Permission to Read

Professional Development, Reading
Woman reading, circa 1900

From the National Media Museum –

Have you ever found yourself falling into a bad habit?  Maybe with coffee: a latte here, and there, and then you add some flavor, and then it becomes a mocha, and then suddenly one afternoon you’re sitting there waiting for your Venti caramel chocolate freeze with extra whip and you realize that once upon a time, you liked to drink coffee.

I did that with reading.

Last week, I was reading a nice, meaty blog post about scholarly communication, and feeling twitchy and guilty. It was so long–practically 900 words! There had to be something else I was supposed to be doing! I was wasting time!

It was when my brain screamed those last words that I gave myself a shake. How had I gotten to the point where I thought reading–and reading a pro blog, mind you–was a waste of time? Come to think about it, it was not so long ago that I would sit down every morning after breakfast with the dog and read until I had to leave for work.  Sometimes blogs, sometimes a nonfiction book, sometimes–gasp!–a novel.

But somewhere along the line, I’d gotten pressed for time and started using my reading time to catch up on homework. I still went to news sites and browsed short articles, quickly nibbling on a few main points and an expert quote before flitting off to something else. At the time, I didn’t think much about the decrease in the depth of what I was reading, nor did my overworked brain miss that depth. Then news articles had become Twitter headlines: a concept, perhaps, with a hint of a viewpoint in it. I could see that things were happening, who was talking, but clicking through to what they were actually saying suddenly seemed too much work. I just hit “favorite” so I could come back later.

I don’t know when I planned to come back. I think I intended that time to be soon, but it turned into months. Then a coworker sent me a blog post on scholarly communication to read. There I was, reading for work and chafing at a few hundred words, and it hit me what a crazy place I’d let myself get into. How can it be a waste of time to take in new ideas, especially when those ideas have been carefully thought out and articulated? Without drawing upon all the insight around me, how can I expand my professional horizons beyond my own little cubicle? And besides, crazy girl, reading long pieces is a lovely way to slow down, to focus attention, to think below the surface of the world.

I have a new mission, one I hope will last. I have given myself permission to read beyond the first 140 characters. When reading blogs, articles, and reports online, I will allow myself to read the whole piece, if it’s useful, and if not, choose my stopping point based on content. I will read to build up my knowledge base, but also to learn about what is happening outside it. Sure, I can start with the news, but I will give myself permission to go beyond just one source’s report. Hey, I might even go crazy and start reading novels again!

But seriously–how do you keep from falling into bad reading habits?

Banned Books

Celebrations, Reading


I don’t know about yours, but my September absolutely vaporized, taking with it the opportunity to blog Banned Books week properly.

For several years now, I have made a point of reading a banned book to celebrate my right to read whatever I want. Unfortunately, most books have been banned because they address big topics, and are consequently long and dense. While I adore long and dense books, the middle of the semester is not a particularly conducive time for reading them. So I usually read banned children’s books. This year, emboldened by the realization that I do like some graphic novels, I read Persepolis. It was a wonderful and thought-provoking story, and I loved how the clean drawings heightened the impact of Satrapi’s stories of her childhood. Although dealing with dark, violent events, she did not sensationalize her subject: the perspective was always of an adult remembering her childhood, never of the Activist On Soapbox.

Of course, now I need to read Persepolis 2.

ALA tells us that Persepolis was banned for “graphic images” (pause here to appreciate irony), but what about all those other banned books? At the beginning of the week, I helped build a Banned Books week display based on each of four themes named in the Banned Books series from Facts on File: Social, Political, Religious, and Sexual grounds.

Well, I tried to help. Unfortunately, my anthropology training kicked in, and everything became Social. Political opinions and appropriate expression thereof? Determined by the most powerful group in a society. Inappropriate religious beliefs? Society polices that one too. Sexuality and how much is ok to publish where? Society calls those shots too. Sure, in some cases that society is small–just a handful of noisy parents in one school–but if they want a book banned, they’ll try.

I had a lovely conversation with librarian leading the display about Censorship and Society, and then, feeling that perhaps I should do the job I had been asked to complete, used the Banned Books series’ judgement on whether banning was social, political, or religious. We ended up with a balanced display that was well-browsed and borrowed from. Score one for freedom of speech.

But the next day was in, I looked at the display, and my inner anthropologist got up on her soapbox to shout “It’s all social!”

R.E.M. Reads



R.E.M. reads–of course! This poster hangs beside my desk at Job 2, and it makes me so happy. I started listening to R.E.M. before I could read (thankyou Mum & Dad), probably around the time this poster came out.

That aside, the utter randomness of it pleases me. This isn’t a public library, so why was the poster purchased? How did it end up in a part of the library where it would only be seen by librarians? These little puzzles are all over historical buildings, and they make it so much fun to work in old places.

What makes you smile at your desk?

I Read a Graphic Novel…

Hardback edition of book Red Handed

Good job, Matt Kindt

…and actually liked it. Normally, I am such a linear person, such a text person, that the jumping around between frames and having no opportunity to imagine what characters look like, how they move, totally turns me off graphic novels. Neither bothered me this time, and I polished off Red Handed in an evening.

Noir fans, grab a copy of Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes. You’ll like it.