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From the Desk of Duncan Smith: Embedded Reading

Post by Duncan Smith
Posted July 30, 2013 in NoveList Plus, NoveList Select, Readers' Advisory News

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Pleasure reading is what I like to call an "embedded activity": we immerse ourselves in our favorite reads, while at the same time the books we love get under our skin and become a part of us. Even if their details blur over time, the experience of reading that book -- who we became in some way, because of it -- always remains. The subtle ways books embed themselves in our identity is hard to tease out. For example, since James Bond is a character I cherish it's quite likely that I prefer my drinks shaken and not stirred in his honor, although I don't consciously recall making that choice for that reason.

The beautiful subtlety that makes reading part of readers can be a tough sell at budget time. Decision makers want facts and figures that show how your library contributes to the community and aligns with local government goals -- and the ways that books change people inside forever is hard to show in a spreadsheet. Because of the Great Recession, I believe our profession has avoided focusing on this intrinsic value of reading; it is easier to justify our funding and our existence when we point to how we help job seekers or support early childhood literacy. The invisibility of something, however, does not necessarily reduce its value -- take the air we breathe, for example.

Reading was the main topic of several sessions I attended at the most recent ALA. This leads me to believe we are on the verge of an RA renaissance that will put reading at the forefront, spotlighting libraries' support of "inspiration infrastructures" within our communities.

For this movement to reach its potential, our profession needs to develop strategies that spotlight how reading helps individuals become their best, most fulfilled selves -- who, in turn, strengthen the web of relationships we call community.