It may be somewhat fashionable to call oneself a bad reader, but I’m pretty sure I was bad at it before being bad was cool. I was bad before I read about it on the internet, at any rate.

Look familiar?

Look familiar?

I recently had the chance to sit down with a couple dozen high school students and interview them, or mock-interview them, for a job in my library. I had to tell several of them that, although it seems like a natural and appealing thing to say, one should never tell a library interview committee that one loves books.

Why on earth not? Because librarians are offended at the notion that all we do is sit around read books. We also shelve them, put little stickers on them, and dust them from time to time.

But there is more. The librarian, the good librarian, is well-informed about many books, and can offer a suggestion or two to a patron who needs a recommendation. But the recommending skill, the I-can-find-you-anything-you-need skill, is in some ways contrary to the solitary and still skill of real reading.

I noticed shortly after I got my first library job that I had less need to own books, because I was around books all day. More books than I could hope to read in a lifetime. I would borrow ten books at a time, read a few, and renew, renew, renew until I finally had to bring back the rest unread. I wanted to know about this series or that author so I could do my job with reader’s advisory, and much of the time this meant reading a few chapters and moving on to something else.

I didn’t finish many books this way—I think we are all abandoning the idea that finishing is a virtue, anyway—but I did my job and got books into the hands of my patrons. I started listening to audiobooks, too, so I could increase my book consumption, and soon I was never without a book in my bag, three in queue on my MP3 player, six more on my desk, and a ridiculous spreadsheet of what I hoped to read once I had worked my way through what I had already checked out.

The funny thing is, this isn’t too different from how I was as a reader before I became a librarian. I’m not trying to say that my pre-library self was a serious reader with a geological attention span and being a librarian makes me a sort of walking Reader’s Digest Condensed book; I’m saying that my talent for picking up a book, flipping through it to find my favorite passage, reading it, moving on to the first page of a new novel, giving up and going on to look something up in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations is nicely matched to the work of a librarian.

So of course I, and librarians the world over, love books. Of course I’m being flip when I say I’m a bad reader. But you know how fashion-crazy librarians are.

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