24 Hour Library

A Library Blog by Abby Hargreaves

Category: Pro Talk

Pro Talk: How to Read More Books

At the end of 2018, I knew I wasn’t going to make my reading goal. I’d aimed for 110 and “only” managed 100. I didn’t count picture books, which I read at least four of a week during the course of story time at my day job, and I typically don’t listen to audiobooks just because of personal preference. If you’re not ultra-concerned about quality but want 2019 to be the year of quantity when it comes to books, check out the twelve tips below to maximize the number of books you read.

Read what you love, not what’s popular or prescribed.

There’s a lot of pressure to read the latest and hottest, especially if you work in the book world. And there is something to be said for staying aware of trends in publishing and popular works. But just because Oprah says you should read it, doesn’t mean you have to. Read what appeals to you, not just what’s popular or prescribed, and reading will keep from feeling like a chore. The more enjoyable it is, the more you’ll want to do it — the more you do it, the more books you’ll read. Simple!

Three letters: D. N. F.

I really need to take my own advice on this one. If a book just isn’t “doing it” for you, there’s no shame in putting it down and marking it as “did not finish.” A book, if it had expectations at all, cannot expect you to put in more than a good faith effort. That might mean the first chapter, the first thirty pages, or a solid 25% — whatever makes sense to you. Ultimately, there’s little sense in pushing through a book you’re not enjoying. If DNFing makes you anxious, consider instead giving yourself permission to put a book aside for a period of time — whether that’s days, weeks, months, or even years — and come back to it. Sometimes, our situation in life can make all the difference as to whether or not a book can hit its mark in you.

Read multiple books at once.

This strategy may be counterintuitive and, indeed, not work for some — for others, it might be a game-changer. The benefit of having multiple books going at once is that, the second you get bored of one, you can easily switch to another and keep the momentum going before you get too frustrated and give up entirely. When you’re in the right frame of mind, you may find you can easily return to a book with which you were easily frustrated. I find it’s useful to have a bedtime/house book and a going out book (and sometimes a gym book and a work book). The bedtime/house book is primarily read in bed or otherwise at home, going out typically stays in my bag and goes out with me (my Kindle is great for this because it’s small, lightweight, and fits into all my bags), the gym book keeps my brain entertained at the gym (also often via my Kindle as it’s easier to hold one-handed), and the work book is sometimes something I’m reading for work or have checked out from work (a library, if you didn’t know) so it’s naturally easy to have it available for slow periods or lunch breaks. I used to also keep a book going on OverDrive’s desktop reader, which allowed me to read bits and pieces during downtime at an office job.

Always have a book with you.

You’d be surprised at how much reading can accumulate when you sneak in a few minutes here and there. With my ereader on me all the time, it was easy to grab a few minutes of reading while waiting for the train, in line at the grocery store, or waiting on food at a restaurant. With my ereader, I had a small library on me at all times — and sometimes connection to my actual library’s digital database if I also had a wifi connection — and I could take it with me everywhere because of its small size and low weight. Soon enough, reading a few pages here and there added up to a whole book that I might not have otherwise been able to add to my have-read list.

Go for series with cliffhangers.

What’s better than a book you can’t put down? A series you can’t put down! Fly through a handful of books in a short period of time when you just have to know what happens next. You can’t know, of course, whether a book will land on a cliffhanger or not, but you can Google around — there are a few lists out there. Even if a book ends in a cliffhanger and doesn’t have a sequel, you might just plow right into the next book to avoid a book hangover.

Pick books with simpler prose.

The easier is something to read, the faster you’ll read it. Meant for younger readers, juvenile chapter books are often overlooked by adults but are actually the perfect place to start here. As a children’s librarian, I’m always encouraging adults to read juvenile literature. You might be surprised by how complex and poignant many of the stories are. If you aren’t sure where to start, try some award winners or revisit old favorites from your childhood to see how they hold up for you. These books also tend to be shorter, so many of them are easy to breeze through and push you to add another tally to your count of books read!

Listen to audiobooks.

I should preface this with the fact that I don’t consider myself an audiobook person and I very rarely listen to them — my attention span just can’t handle it. But I know a few folks who really bolster their have-read list with audiobooks, whether they listen at the gym, while cooking, on their commute, or some other time. Like ebooks, eaudiobooks can often be accessed through your library’s digital catalog and via your cell phone, so they’re easy to get when you’re out and about so long as you can get a quick wifi connection. Multitasking while reading (listening to audiobooks) naturally increases the time you spend reading and therefore the number of books you read in a year.

Read more graphic novels.

Like juvenile fiction, graphic novels are another easy way to pump up your have-read numbers. Generally, with fewer words to read and process, graphic novels (or memoirs, etc.) are typically faster reads than novels or nonfiction. It took me a long time to come around to graphic novels, but I finally discovered it was the kind of graphic novels I was reading that was holding me back. Highly stylized art and action stories don’t work for me, but bold, simple styles with more social or emotional plot lines are perfect. I found a lot to read in juvenile graphic novels and of the 25 books I’ve read so far this year, 10 have been graphic novels.

Select shorter books.

When racing against the clock for my annual Goodreads challenge the last couple of years, I’ve definitely resorted to selecting shorter books to read. For obvious reasons, this helped to ensure I’d finish on time. (Poetry is often a great candidate for this strategy!)

Ask friends/the internet/your librarian for fast-paced suggestions.

Shameless plug! Librarians handle books all day long, even if they haven’t read everything in their collection (spoiler: it’s impossible; I’ve tried). Therefore, they often have a good idea of which books are fast-paced and quick reads. Visit your library, fill out a reader’s advisory form on their website, or give them a call to get some suggestions of books that will keep you glued to your seat as you flip through them. Don’t underestimate your friends, either — crowdsource on social media or ask one-on-one, there are bound to be a few fast-paced books you haven’t heard of or read yet that they can suggest. And if all else fails, Google it. As for why this works — well, it’s pretty obvious: if a plot is exciting and compelling, you’ll be more interested in reading it.

Say yes to reading, not no to distractions.

One of the best pieces of advice I got last year during my own reading slump was from a coworker. She had taken the approach the previous year of saying yes to reading, rather than saying no to distractions — and it worked for her! I tried the same thing this year and even this simple reframing made a big difference for me. Don’t say no to your phone, social media, television, music, or whatever else might distract you: say yes to reading. Don’t say, “I’m not going to look at Facebook,” instead, say, “I’m going to read my book.” Simple mental reinforcement here may change things significantly for you, so don’t give up on it if it doesn’t work pronto.

Use a tracker/timer.

There’s nothing like good old shame to get your eyes on the page. Use the stopwatch feature on your phone or computer (or a real stopwatch) to track how much time you actually spend reading. Every time you pick up your phone to check the latest on Twitter, pause the watch, and only restart it when you begin reading again. Snack break? Pause it. Checking the mail? Pause it. You might be surprised by how little you’re actually reading. Take note of it and see if you can compete with yourself to read more going forward. You’ll be proud to see how you progress, and you may even notice a difference in your ability to focus for longer periods of time in your life outside reading.

Schedule reading time.

Ah, guilt, the great motivator. Studies show writing down your goals increases the likelihood of completing those goals. So, whether you track your to-dos with a bullet journal, keep a traditional planner, or you love Google Calendar, start putting reading time into your schedule. You might task yourself with a certain amount of time spent reading or opt to challenge yourself to read twenty pages a day. Whatever you go with, you’ll probably find checking that item off your to-do list super satisfying. And if you read more than what you’ve assigned yourself, there’s no shame in rewarding yourself — add a fun sticker to your to-do list proclaiming your success, get a special treat from your favorite bakery, or invest in a new book to keep the momentum up.

Reflections on C3 at Hollins: 8 Tips on Networking and More

When I was a junior in college at Hollins University, the school instituted a new program that would be known as the Career Connections Conference, or C3. The idea was that the school would bring alumnae/i back to speak with current students about various topics relating to the professional life. At the time, at least six individuals in my class (which had a total number of around 100) were interested in pursuing library science. We were disappointed to discover none of the alumnae/i invitees had backgrounds in library science, despite the strong student interest. The following year proved to be about the same.

So when I received an invitation to attend C3 as an alumnae this year, I knew I had to make it, whatever obstacles came up. (And, naturally, they did — finding time off from work, travel, expenses, you get the idea.) I drove to Roanoke, Virginia from Washington, D.C., spent some time visiting old haunts, and before long I was in Lorimer House (previously known as the President’s House) at a reception hosted by the brilliant President Pareena Lawrence. Before I headed back to my hotel, I realized that reception was an example of successfully meeting fellow alumnae/i (many for the first time) and, well, networking.

Back in the hotel room with my nostalgic Wendy’s chicken nuggets, I marveled a bit at how I — I — had successfully networked. I, who had always lamented my inability to do so and regularly felt uncomfortable in regular social gatherings (let alone networking events), had done this thing and even felt pretty good about how I’d done it. Neat.

The following day, I went back to campus, networked more at breakfast — this time with more familiar faces, but still –, spent some time listening to others speak about interesting things, networked with current students at a luncheon, spoke on my panel, caught up with some staff and professors, polished off official conference events with a speed networking session (more on that later), and finished the day with a brief visit to the closing reception where I — get this — networked more, before doing a quick change in a public restroom and hurrying back off to D.C.

I learned a lot throughout the day, mostly that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. Most of this became evident to me during the speed networking session, which worked like speed dating. Alumnae/i sat at numbered tables, students shuffled in, we were given four minutes before “times up!” and then students stood, moved on to the next table, and we were back at it with the next one. These one-on-one interactions with students, though brief, were really eye-opening for me, as was the networking session during lunch.

These things that I learned feel so obvious to me now, but were decidedly not when I was a student during C3. And, what’s more, I was surprised to realize that the things I’d been so concerned about learning and knowing as a student were not things that I consciously learned, but rather picked up over the years in my professional life. Maybe I even knew some of these things, but couldn’t articulate them until now.

Below are those lessons, but I know there will be more in the future. I look forward to potentially serving at C3 again in the future and learning even more.

 

  1. When you’re young and/or new to networking, no one expects you to be good at it.
    As a student, I could barely define networking and its uses, let alone do it well. The trick, I now know, is to go in to a networking situation not with a goal of networking, but of a goal of practicing networking. Then, you’ll want to pay attention to the kinds of questions people ask, even if it means just listening in a conversation. If you can, go in with an idea of what kinds of actionable or tangible help or things you want and from whom (especially if you know who will be there ahead of time). You don’t have to be shy about straight out asking for those things, either. While I thought the game to play was being coy and overly polite (and therefore, not direct nor clear), it didn’t do me any good — and now from the other side, I see that it just makes sense to go ahead and ask, “Do you know of any openings in libraries right now that would be good for someone in my position to apply to?
  2. Have an elevator pitch with keywords.
    I got this advice as an undergrad and I thought it was some of the stupidest stuff I’d ever heard. Everyone knows how fake elevator pitches are. And yet. Every time I spoke with a student at C3, I found myself hoping for one because it gave me a quick snapshot of who they are and what they want and it made it easier to flip through the files in my brain. “She said photography! Quick, pull up the list of contacts on photography!” They feel silly and disingenuous, but I promise, they’re worth it. (And your partner in networking knows what nonsense elevator pitches are otherwise, so don’t feel embarrassed to use them.) Practice them, if it makes you feel better, but at a minimum, have those career-related keywords ready to go! (Something as simple as, “I’m interested in marine biology” could do you wonders.)
  3. When people offer themselves as a resource, believe them.
    The example of C3 is perhaps more extreme than what most people are likely to encounter, but you can generally count on the fact that if someone made the effort to come out on a weekend to get coffee with you and talk about your career, they’re also willing to do other things, especially if you make the request at that meeting. As a student during C3, I felt that it was very nice of the alumnae/i to revisit Hollins and share their wisdom, but that any offers of assistance beyond that, whether vague or specific, were just them saying it to say it, like you ask, “How are you?” as you pass someone in the hall. Every time I offered to be available for questions or whatever else a student thought I could offer during C3, I sincerely meant it. (And if there’s anyone who responds poorly to you reaching out after an offer, that’s on them for offering in the first place when they didn’t mean it.) I can only imagine on how many opportunities I’ve missed in the past for not taking these offers at their face value.
  4. This goes for professors, too.
    Although I’d heard the advice to make connections with your professors while on campus, I didn’t take it seriously. First, I figured, professors are insulated with other academic connections — not people who would necessarily be helpful in my career (I was wrong to believe this on a few levels, but moving on…). Second, even if I went to office hours, I wouldn’t have known what to talk about to make those connections. That’s still a tough thing, but a great old standby is to share articles in which they might have interest with professors. An email can be as brief as, “Thought of you when I saw this!” (Though ideally you’d also add a comment about the content and maybe a question, even just about their thoughts on it.) The good news is, you can also do this post-grad.
  5. Be confident, but not arrogant or condescending.
    Go into each interaction assuming the person with whom you’re speaking is the missing link between you and your dream job, even if that doesn’t appear to be the case based on whatever information you have about them beforehand. If you go into these interactions assuming the person not only can’t offer you anything, but is also definitely less knowledgeable than you are in the given field, you’re setting yourself up for a useless conversation. Even if the person across from you doesn’t know as much about caring for starfish as you do, any arrogance you project could make the person shut down, and you might miss out on discovering the person’s cousin is the top dog in starfish caring because no one wants to be condescended to. Don’t be that guy.In short: always assume your communication partner has something to offer and treat them accordingly. If you’re someone (like me) who struggles with tone and can come off disagreeably, practice, in earnest, with someone you trust to point out your shortcomings. Always, always be gracious and open-minded. You might be surprised what useful things people can dig up for you.
  6. You know more than you think you know.
    On the flip side, if you’ve had even a semester of college level chemistry, you are basically an expert as far as I’m concerned. At C3 as a student, I imagined myself as a total novice. Surely even the lawyers and professional chefs who came in knew more about libraries and publishing than I did, despite the independent research and academic work I’d done toward both ends. Nooope. Plenty of students with whom I interacted had a better understanding of their area of interest than I did. Or, if not more, then a different set of information. Don’t assume everyone older than you are also knows more than you do. You might have to elaborate a bit and it’s okay to recognize the knowledge and expertise you do have.
  7. Know what you need.
    Frequently early in my job search, I felt at a loss as to how to make myself stand out to employers. Inevitably, I applied to things only to be told I didn’t have sufficient experience. Looking back, I wish I had taken the time to sit down with job descriptions before I graduated and then figure out how to get those experiences in less traditional ways. I couldn’t conjure up an MLIS, but I might’ve sooner applied to write for Book Riot than I did to bulk up my experience with readers’ advisory.

    Take a look at the requirements and duties for jobs you have interest in. Then, if you can’t determine the best way to get that experience yourself, ask around (this could be a great networking question! “How would you suggest getting experience answering reference questions outside a traditional librarian position?”). You can also build a portfolio as a response to some of these things — blogs aren’t exactly all the rage these days, but sometimes just writing it out helps and you can always link folks to it who ask about your credentials. Then, make a name for yourself elsewhere — ask to do guest blog posts, write articles and letters to the editor, attend conference (and present, if you can). Eventually, you might find people connecting you to your work and most of the networking is done for you before you even step foot in the room where it happens. (#NotThrowingAwayMyShot)
  8. No one is looking at your clothes (that closely).
    As an undergrad at C3, I agonized over what to wear (and later, in interviews, too.). Was wearing a non-neutral primary or secondary color too bold? What if I chose flats instead of heels? Is the jewelry from Claire’s obviously not from Tiffany’s? Except for one exception, all the students I saw at Hollins who were participating in C3 (all directed to dress to impress) were dressed just fine as far as I was concerned, and some of them were far more casual than anything I would have picked when I was in undergrad. And that’s not a dig — I say this to point out, no one is looking that closely. And, honestly, the folks who included a bit of their personality in their outfits were more memorable to me than those who wore neutrals (looking at you, past me.).

    Bonus Tip: Take pictures of people with whom you network (with their permission), followed by a picture of their business card (and take keyword notes on their business card for maximum memory retention, too) with your phone. I didn’t this time around, but learned from others and will definitely take advantage of this strategy next time!

So that’s the wisdom I have now, with many thanks to those who invited me to C3 this year and who contributed to my education — both official and unofficial — over the years. What have you learned since beginning your professional life that seems obvious now, but was not before?

Pro Talk: How to Find a Book You’ve Forgotten: Tips from a Librarian

I like my job as a librarian and there are a few tasks I especially love. One of them is readers’ advisory. The other, a sort of branch of readers’ advisory, is when patrons come to me and say: “There was this book I read several years ago. I don’t know the title, and I only know a little bit about it. Help?” And it’s a more common problem than you might think. One of my favorite things is finding the book in question and watching the joy and amazement come over the reader’s face. It’s at this point that, when they express their surprise that I found the book, I note that I didn’t go to library school for nothing. (Which then leads into something like, “Librarians have to get a master’s degree?” and there’s a whole thing about it—but I digress.) If you want to know a bit about how the magic happens, read on to find out how to find a book you’ve forgotten.

woman using laptop

GET HELP

There are a number of strategies when it comes to how to find a book you’ve forgotten. Plenty of folks enjoy the rush as much as I do and there are online resources that will join you in your quest. Goodreads’s “What’s the Name of That Book???” group is an active and popular place to throw your enigma to the pros. You can also try Facebook’s Library Think Tank, which is a general gathering place for librarians and library staff, but accepts all library lovers and will happily pounce on such a question. Then, there’s “What’s That Book Called?” on Reddit. Finally, you could also join the top tier of Book Riot Insidersand ask on the Insiders-only forum.

If you’re intent on figuring out how to find a book you’ve forgotten yourself, though, try these strategies.

WORLDCAT

WorldCat bills itself as “the world’s largest library catalog.” Essentially, libraries give access to their catalogs to WorldCat, which then makes it searchable for anyone. Access and searching is free, and it can helpfully let you know if the book you’re seeking is available at a library local to you. With WorldCat, depending on the details you know about your book, the basic search might be enough. Chances are, this will yield too many results. This is where the filters come in handy.

If you know for sure you read the book a particular year, consider filtering out all books after that year. When someone tells me they know the book was published in, say, 2008, I usually put a buffer around it. Frequently, readers are totally sure about a thing that isn’t actually accurate. It’s easier to rule things out than imagine things into existence, so add a couple of years on either side for better searching. You can also select “Print book” to rule out other formats, since that’s most likely what you’re looking for. Use the filters to narrow your search as much as you can, but try to keep a buffer when possible.

When the filters don’t get the job done, try switching up your keywords. A decent thesaurus can help you out with that, though often, you’re better off trying to come up with your own. Book cataloging, for the most part, is done by humans—while machine learning is all well and good, it can never exactly match human thinking patterns. Related keywords rather than exact synonyms sometimes yield a better result, so even if something seems a little off the wall, give it a shot.

Another fun trick with WorldCat is using subject headings. Especially if someone has already suggested a title that isn’t your book but has similar themes or concepts, this can be a great way to narrow your search. Go to the page for the suggested title, and under the “Subjects” category, find the topic that makes the most sense for your forgotten book and click the link. This will provide you with a new search based around that subject heading. From there, you can go back and narrow again using the filters.

Essentially, your goal when searching is to boil the book down to its most essential self. If you can derive any kind of theme or subject from memories of the opening scene, for example, you’re in decent shape. Sometimes this is something you can do quickly. Other times, it takes some angling and reframing of your memory of the book. With practice, this gets more intuitive, so don’t give up! Instead, when you get stuck, take a few hours or days away from your search and come back to it with a fresh mind.

BIG BOOK SEARCH

For when you can only vaguely remember what the cover looks like, try Big Book Search. If you can include a keyword from the title, you’ll be more likely to find what you’re looking for. However, if you really can only remember images on the cover, you still might have luck. The website’s interface is about as basic as it gets, so if you’re someone who likes a more detailed search method, Big Book Search might not work so well for you. On the other hand, it’s one more place to try a search for that forgotten book.

GOOGLE

Google is vast. But once in a while, it yields just what you need. I’ve typed seemingly nonsensical keyword strings into the search box and got lucky. (Pro tip: include the word “book” in your search somewhere; sometimes adding “young adult” or “juvenile” is useful, too, if your book is one of those.) I typically don’t spend a lot of time searching with Google, however. Because there are so many more results to sift through than with World Cat, it often takes more time than it’s worth.

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS

Because the searching process is something that isn’t an exact science, it’s impossible to put together a guaranteed-to-work step-by-step guide. It’s a fun challenge to take on now and then and practice definitely helps. You might help out some of the folks in the Goodreads group until you have your own need for that practice in the meantime.

What other strategies and resources do you use?

 

*Originally published on Book Riot, September 12, 2018.

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