Ignoring the eye rolling and cardigan jokes by my friends and family who are well aware that I always, secretly, wanted to be a librarian, I am having the best time taking a reference class this summer! And like a lot of things we think we know but really don’t, I’ve been fascinated to learn that even after years spent doing every other job in the library but librarianship, I really didn’t know very much about reference. And even though a six-week turbo summer term won’t change that a great deal, this class is not only fueling my existing passion for what happens every day in a library, but it’s distilling my ideas around my research to bridge the library with philanthropy.
This week we studied Reader’s Advisory (yes, Nancy Pearl’s action figure came up), which brought up discussion about the value of pleasure reading. Pleasure reading is a factor being discussed and tested in research about the drastic drop in empathy over the last forty years. This article in Scientific American from 2013 kind of distills the general hypothesis that people who read are more empathetic. Click here for article For those of us who have a passion for reading, it isn’t much of a stretch to believe that journeying through a novel inhabiting characters who experience events and emotions well beyond our little world teaches us as readers how to feel.
The literature on my list this week was about discussion and experiments integrating pleasure reading into the academic library environment. That’s a tough challenge for many reasons – not the least of which is convincing technology-loving students to trade their phones in for a book and academic librarians who don’t like to get confused with public librarians – but it seems like a worthy effort that could have meaningful outcomes if programming is intentional, visionary and sustained. Changing behavior in a generation is a big job, but it has been done. I know of a group of librarians who integrated children’s books about invention in Japan in the 1980’s because the country’s leadership was afraid that, while they excelled in innovation, their professional culture didn’t understand the concept of creating something from scratch. It worked. Our challenge in western culture at this moment in time may be learning to love again – a necessary emotion to achieving real solutions for the world’s grand challenges and maintaining happy, healthy relationships and communities.
Philanthropy is at the core of the mission of libraries, so I think this is the natural place for this kind of revolution – particularly if reading is part of the solution. I sure hope they take up the calling.