In August last year (yes, it has taken me a while to write this post!) I was invited to attended an event presented by the English Teachers’ Association of Queensland. The aim of the event was to give english teachers an overview of shortlisted book in the Children’s book council of Australia’s Book of the Year award and was presented by the Young People’s Librarian at the Toowoomba Regional Library, Liz Derouet.
Liz outlined each book and gave some personal comments about what she thought of the writing, plot and her experiences reading the book. She was well informed about each novel and it was clear that she had read most of the books, although she did admit to listening to the audio versions during her morning and afternoon commute to save time. The list of books was extensive, and as I flipped through the numerous pages of notes, I ashamedly realised that I had not read one of these books. Not a single one.
Time for a confession. My reading habits are very… escapist. I pretty much live on a diet of fantasy and science fiction, with the occasional Billie Letts book (My favorite is The Honk and Holler opening soon. There is something about her feel-good depiction of American poverty and heartache that just gets me everytime). I have preferred this genre since I was a kid, and while I did diversify my reading at times (I spent one summer reading every Kinky Friedman book I could get my hands on), I always strayed back to the dragons and space ships. Who knows what influences or experiences lead to a particular reading preference? It never really bothered me. Until now. Working in a secondary school library meant that I was frequently asked to recommend books, or for books that are similar to other books. This was fine if the kid was into Raymond E. Fiest, but anything else? Forget it! I had no idea.
So then began the genre wars. I made a concerted effort to read books that were not fantasy/sci-fi. I started with Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, not a complete departure, but a start at least. This book is amazing. Please go and find a copy and read it immediately! Lanagan has created a whimsical, but dark tale about greed, love and loss, in language so beautiful it will make you weep. Seriously. It is that good. Not a bad start, I thought, to my foray into other genre
Lets just say, since then, my reading habit strayed back to the escapism, just the young adult escapism I can borrow from the library.
I think the idea that has made me struggle with diversifying my reading, is the contrast between reading as a form of enjoyment, and reading as professional development. I definitely see the need to read widely as a librarian, so that we can make informed recommendations and to better understand what our users are interested in. We also need to read to ascertain whether certain titles are suitable for young audiences especially in a secondary school library (I am not talking censorship here, there are just some books that seem suitable, but are not appropriate for teenagers. Sometimes the only way to make that decision is to read the book).
Despite the stereotype; Librarians do not spend all day reading. It is not our job to read every book on the shelf, rather, it is our job to know our collections and to be able to link users with resources that are meaningful to them. Reading every book that we think our users would be interested in is impossible and illogical, and would take us away from the fundamental elements of being a librarian.
So maybe I shouldn’t beat myself up about my reading choices, which are in essence a form of relaxation, along the same lines as yoga or gardening. However, I think it is vital to be in touch with what is popular or seminal in the reading lives of our users. During my time as a fledgling librarian, I have learnt that it is vital to establish and maintain a network of people and resources who can help you stay informed. Suppliers, colleagues and events, such as the one I attended, and the the students/users themselves all assist in developing an understanding of what is needed in a that particular library.
Are you a librarian/Library sciences student? I would love to hear about your reading habits? Did your habit change after you become a librarian?