Reflecting on Seven Years of Professional Reading

September 25, 2016

Throughout my career I've pursued the vision of being a reflective professional: one who benefits from others' experiences and research findings, and who occasionally shares his own insights publicly for others' professional benefit. My efforts to assimilate new knowledge are perhaps best embodied in the bibliography of selected professional readings that I've maintained at citeulike.org/user/higher_ed for the past seven years. (Note: In October 2016 I migrated my bibliography to the Zotero platform, retitling it as SmithFile.) The sources listed there give evidence of continuous intellectual and professional growth, whether related to academic course work, publication and presentation, or the practical demands of managing in the higher education enterprise.

The bibliography that I've amassed now consists of just over 600 items--not a massive library by any stretch, but not a trivial collection either. The list is nowhere near comprehensive of everything I've read since mid-2009. Its scope is limited to those sources that I've found beneficial enough to justify establishing a record for future reference: the sort of thing that I might want to cite in a paper or presentation, or consult when facing particular professional challenges. Additionally, the scope is limited to those items most germane to my identity as a higher education leader; other interests of mine, such as biblical studies and Christian worldview, are poorly represented.

As I look back at the records of 600+ intellectual engagements--roughly 1.6 items per week--I can draw a handful of conclusions:

  • My intellectual interests are broad. I assigned 514 distinct subject tags to the sources that I indexed (see a continuously updated tag cloud here). The list of topics clearly illustrates that my thinking ranges far beyond the spectrum of librarianship.
  • Not all of the sources that I found beneficial are scholarly. Many, in fact, appeared in news publications.
  • The MBA degree that I pursued from 2012 to 2015 had a definite impact on my reading habits. Among the 25 tags that I assigned most frequently (see table below), eight were clearly influenced by my academic pursuits (e.g., BUSI642, operations_management, isomorphism).
  • Areas of persistent interest have included library management, higher education administration and reform, and organizational behavior (including communication and change).

Reflecting on the sources that have influenced my thinking in recent years recalls to mind a quote from Francis Bacon that I encountered early in my career: "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention." While Bacon could scarcely have imagined the information milieu of the early 21st century--notably, one dominated by media other than books--the spirit of his quote remains true. For better or for worse, as leaders we bear the imprint of what (and how much) we choose to read.

Want to learn more about reading and related topics?

Click the buttons below to see relevant entries in my bibliography, SmithFile.