Read*! (*something other than library professional stuff)

This week I just caught Steven Bell’s latest column on the Library Journal website (with a bonus mention of Barbara Fister’s wonderful information literacy post; go on, read it) in which he urges academic librarians to read more business literature and take lessons from them. The gist of his column is that academic librarians can glean lessons from the business world that can be applied to the academic library workplace. It’s a simple and oft repeated approach: take the applicable stuff, try or modify it, and see it how it works out. There are crossover elements that can be used to improve the library.

For myself, I can say I’ve only read one book written specifically for libraries (Bite-Sized Marketing, which was co-authored by the lovely, talented, and half of The M Word library marketing blog Nancy Dowd). Otherwise, I don’t seek out professional literature because the majority of professional books don’t really interest me while the remainder are books about subjects that I already know about. To be honest, I’m not much of a book reader; in an average year, the number of books I read could be counted on two hands. (It’s not that I don’t read at all, it’s that I read more online content.) But when I do read, it tends to be non-fiction and arguably related to my job. They tend to deal with how people think, perceive the world around them, and interact with their environment in terms for laymen. That’s just what I happen to like.

As Steven is urging academic librarians to read business literature, I’m urging librarians of all stripes to read more non-professional non-fiction literature. I’ll give a few of my favorites from over the years.

1.) How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. It’s not so much about making decisions but how decisions are approached. What we commonly think about as easy decisions are the culmination of everything we have learned and experienced up to that point. How the brain evaluates information in making choices is something critical to the information literacy we hold so near and dear. Jonah provides an excellent overview of what goes in our minds when to approach decision points.

2) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Where Jonah puts decision making mostly in the context of brain function and neuroscience, Malcolm examines it from the experience and information filtering. It is this second point that is crucial; that individuals be able to determine what really matters in a situation and make a decision on that basis. Like Jonah, he talks about how the brain can express things before the conscious mind can articulate them. It’s fascinating to see how much processing happens “behind the scenes” even before actions reach our lips and bodies.

3) Buyology by Martin Lindstrom. As someone who creates library publicity, this neuroscience approach to how people see advertisements and their brain activity is (no pun intended) mind-blowing. It has influenced how I approach creating flyers and other advertisements within the library. In an stimulus saturated world, what makes it through our filters into our brains is now vital to making a connection between people, objects, and places. It instilled in me the power of association and in turn shaped how my flyers look in order to generate (hopefully) greater interest.

4) Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life by Len Fisher. I read this a few years ago so my memory is a bit sketchy. But a little logic in the guise of game theory wouldn’t hurt anyone. Furthermore, it discusses interactions in which people independently or as a group evaluate situations in order to get the best outcome. (Which, to me, could explain some of the problems of library eBook lending. How does one arrive at the best outcome when the other parties involve don’t trust each other?) It also addresses fairness and equity (something I’m sure my peers would agree are desirable librarian traits) from the game theory perspective.

5.) Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. While some might not appreciate the hilarious vulgarity that is Anthony’s style, at least read the chapter entitled “How to Cook Like the Pros”. Among the practical cooking tips are the more philosophical ones that I have taken a liking to. Use good ingredients, use few ingredients; in one motion it signifies to me that the best results come from the quality of the effort that goes into it as well as its simplicity. Library publicity might not be a culinary delight, but I have taken these ideas to make my press releases and flyers both colorful and concise (each in their own manner). It’s a good metaphor for all the work that goes on in the back of the library that makes everything in the front look so damn good.

Those five should get you started. If you have other non-librarian professional books you’d recommend, be sure to share them below!

Note: I’ve decided from now on to use links to LibraryThing rather than Amazon or WorldCat. In doing so, I’d like to urge my fellow bloggers to link to sites like LibraryThing rather than those sites when mentioning books.