Stacked in Our Favor

Thoughts about libraries, education, children's literature, writing, art and being connected

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Reading in public

For every profession there are clichés. Librarians are no exception. What annoys librarians? Buns and shushing noises are laughable. What really gets under our skin is when people say “It must be nice to be able to read all day.” They usually say it in a tone of voice that lets us know that they are at once envious and looking down on our profession.

We laugh sardonically about how nice it would be to be able to get some of our required reading done during our working hours. (As a school librarian I have to wonder what working hours really means, but that is another story. One that my teacher friends can write as well as I can.) When do we get our reading done? At home, in the evening, on the weekend, during those summer “vacations”, waiting for the doctor, dentist, child’s soccer/baseball/football/dance/swim/etc. practice. On the bus/train/plane/etc. Listening to some of them via books on tape during our commutes. Waiting for the laundry. I’ve even been known to sneak a few pages in during a wait at the grocery story or department store. Especially during the long Christmas lines.

We do our reading by stealth, trying to impose on no one. Cramming as much work in while on location and then indulging our guilty pleasure in the dark recesses of privacy. Reading is our lurid secret.

And, did I mention that since I became a school librarian I’ve read only a handful of novels aimed at adults? I’m mostly in the middle grade trenches. I read these, even the types I dislike, so that I can find the perfect match for my students. Sometimes it is hard to plow through them.

And this was my pattern until a few weeks ago when I saw an article by Stephen Krashen. (see below if you would like more information.) I admire his work. In fact, I began using Sustained Silent Reading as a foundation for my classes after reading a number of his posts some years ago. This article jogged me. The one thing I wasn’t doing was reading during SSR. I was using SSR as the opportunity to take care of book check out. So I started sitting in the midst of my students, cheek-and-jowl and reading. It was refreshing. But to be honest, I felt like I was going to get in trouble for not doing my work. I felt like I was goofing off. Regardless, I do find that much more reading goes on when I am in the middle of the class.

The absolute kicker happened on Friday. It was my lunchtime. I don’t often eat lunch during this time, I use it to change gears and ready myself for the afternoon. Friday, however, I was dying to know how the chapter I had been reading ended. I thought I’d give myself a few minutes to find out. A student walked into the library, one of our youngest, an said in sheer innocence

“Oh, Ms. Shoup! You read too?”

I was shocked. I read books to this student all the time. I thought it was obvious.

She knew the difference. Adults read to children, but that doesn’t mean they read themselves.

Librarians need to come out of the dark places where we read and be caught in the act.  I need to stop worrying about whether someone thinks I’m taking it easy and start acting on the knowledge that being a visible reader is the most effective advertisement for reading.

Von Sprecken, D. and Krashen, S. 1998. Do students read during sustained silent reading? California Read 32(1): 11-13.


Catherine K said...

When we grew up, it was natural to read because people around us read. There were always books around and people reading, and reading for ourselves came about as naturally as breathing.

When I hear that "people aren't reading anymore", it surprises me. And then I go to a good book store or library and see folks of all ages really engaged with books, and I'm reassured

Lynda Shoup said...

Good points and ones that leave me wondering how II can provide some of that kind of environment for my students.