Pop Goes the Library

Using Pop Culture to Make Libraries Better.

by Sophie Brookover, Liz Burns, Melissa Rabey, Susan Quinn, John Klima, Carlie Webber, Karen Corday, and Eli Neiburger. We're librarians. We're pop culture mavens. We're Pop Culture Librarians.


What's So Funny About Reading At Work?

I forgot if it was something I overheard at the recent NJLA conference, or something I read on a blog, or overheard in a conversation. But it was along the lines of this: that librarians should clear up the misconception that we "just read" at work by showing all the valuable work that we do. Outreach! Programs! Website stuff! Reference!

And I wonder -- what's so wrong with reading at work? Why do we have to let people know, "oh, silly, we don't read at work!"

Truthfully, shouldn't employees be encouraged to read during the working day?

Librarians are expected to give readers advisory. And to create booklists. To do storytimes. To visit schools to talk about books and read stories. Arrange author visits. Run programs. All these things require reading. And if the library discourages reading at work, when does this reading get done?

At home; not on library time. One of those things that librarians are "expected" to do.

So why do libraries discourage reading at work? Why don't they encourage it?

I think it's partly fear: if the patron sees someone reading, they will assume it's the equivalent of watching TV & eating bon bons. In other words, it's not something for work; it's something for fun. And why should librarians be paid for doing something that's fun? The patron is looking at that reading librarians and thinking, my tax dollars are being wasted.

I think its partly the belief that being a librarian is a calling, not a career. And since librarians enjoy reading, they'd be doing it anyway, so why make time at work? It's something you love anyway, so of course it will get done! But to tell the truth, sometimes I don't want to read another picture book or a teen book. I want to read something grown up; or I want to read something because it's what I want to read, not what I have to read.

Finally, I think its the belief that the reading will be a barrier to a patron approaching the librarian. "Oh, I don't want to disturb you." Except, the patrons say that anyway. If you're on the phone, if you're working at the computer, if you're helping another patron. So why should reading be any different?

If the issue is public perception, then the answer shouldn't be to go along with the misconception. Encourage staff to read -- and be loud and proud about it. And educate people that no, we're not reading; we're working. And that work happens to involve reading.

Some ideas:

  • Have posters in the children's area listing all the books librarians have read so far that year.
  • Keep a running total of all books read by staff on your website.
  • Have buttons: "We read so we can give you the best."
  • Just as you schedule desk time, schedule DEAR time.
  • Have an article in the local paper that explains why staff reading is important, and include numbers -- books published, books bought, books read, books used in storytime, books appearing on booklists.

Does your library encourage reading on library time? What ideas do have to let patrons know that it's a valuable use of staff?

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  • At 9:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm a librarian at a music library and read on the job for about 1-2 hours a week. I have very little supervision, so I'm not sure how my administration feels about this. I often feel guilty, like I'm taking time away from things that I "should" be doing and that I'm slacking. However, the end-of-semester crunch has brought many frazzled students to my library to research papers, and I've realized that all my "slacking" has paid off! I knew just which issues of Mojo and Spin to find articles about the evolution of punk rock and just which issue of Business Week to find a feature story on rising gas prices. In the end, reading on the job saves your time and more importantly, saves the patron's time as well.

  • At 10:35 AM, Blogger Adrienne said…

    When you’re working with kids, there’s also something to being a role model. Studies show that it’s *good* for kids to see fully-functioning adults reading. :) I encourage my staff to read in our Children’s Room. It’s not something we can spend all our time doing, but it is surely a valid and necessary part of our jobs.

    That said, I was reading and evaluating picture books at the Reference Desk last week, and an elderly gentleman felt it was necessary to fire off a sarcastic comment as he walked by, something along the lines of, “Glad to see you’re doing some work.” SIGH.

  • At 7:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've cobbled together three part-time gigs as a refence librarian, where I spend the majority of my time at the refence desk. Two of the gigs are at community colleges and the other is in an urban public library. The community colleges have no trouble with me reading at the reference desk. I've worked in academic libraries since 1988 and have never been asked to stop reading.

    I'm on the job about month, business as usual, at the busy urban public library and I'm asked by my supervisor to not read at the reference desk, that it isn't a "good idea." Now me, not wanting to press anybody for an answer, because I'm relatively new and basically a temp, I just put my library books away and go about reading various blogs and other online whatnots.

    My reading usually consists of current events, politics, history and poetry, and I consider reading a scholarly activity, as well as being an enjoyable activity. Both my children read like banshees, and my wife's even got a little fiction addiction to speak of. They all read because of my influence, because we don't watch a whole lot of tv, we don't play a whole lot of video games, and we don't spend a whole lot of time in front of a computer (except when we're working or writing).

    I am a librarian because I like to help people find information. I believe reading has and will continue to make me a better librarian. I believe a librarian with a book in his hands is one that can be trusted and seen as an asset to patrons from all walks and talks of life.

  • At 12:56 AM, Blogger Michele said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 12:57 AM, Blogger Michele said…

    I would love to see my local librarians reading at the desk, but they're usually too busy scurrying about fetching books from the store, answering questions about computers or helping people to locate books. All worthy tasks, but I feel sorry for them that seem too busy to ever read.


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