Right now, I am in a reading sweet spot. I'm enjoying the titles I pick up, look forward to reading in bed every night, and have a short stack of TBR items that I'm hankering to get to.
Reading has always been my favorite leisure activity but, when I'm in a sweet spot, it just hits different. In a sweet spot, there's extra excitement. That excitement makes me want to ditch whatever else I'm doing so I can devote more time to reading. When I can't, my brain eagerly looks forward to when I can set everything aside and pick up a book. It provides a motivation to knock stuff off my to do list quickly so I have more time for reading.
I find this sweet spot about twice a year. Usually, it's tied to whatever books I'm reading. Romance and YA have a stronger ability to put me in a sweet spot. Authors I enjoy most can also provide a boost. Sometimes, it's the weather or what's happening on the calendar. Right now, my sweet spot is coming from a bit of all three. Work is in a bit of a lull so I'm less stressed; a brief vacation is on the horizon to boot. Plus, it's now full on DC summer which means being indoors is less frowned upon. Finally, I found a romance series that perfectly fit my mood. Not only am I loving my current book, I know there are several more to come.
I don't know how long this sweet spot will last - sometimes it's days, sometimes it weeks - but I'm going to ride the thrill of it for as long as it lasts.
This week, I developed a blog post for work about local news sources. Since it's just a blog post, I focused on the main sources with a few relevant niche sources. As I was writing, I realized just how overwhelming a single project like this could be.
What qualifies as news? Do I mention bias? Do I include hyperlocal neighborhoods? Do I split by subject matter or area of the city? Do I include all the ways you could follow one source? Do I expand to include neighborhoods over the border?
I ended up saving loads of resources to put into an expanded research guide that our users could reference later. Said research guide will still be curated but, more importantly, it will be organized for easier navigation. Most importantly, it will include some descriptive information to put each source in context to help the user decide what they really need to look at.
This is not the first time I've had to navigate through these waters. With each research guide, video, or tutorial, I'm making choices on what to include. I'm deciding what works best at this moment and for this audience. That necessarily means that I am deliberately omitting certain sources and information. My main goal with these projects is to funnel information in such a way that they are useful and not an inundation. It would be so easy to just smack a person in the face with ALL THE INFORMATION. That's a bad idea. Instead, I see my work as a librarian to wrangle information in such a way that it is easy to navigate, digest, and understand.
Right now, I have a mental image in my head of a cowboy lassoing a single cat out of a whole herd on the wide open plains. That's an absurd mental image, but it's not wrong. In a world where there's more and more information every second, not everyone can take the time to delicately pick out exactly what they need from the masses.
That's where I come in. I look at the whole landscape, make a short list, and then share that curated list with the person in front of me.
I manage our condo's community library. Once a week, I review all the books and magazines that have accrued since my last check. Most of the material is great stuff worth leaving for others to view. Sometimes, however, I collect a big stack of stuff to chuck in our recycling bins. Usually, it's just a few outdated magazine issues or paperbacks in awful shape. Occasionally, however, someone will drop off a massive stack of material that has no purpose in being on the bookcase.
Those stacks are often composed of one of the following:
I've lost count of how many times I've had to lug twenty pounds of back issues of a single magazine title to our trash room. There is something in particular about the readership of these two magazine titles - they seem unable to just toss them in the recycling bin. It's always these two titles that are donated en masse.
I am here to tell you, as a former preservation librarian, that it is okay to recycle these items. Really! I mean it!
In my day job as an academic librarian, we often get calls asking if we take donations of these items. We don't. We don't want them. No library wants them. One of my former library school professors worked at National Geographic. They got calls regularly where people wanted to donate an entire archive of issues of their own magazine. Trust me when I say, they already have plenty of copies.
When unsolicited donations of these materials show up, it actually costs a library money to weed through and dispose of them. Donations are not free. It takes not only staff time and work space but also funds to recycle or trash large amounts of material. Even great items are not cost-free. Material must be sorted to see if it's friend sale worthy or, rarely, worth adding to the collection. If an item is to be added to a library's shelves, it has to be cataloged, barcoded, labeled, and, finally, placed in the stacks.
As a fellow book lover and reader, I understand the fear when it comes to tossing out books. We attach emotions to these items in our memories of reading them. We want to share those memories with others. We don't want to dispose of them like regular garbage. It's just so hard to do.
But, as a librarian, I'm here to tell you that it's okay. It's okay to throw away damaged, wet, or moldy books. It's okay to recycle old paperbacks, magazines, and outdated manuals.
Really. I promise.
The librarians will thank you.
It's a rare night when I go to sleep without reading at least a few pages in a book.
Reading in bed is a part of my bedtime routine. After prepping my face, brushing my teeth, and tossing back the covers, I crawl into bed with whatever book I'm reading.
I always lay on my stomach, prop my chin on my pillow, and toss the blanket up nearly over my head. This creates a cozy cocoon that is perfect for reading - particularly in the winter. Only my hands and forearms stick out as I hold the book and turn the pages.
Some nights I am able to read 50 pages. Other nights, I get only 5 to 10 pages into a book before my eyes shut and I pass out. First, I notice that I'm blinking a lot. Then, I realize that my head is bobbing and I've read the same paragraph several times. Finally, my eyes shut and I acknowledge to myself that I'm falling asleep.
Sometimes, I am able to rouse myself enough to close my book and settle back to sleep. Many nights, it's my husband who finds me asleep. Somehow, my hands always keep the book open, saving my spot. My husband is used to coming into our room, taking off my glasses, putting a bookmark where I stopped, and placing everything on my nightstand before he turns out the light. It's routine at this point.
I find that if I don't fall asleep reading, I won't have as restful a night. There is something about reading myself into slumber that leads to better rest. It helps turn my brain off for the day and disconnect from whatever may be stressing me out.
These last few moments in bed are something I look forward to every night. They are just for me. Even when the book I am reading is decidedly bad, I still need to read a few pages in order to sleep well. Reading is bed is a simple pleasure, but it's one that brings me great joy and equilibrium.
This week, the consortium our library is a part of hosted the opening colloquium session for our annual conference. The topic was renewal and focused on how librarians have been burning the candle at both ends during the pandemic. We're burned out, frustrated, and emotionally spent.
One of the exercises asked us about ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss is grief that occurs when a situation has a low likelihood of closure. It can happen when a loved one has dementia, loss of pregnancy, family estrangement, or ghosting by friends. Ambiguous loss can also crop up in the workplace.
This discussion made me think about the start of the pandemic. When we were all asked to work from home, I tried to make the best of it. I focused on long term projects I now I had focused time for. I kept up with my colleagues via chat. I took our baby being home with us for 16+ weeks as a sort of second maternity leave.
What I soon came to realize was that I missed working directly with students. We continued to provide support through online classes, chat, and email, but we no longer had a reference desk. We worked from a distance and fewer students used our services.
I had to run to the office to rescue some work material and, when I saw our empty reference desk for the first time in nearly 6 months, I almost cried. I had no idea how much I missed that desk.
Usually, the reference desk is the hot seat. You never know what you're going to be asked or what attitudes you're going to encounter. It's a total crapshoot what kind of day you are going to have. There is a constant low-level of stress and adrenaline that comes from being in that seat several shifts a week.
And it wasn't until I saw the desk that I realized I missed it immensely.
Our student population is one that directly benefits from in-person point-of-need service. It is far easier to provide research and tech support in person. You can't help someone navigate Zoom for the first time through Zoom.
When I worked the desk, I relished seeing the lightbulb moments, the smiles and head nods of understanding. I missed connecting people to the information they wanted. I missed chatting with our regulars.
It was over a year before we offered in person reference again. On my first shift, I nearly attacked our first students with my, "How can I help you?" I was so happy to be back on the desk. It felt like a part of me had been made whole.
Don't ban books.
If you don't want to read it, that is your choice. You should not be able to keep others from reading what they want.
It's that simple.
Banning books is never about protecting kids or morality. It's about control. The current wave of book banning is inherently tied to the culture wars of politics. When one party feels like it's losing, they resort to power moves of control. Banning books is one of their weapons of choice.
People who ban books are cowards. They are afraid.
They are afraid of one of the most delightful board books I have ever read. Everywhere Babies celebrates all the amazing things infants do in their first year of life.
Some folks in Florida are afraid of infants. (WaPo - may be paywalled)
I have read this book with my child more times than I can count. You know what the cowards are afraid of? The possibility that there may be some gay couples in this books. It shows two men walking together, another set talking together, and two exhausted women near a baby in a cradle. The cowards are making inferences into the illustrations. The people illustrated could just as likely be friends or family. At no point is there any explicit mention of parents who may be gay or queer or asexual or transgender in this book.
And even if there was, it shouldn't be banned!
Books are one of the safest and most comprehensive ways to understand topics that are hard or make us uncomfortable. Fiction makes us more empathetic. (Discover) Non-fiction provides research into history, science, society, and every other subject you can think of. (Library of Congress) Books are at the heart of education. When you ban them, you make learning incomplete.
Instead of learning from or growing from discomfort, the cowards have chosen to try to deny that things they don't like exist.
It won't work.
Because cowards run away and heroes stay.
When I was an undergraduate, I double majored in Media Studies and Politics. Current events are a strong interest of mine but, at some point, I just have to stop reading.
About a week into Russia's war on Ukraine, I realized that I simply could no longer read stories focusing on how children are impacted. Tears would immediately well in my eyes and I would become frozen with stress.
The story that broke me was an opinion piece in the Washington Post called "What Mothers Know about War" [gift link]. The lead photo should have told me to stop. But it was the final line - "The fact that they have traveled so far, and their children are so heavy, and their arms are so tired." - that has lingered with me for weeks. As the mother of a toddler, it's all to easy for me to imagine just how tired those mothers' arms are. There is the ache of physical exhaustion, but the mental toll of war is immeasurable.
I took a break from the news for a few days and, now, when I see a few words that trigger a heightened emotional response, I stop reading. I learned that, as much as I want to be informed, I do not want it to come at the expense of my mental health.
We've made information readily accessible, but we have not been teaching how to set boundaries with what is available. Doomscrolling, or the compulsion to scour the internet for negative news, is a legitimate problem. When it is combined with revenge bedtime procrastination the negative emotional impact is compounded by a lack of sleep. What results is never ending stress and emotional fatigue related to information. This can have negative repercussions for behavior, education, and work.
Too often we don't set limits. From a personal standpoint, that can lead to emotional spirals and endless hours of scrolling. From an educational or work standpoint, it means we don't learn when there is enough to act on. In either case, it can lead to the wonder if the information we have is sufficient. Is there more out there? Is there something important I am missing? This can result in information paralysis, where we become too overwhelmed to actually do something with the information we do have. There is simply no way we can ever consume all the information on a given subject or idea. There is just too much.
Information is a part of my job as a librarian, but I am by no means an expert on the socio-cognitive effects of the constant bombardment of negative information. What we need to do is teach ourselves how to identify boundaries. I think that begins with asking a few questions:
It may be worth checking in with ourselves to determine how we are emotionally faring. If the information is becoming a burden, it may be time to step away for a break.
I would love to hear your thoughts on setting boundaries with information. Feel free to leave a comment below.
I started keeping a TBR list some time ago. I'm not exactly sure when it started, but the need to remember what I wanted to read finally outgrew my brain and landed on paper.
From a paper list, I moved to an Excel file, then a Google sheet, and, now, a Pinterest board. (Technically, two boards: one for personal reads and one for professional reads.)
Between these two boards, I easily have over 500 books on my TBR list. One of the reasons I moved from a Google sheet to Pinterest is because I didn't want to actually know how long my TBR list was. (Plus, it's easier to pick which book I want to read next when I can look at the pretty covers.)
On average, I read about 50 books a year. It would take me over 10 years just to get through what is currently on my lists. That means a decade of never adding new titles and only reading what I've found so far.
Not going to happen.
The joy of the TBR list is that it's aspirational. I know that I am never going to read everything on there. I know that every time I add a new book, it makes it far less likely that I will read a book that has been on the list for months or even years.
My TBR list is not something I ever want to "finish." If I finish it, it means that I've stopped coming across books that look interesting. It means that I've stopped exploring new topics, ideas, and stories. It means that I stopped caring about learning and experiencing things.
I don't ever want that to happen.
My TBR list is a living extension of what I find interesting. When I scroll back through it to find my next read, I love seeing the clusters where I binged on one topic, idea, or author. I love that it shows my evolution as both a reader and a person.
My TBR is a reflection of who I am and, while I do prune titles occasionally, I hope my list forever grows.
Awhile back, I shared a link to an article that stated the average person could only read around 2,500 books in their lifetime. My dad shared this with some of his colleagues and they started discussing what counts.
Graphic novels. No. (I disagree.)
Textbooks. No. (Not sure where I stand on this.)
Non-fiction. Of course.
Books where you don't read it all. No. (I agree.)
Kids books. No.
It's the kids books that got me thinking.
I like to track my reading. I have a Google sheet tabbed by year listing the date I started, date I finished, author(s), title, genre, page count, and my rating. I'm even going back and creating a "no date" tab for all the books I know I read before I started formally tracking.
But, when it comes to kids books, I lack consistency. When it's a kids book, even a board book or picture book, that I read for a class or myself, I track it. When it's something I've read with my own kiddo, I don't.
To me, kids books are books. They are the essence of what gets us started as readers. Pictures and simple text are the gateway to full novel, academic non-fiction, and (yes) graphic novels. But I still don't count them in my own database. I can't put my finger on why.
It could be that I've read the same books dozens of times. It could be that I could motor through the entirety of my kiddo's bookcase in a day. It could also be, that it doesn't feel like reading to me. When I read to her, it feels like storytelling. I change my voice, make sound effects, exaggerate my emotions and facial expressions. It's acting and the book is my script. It just doesn't feel the same as sitting down in silence (or crashed on the couch in front of the TV) and settling in for long pages of reading.
But kids books are still books. Good books.
I now think I am going to add another tab to my spreadsheet that focuses on kids books. But I'm only going to count each title once. I may count my (rare) re-reads of adult works, but I don't think I need to say that I've read Monster Food twenty million times.