of any sort. But so many of our jobs really have nothing to do with books or reading. I’m a public services librarian. My job is to keep the library running smoothly on a practical on-the-ground sense. My job has more in common with retail management than any lofty ideas of Librarianship. I have a colleague with librarian job whose main purpose is to manage space and building projects. What does that have to do with books? We’ll soon be hiring a librarian whose whole job will be “reputation management” for our tenure-track faculty, and by extension, the library and university. I think ultimately, this blog post is about librarian stereotypes.

I wrote a post last year that got into some notions of masculine-specific librarian stereotypes. That post dealt with it lightly and I came down more-or-less ambivalent on the matter. Interestingly, it garnered the most passionate responses of any post I’ve ever written. Mostly, it was people who were not familiar with the term “guybrarian” and had viscerally negative reaction to it. But maybe we should take a more serious look at librarian stereotypes and how they affect us individually, or as a profession.

I go to conferences. I associate with librarians inside my workplace and outside. I see librarians of all sorts. A great many librarians readily adopt the stereotypes in terms of their dress. There are lots of horn-rimmed or cat glasses, lots of cardigans, lots of hand-knit sweaters and skirts made from natural fabrics, lots of sensible shoes, lots of self-proclaimed “nerds” who wear their passions on their sleeve. There are lots of librarians that can be identified at fifty-yards as they walk down the street.

Those are the fun stereotypes. Those are the stereotypes that we love associating with and reinforcing. But there are other stereotypes, too. The purse-lipped, bitter, shushing old maid. The mousey simpering man not masculine enough for a “real” job. The person who wants nothing more from life than a quiet room, a comfortable chair, and all the books one would be able to read in a lifetime. The person who is so socially inept that they can’t work in an environment that they have to speak with or look at another human.

Stereotypes never come from nowhere. Some version of all of these stereotypes have always existed. I’m starting to think that my self-consciousness about my reading habits comes from the book-nerd stereotype that is really starting to feel negative an anachronistic. One of my employees (who holds an MLIS) feels no shame in saying openly that he doesn’t read books. It’s just not how he chooses to spend his time. He researches on the internet a lot and builds his knowledge and interests that way, but he has absolutely no interest in sitting down with any kind of book and reading for extended periods.

I know that some of you out there have library jobs that require you to stay current on selected areas of publishing, especially in public libraries. It also seems to me that a great deal of these lists are for YA or Juvenile titles that are much shorter than the average adult oriented book. I also know that it is bootless to use others as a measuring stick. So, comparing my reading habits to those of other librarians is never going to be a productive use of my psyche. It’s like the year I tried to do NaNoWriMo and ultimately just felt worse about my lack of literary productivity. I don’t read as much as I’d like to. That is something I can work on. I don’t read as much as many that I share this profession with. There’s really nothing I can do about that and it in no way reflects on who I am as a person, or a librarian. I just have to learn to keep that in mind until I just don’t care how much others are reading compared to me.

5 thoughts on “I Don’t Read

  1. Hi Jeffrey,
    This is Rachel Miles – you commented on my blog post on Librarian Parlor several weeks back. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner. I had a LOT of major life changes, one being that I started a new position at Virginia Tech. As a result, I was not notified that you had commented on my post (again), since my email address changed. At any rate, I would be happy to chat more with you. You can email me at ramiles@vt.edu. Perhaps we can do a Zoom meeting.
    Rachel Miles


  2. I feel so validated by this posting. As a librarian on hiatus (currently taking a break to be a STAHM), I now have plenty of time to read, but when I was working full-time this was not the case. I often felt the guilt of not being the most read person on my campus, that title going to one of our English teachers, and like I was harboring some deep, dark secret. Truth? I just didn’t have any time!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, I’m not the most social person on the planet and I do find it hard to socialize with others. Since I was a kid I’ve always loved books and I’m planning on becoming a librarian when I get older. I’ve always thought that being a librarian you had to dress and look a certain way but, your post really helped me see that that’s not true at all. That I am still my own person and I don’t have to conform to any stereotype placed on librarians. Thank you so much for making this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Winter, stereotypes can be fun, but they’re usually limiting. One of the great things about librarianship is that it’s very much a “come as you are” profession. We’ve got all types and there’s room for everyone. It’s one of the reasons I’m proud to be in this profession. Interestingly, I’m actually far more social now than I was when I was just beginning. I’ve gone from being a strict introvert to being an outgoing introvert or even an ambivert. I hope you’ll join us one day.


  4. Thank you for this post! It’s refreshing to read your take on this topic and I wholeheartedly agree. From my MLIS days, I broadened my own title as devout book reader to one of media consumer. During this busy phase of my life, I’ll take my information any way I can!

    Liked by 1 person

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