You Have Time for That?

You may inferred from reading this blog, in between the lines, by subtle allusions, by sparing hints here and there that I’m rather bookish. (Eh, either that or you may just have read the blog’s name.) As such, I’ve been caught with a book in my hands now and again. The usual query of, “whatcha reading?” often ensues, to which I give my usual ineffectual response. Completely independent of my answer, however, is the follow-up of “Oh, you have time to read for pleasure?”. Or, “Jeez. I can’t think of a time when I last saw somebody read recreationally.” To this, I invariably manage only the feeble reply of, “Uh, yeah, I guess I do.”

My feebleness may be due to the fact that I’m really confused by this question of, “You have time for that?” Two interpretations, I think, are possible. The first is that the person is expressing amazement that I have so much free time. The second is that the person is implying that I should be doing more vigorous and compelling (compelled?) things with my time, something a bit less selfish than reading for my own enjoyment.

The more charitable (towards me) interpretation is of course the first. As I’ve mentioned before, I have no doubt that many people lead busy, hectic lives that leave no room for reading “just for fun”. Furthermore, I have no doubt that if placed into the lives of some people I know, I wouldn’t find the time either. Attending medical school, having newborn twins, working 80-hours/week jobs are all  scenarios in which I can see myself expressing utter amazement at anybody managing to make the time to do anything other sleeping & eating (and taking care of the output from that latter activity).

Short of those incredible time sucks, however, why should people be amazed? In fact, as most people who ask me this question know that I am a) not attending medical school, b) have not pooped out any children recently, and c) surely am not earning the wage of an 80-hour job, I’m left with confusion as to why they would ask me this question. When the question is posed by somebody in a very similar situation to mine — a fellow student, a recent graduate from the same program, somebody in a career not known for being all life-consuming — then I’m truly flabbergasted. Why wouldn’t I have the time? What is it that I don’t know I should be spending all my time on instead?

This leads us to the second possible interpretation, the one whereby the implication of the question, “You have time for that?” is “You should really be doing something else with your time.” Alas, I’ve never had the peace of mind to ask what exactly it is that I should be doing. Instead, I’m left with this monologue that I will now make to you.

I believe reading outside of the classroom, reading more widely than the immediate demands of one’s job is incredibly important. This is especially true for people who aspire to be librarians. It doesn’t matter if my specific field within librarianship is going to be, say, running the back-end system of some IT department. (Yes, there are information specialists/librarians who do that.) It amounts to an abdication of professional duties to be completely divorced from any reading besides IT manuals. A librarian should know (roughly) what’s on the New York Times Bestsellers List, the important books that are coming out (e.g. Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power), and some important trends shaping her broad field of expertise.

This is analogous to, say, an economist , who even though he does not study finance, should nonetheless know what is happening with Europe’s debt crisis. To be a completely-in-the-dark economist about the euro zone sovereign debt crisis is unthinkable. Likewise for being a librarian who reads only for work, or a library school student who reads only for school. We all sometimes fall short of all the things we should do, but we should nonetheless aspire to do them. We should not lose sight of the fact that they’re things we’re normatively to do.

Second while I do read things things I’m not absolutely mandated to read, things that thus fall in the “recreational” reading zone, they are things important to my career goals, which I care about a lot. So there! Stop making me feel guilty!

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