Friday, June 10, 2011

Confession of a librarian

I have a confession to make, even as I'm a librarian with twenty years plus experience in the field.

I'm a terrible reader.

It takes me forever to finish a book.

And there are huge gaps in my learning, "classics" I've never read, contemporary works many of my colleagues and acquaintances know that I haven't cracked.  I look at my bookshelves (well all my books are in storage now) wistfully thinking there are many titles I may never read.  And I still buy a few more, but not like in my younger years when I would think this is something I will want to read, or this is something I should read, or get this edition before they muck it up with a barcode (imagine.)

And for the most part, I am not inconvenienced by not having a book at hand.  That's where libraries come in for me and it's astounding how much is available on the web from the Gutenberg Books Project to the Internet Archive to what's just been uploaded anyhow (especially poetry, can often find what I want on another person's blog.)  And I'm not ashamed to admit that I haven't read something.  I can learn from someone who has, or put it down to read for a later that may or may not arrive.

So it is with a little amusement that I read, via Alison A, on the WebJunction LinkedIn group, that an article was published in Wired pointing out the shortcomings of ebooks at the present time.   I admire ebook technology (even as I don't have an ereader myself, except for the free app that comes with the iPhone, which leaves something to be desired, but what do I know, really).  Being able to store a library of books in a device or even just a full number is cool.  But I don't even make time for print books (or dead tree books as I hear from Shirl and others.)  What would I do with it?   Carry around more books to not read?

At the same time, as a librarian pointing people to tools and information, it is incumbent upon me to learn as much as I can about ebooks and ereaders to provide access and solve problems.  It is an evolving technology.  (See the WebJunction group for a lively discussion of preferred ereaders, and Paula Hane's overview of free ebook and ereader software sources.)

And when I reflect on my reading life, the books that have stayed with me are few, that is I can recall much of what I read and certain phrases or incidents well, mostly through rereading.  And rereading again I surprise myself that the text is different from what was in my memory.  How little I know.  I think of Gombromowicz's Ferdydurke, his description in the fourth chapter of the author's toil and ultimately the reader's distraction: "Might not just a phone call, or a fly interrupt his reading precisely at the point where all individual parts unite in a dramatic resolution ... Is this why we construct a whole, so that a particle of a part of the reader will absorb a particle of a part of the work, and only partly at that?"  Yes, this rings true with me, who reads much online and scans mostly at that. Then there are the words of Ecclesiastes.

Nobody has to read anything, but if I do, and remember it, and even act on it, I can gain something and help others, potentially.  And as far as the technology, the gain and the loss, I think of a book I didn't read but saw the movie version, No Country for Old Men, the old sheriff tells Tommy Lee Jones, "You can't stop what's coming."  And I can't, can only make the best of the situation, today and in the future.

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