My mentor school librarian was energetic and caffeinated: each morning she brought a 12-cup thermos of coffee to work and proceeded to down the entire thing by the time the school day was over.
One afternoon, she asked me what I was currently reading, and when I answered, she responded in surprise with, “Oh, you still read for fun, don’t you?”
I turned my head and nodded, unsure of her words.
“It’s an occupational hazard,” she explained, “Keep reading for fun while you can because pretty soon reading is going to feel like work and it won’t feel fun anymore.”
I listened to her words but denied them. It was inconceivable to me that someday I might fall out of love with reading. What would I do without Narnia, Quidditch, and the Wild Rumpus?
I continued to love reading as I began my 11-year career as an elementary school library librarian. I happily recommended books to students, wore costumes, and staffed many book fairs. I loved the work and dreamed of someday training the next generation of school librarians.
My education continued and somewhere between drafting a memoir, finishing a dissertation, and the endless reading that comes from textbooks and discussion posts, my brain felt frazzled. When I finally graduated, I was exhausted, in debt, and experiencing something I could not understand: I didn’t want to read anymore. All I wanted to do was sit on my couch, and binge watch programs until my television broke.
It was around that time that I received a note from a fellow school librarian. She sent me a gift card to a bookstore and lovingly wrote, “It’s time to read for fun now.”
Where would I even start?
When I began to teach at the university, I was assigned to teach young adult literature to a group of aspiring school librarians. The reading list was long, covering multiple genres, but when the semester was over, I felt like I had consumed a wonderful meal. Something in my soul was gradually being put back together.
In our busy world, it is challenging for school librarians to find time to read for pleasure. However, we can’t escape the reality that we can better serve our students when we first take care of ourselves. I’m still on this journey, but here is what I am learning along the way:
Admit you are struggling. You can feel like an imposter working as a school librarian while neglecting to read in your free time. If the bibliophiles in your life notice this trend, be open to their care. You can tell your trusted few that you have somehow lost your appetite for books and need their help. They can give you books to read, provide recommendations, and lovingly ask you how your reading is going.
Read adult books for fun! There is the pressure at times from the conviction that the only books you “should read” are books that you will potentially recommend to your students. There is some wisdom to this approach, but sometimes, read for yourself, just for fun, and don’t feel guilty.
Try out audiobooks. Public libraries have wonderful free apps that you can download on your phone so you can enjoy a story while driving to work or completing household tasks. The narrators are often the authors of the books themselves and provide a dramatic flair that you might not otherwise experience by yourself.
Join a reading program or a book club. A structure can help you stay on task and accountability can help keep you reading. Meeting other people who like to read can help introduce you to new titles, authors, and genres you have yet to discover.
Create an inspiring space to read. Maybe it’s time to look for an old wooden card catalog, comfy armchair, and a cozy lamp so you have a spot you look forward to visiting each day as you open the pages of your next favorite book.
Author: Jennifer Hill
Dr. Jennifer C. Hill is the graduate director of the School Library Media program at St. Cloud State University. Some of her favorite courses to teach pre-service school library media specialists concern the reading, viewing listening guidance of children’s and young adult literature. Her work as a media specialist has been highlighted on WCCO-TV in 2013 as an Excellent Educator of the Week and was featured again in 2019 in the Resource Magazine. Her self-published 2014 memoir, Walking With Tension chronicles her journey of living with cerebral palsy. Volunteering is a priority for Dr. Hill. She serves as her Toastmaster’s club treasurer and recently organized a book give-away for children in St. Cloud celebrating the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Day of Service.