Shelf Awareness with Julia Engel logo

As 2021 kicks off, I have been conjuring up my intentions for the next 330-some days left in the year. Every year we participate in this ritual: setting goals can be a good practice to help see our dreams become reality, to bring the abstract into the tangible. They can help us focus, activate behaviors and sustain momentum needed for our continued growth.

I say this keeping our present circumstances in mind, thinking about the video that recently went viral of a woman reading the list of goals she set for herself at the beginning of 2020, hysterically laughing and crying at each item — things like “travel more” or “make more money” while informing the viewers she ended up spending most of the year confined to a tiny apartment and laid off from work since last March.

COVID has changed our world and our lives, forcing us to adjust our goals. We may not achieve all or any of them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t hope to. As a librarian, naturally one of my goals every year is to “read more” and often hear from others this is also a goal of theirs. I have been thinking a lot lately about how to tackle my reading goals this year.

I realize that all this talk of goals is taking a bit of a 180 from my last column, in which the basic thesis was“read whatever makes you comfortable and don’t force yourself to read a book if you just can’t get into it. ”However, goals often force us to stretch outside of our comfort zone to stimulate growth. It may sound contradictory, but I think you can pursue focused goals while also being gentle on yourself.

It may be a matter of setting realistic goals and trying to reframe ideas of failure. Failure means I tried, and it need not carry as negative a connotation as I have previously imbued it with. I may end 2021 laughing at myself and my “pie in the sky” goals, but the benefit may be in the setting of the goals, imagining there is still hope for the future. Instead of setting wildly unattainable goals without measurable outcomes, I have chosen reading goals I think are doable given my present situation and which have clearly defined objectives.

It also helps to remember what my motivation is for setting the goal to begin with. If my goal this year is to read more, I need to remind myself of the reasons why reading is important. Notably, reading can help build creativity, activate imagination and revitalize hope for the future. It can reduce toxic stress and help generate a better sense of well-being. It can also help us to develop social emotional skills needed to see things from another perspective, which is vital when tensions are high. It is one big way we learn about what is going on in the outside world and helps us make sense of current events.

Reading can help connect us, as you all are doing with me right now through this column, despite our presently limited opportunities to connect in person. Yearly reading challenges may also be a more attainable goal since all we need to complete it is the reading material and time. The material is abundant and readily accessible through the library, I just need to set aside the time to do it.

Lastly, for me, reading is also an intersection of personal and professional goals and could be for others as well. As a librarian it is important for me to be familiar with as much of the written word as possible, so I try to read as widely as I can. Reading will also help me learn more about how I can do my job a little bit better.

So, with all of this in mind I came up with a few quantifiable targets to keep me on track. I am sharing these to possibly help inspire you in your own goals, as well as for the selfish reason of keeping me accountable to my own ambitions. I hope you will share some of your goals with me too and we can go on this journey together!

My 5 action goals:

1. Finish at least two books per month — I hope to read more than this, but thought it was a good place to begin. I usually start reading quite a few more than this but have difficulty finishing the books.

2. Read for at least 20 minutes per day — In order to achieve the aforementioned goal, I wanted to come up with an action plan to keep me focused on a smaller scale. I gleaned this from the Principal’s Summer Reading Challenge the library has collaborated with Clemens Primary and Philomath Elementary on for the past few years. There is evidence which suggests that if kids read for at least 20 minutes a day over the summer, the effects of the “summer slide” are drastically diminished when they return in the fall. This is a pretty reasonable amount of time for me to work into my daily schedule but can be adjusted if it becomes unmanageable. The main goal is to make a point to read something every day. Even 5 minutes of reading a day is better than no reading at all. A tool I use to help achieve this is an app called Beanstack. We started using this app last summer as part of our reading program at the library. It is available through app stores and is a simple way to track reading to help stay focused.

3. Join a book club — There are many benefits to being part of a group. First it gives one a forum for discussing thoughts and ideas about the book. You can get those out of your head, and it helps to crystallize what you have gained from it and clarify thoughts. Second, it serves as an impetus to read outside your comfort zone. A lot of folks who belong to the library’s book clubs have said it forced them to read something they wouldn’t have otherwise picked up and were pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Sometimes you won’t like the book, but at least you will have gained the experience and perspective you wouldn’t have otherwise. If this is also a goal you would like to achieve, the library offers a few book clubs for members of the community to join.

4. Write in a reading journal — This is another way to get thoughts and ideas out about what you’ve read. It also serves as a reminder of the content and your impressions. As a librarian, I want to be able to better remember the key elements, themes and tones of a book so I can recall these when discussing it with a patron.

5. Listen to at least one podcast about books each week — I have subscribed to a wide variety of book- and reading-related podcasts but often forget they are a great way to learn more about the wide variety of literature being published. There are many to choose from, but here are a few I have enjoyed listening to in the past year: What Should I Read Next with Anne Bogel, Borrowed by the Brooklyn Public Library, Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books with Zibby Owens, and The Penguin Podcast.

10 books I want to read this year:

1. Novel in verse — AKA the Verse Novel, a story told through poetry instead of prose. These are becoming pretty popular in the YA book scene (for example, The Crossover by Kwame Alexander or The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo). A very approachable format, sometimes can be easier to read given they are often broken up into sections more conducive to reading in shorter sittings.

2. Epistolary novel — Story told through a series of documents such as letters, diary entries, newspaper articles, etc. (notable examples include Bram Stoker’sDracula andBridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding).

3. Sports or athlete biography — I chose this solely because I am not athletically inclined and know little about sports in general, so I would like to stretch a little bit and read outside of my comfort zone.

4. Historical book about a period I know nothing about — For many of the same reasons as I listed above, I want to expand my understanding of the past and learn something totally new.

5. Genre fiction book — I read very little mystery, romance, sci-fi or Western fiction but these are frequently asked for genres, so I would like to grow professionally and become more familiar with these types of books.

6. Books recommended to me by a friend, family member, or colleague — As with book clubs, reading something someone else has suggested may help to try something new and unexpected I wouldn’t have gravitated to on my own.

7. A Classic — I am surprised and maybe a little bit embarrassed about how many influential works of classic literature I have not read!

8. A title on my home library shelf — We all have that book we bought years ago and just haven’t gotten around to yet. I am determined to make this the year I read at least one of them.

9. Book to help discover or develop a hobby — If you haven’t guessed yet, writing is my new creative outlet and I have a lovely stack of books I hope will help me hone my skill.

10. Travel book — Since we don’t know yet when we’ll be able to take that trip around the world we have been longing for, a travel guide book may have to do for now.

The good news is there are lots of resources available at the library to help us reach our reading goals this year. We are still offering home deliveries and pick-up services at all branches to get some physical items to read, or try out the many digital services we offer including downloadable ebooks and audiobooks or E-Resources.

Don’t have a library card yet? No problem! Sign up for one here. As always please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email or give us a call for further assistance.

Wishing you lots of luck in all of your goals this year and happy reading!

(Julia Engel is a reference librarian at Philomath Community Library. She can be reached via email at or by phone at 541-929-3016.)