Saturday, May 5, 2012

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Let's say you work in a library. You're not a librarian, though. Your entire job is to read - all day, every day.

Like many other jobs, you work Monday through Friday, 9-5, and have an hour for lunch each day.

Soon, you will become very good at reading. You will be able to do so at a 800 word-per-minute rate (considered significantly above average for literate adults). At that rate, and assuming the average book contains 64,000 words (according to Amazon's text stats feature), it would take you 80 minutes to finish one book. That means, in a 7 hour day, you could read approximately 5 and 1/4 books. Not too shabby. If this is your job for your entire adult life, let's say age 18 to 80 (death is really the only excuse to retire when your job is to read), you can accomplish a staggering 84,630 books (and half of one more - shame you die before finishing, but so goes the math) in your lifetime. You would be the definition of "book smart." Right?

The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (and Virginia - it's so big it needs two states) is the biggest library in the world. It has 34.5 million cataloged books. So, if you were a stellar employee there, reading every minute of every 7 hour weekday of your life, never getting on Facebook or writing in your blog about books, you would get through 84,630/34,500,000 - 1/408th - 0.2% - of all the books in the library. You would absorb 0.2% of the available knowledge after a lifelong career. Talk about disappointing.

Let's consider a more unrealistic scenario - ok an impossible scenario - just for the sake of my argument (which I'll get to eventually, I promise). If you read for every second of every day of your entire life, from birth to death, at 800 WPM and at 64,000 words per book, you could get through about 525,949 books in your lifetime. As an employee at the Library of Congress, your career looks only slightly better, at a meager 1.5% of all books completed - no Pulitzer Prize-worthy feat. It would take 66 lifetimes of non-stop reading to complete the entire collection at this one library.

OK, I know you've been waiting. Argument time. Ready?

Libraries are awesome.

I know, groundbreaking. But really...


Prague, Czech Republic

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Stockholm, Sweden

New Haven, CT

Ottawa, Ontario

Mexico City, Mexico

Toronto, Ontario

Some of the 838 miles of shelving at the Library of Congress. I guess you need that much when you're housing 151.8 million items.

There are just so many books out there! Have you ever wandered through a library and just browsed? I swear, there's a book for EVERY topic. Every topic you can think of, someone has written about it. And I wonder, if you pick a book at random, how many people have actually read it, cover to cover? There have to be some published books that have NEVER been read cover to cover! The author of said book slaved away for months, even years, writing, just to have it sit on a library shelf somewhere and collect dust. Sucks for the author, but pretty cool to think about.

Maybe you don't think all this is so amusing, but that's fine. This is about my child-like fascination with simple things. It makes life fun, you should try it.

It's cool to me that, in a society that has shifted so drastically away from books, and towards electronic media, we still have libraries. And people still go there. However, if I ever see someone reading from their Kindle in a library I might freak out.

Ironically enough, I'm writing this at a library. I came here to grade exams. I thought the library would be a place conducive to grading exams, but it turns out to be conducive to writing about libraries. Figures.

There's even cool libraries in Utah! Yes I spend time here, and yes I walk around creepily snapping pictures on my phone. This corridor alone would take you 67 years to read. I did the math. Just kidding. But I've gotta be close.

 This is where I'm sitting, right now. How could you sit here and not write about books. Sometimes I try to take artistic photos. Believe me, this is one of my better ones.


  1. I stumbled over here from The Mommy Mess and this post cracks me up. I think random thoughts are the most fun to read and this is a whole blog of them. I love it! Library books hate me. I try and check them out and bring them home but then they fall into a black hole here never to be found again. I do love writing in libraries, though. :)

    1. Thanks AnnMarie!

      I can only read library books in libraries. Checking them out and bringing them home only leads to the black hole phenomenon you refer to. But yes, libraries are such great places to do anything that require focus!


  3. Great pictures and contemplations!