Reader Burnout

I want to talk about reader burnout. I think this is something a lot of readers deal with but I find that being a librarian makes it worse.

I’m a voracious reader. I always have been. It’s a core pillar of my self-identity.

But there are times when I just don’t want to read, sometimes for few days and sometimes for couple weeks or more. I feel guilty about this. Readers read, right? Reading is a good thing and we should all do more of it, right?

I didn’t used to feel this way. I used to read as much as I wanted, when I wanted. And that was that. It was all good.

Some of this sense of guilt started when I became a librarian. As a librarian, I feel a professional obligation to read as widely as I can. It’s part of my job to understand the reading landscape so I can help guide patrons through it.

A lot of this pressure to read more started when I began tracking my annual reading a few years ago. Tracking reading is something a lot of librarians do. I hadn’t ever thought to do it until I saw how popular it is on library Twitter and the librarian blogosphere. For many people, it’s a useful thing.

For me, it turned reading into a focus on quantity rather than quality.

I feel as though I’ve commodified my reading life. It turns reading into an assignment I’ve given myself. I think this is why my phases without reading have been getting longer overall, as a reaction against this quantification and pressure.

Reading is wonderful but it takes up time and brain space. It requires attention. Sometimes I need a break. But that contradicts my identity as a dedicated librarian and it feels like I’m slacking on my professional obligations.

So I feel guilty when I go through reading dry spells.

I go online to search for advice and guidance, and most of what I find are articles on how to get through it, how to get over the hump, strategies for fitting more reading into my day, people bragging about reading 100+ books in a year like it’s a competition.

These articles tell me I’m right to feel like I should be reading more. They tell me I’m right to feel guilty for not wanting to read all the time. They reinforce a sense that reading is an obligation. Make something an obligation and I start to resent it. Turn something into an assignment and I don’t want to do it.

The net result of my search for an answer is to make me feel even more like I’m failing as a reader.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. I think many librarians struggle with this. We love reading, we have a professional duty to read a lot and widely, but sometimes we just don’t want to. And so we feel like we’re failing somehow.

I’ve decided to refocus my efforts. Rather than working to find ways to get through my reading dry spells, I’m working to stop feeling guilty about them.

Rather than searching for ways to fit more reading into my day, I’m working to accept the fact that I need a break from it sometimes. Rather than forcing myself to read when I don’t want to, I’m trying to allow myself to embrace not reading.

Everyone has their Goldilocks zone—the amount and frequency of reading that provides the most benefit to you. The goal isn’t to try and read more and more and more… The goal is to find your zone.

Reading should be about quality, not quantity. The goal should be to maximize the quality of your reading life and not simply to read more.

It’s not like I’m not ever going to get back to it after a dry spell. I love reading! Even with all the weeks when I don’t pick up a book, I still manage to read 50-70 books per year. That’s not nothing.

The healthiest thing I can do is get rid of the guilt. That does me far more good than pressuring myself to read more. If I accept that I just don’t want to read sometimes, it does more to reduce my stress and it’s much better for my mental health. Which actually makes reading easier.

It means when I do sit down to read, I’m doing it purely for joy and not because I think have to.

So I encourage all of us to stop trying so hard to create strategies to cram more reading into our waking hours. Let yourself take a break from it sometimes. Allow your brain to rest if it needs to. Engage with different storytelling media for a while for the sake of variety. Make peace with the reality that even dedicated readers sometimes don’t want to read.

Read for joy, for fun, but not out of a sense of obligation.

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