Searching for information on the Internet has brought data to our fingertips, but it doesn’t always provide answers. It’s also made us a little lazy. Google searching means our inquisitiveness is filtered through an algorithm, designed to push answers at us whether that’s what we’re asking or not. Our lives are surrounded by forms of entertainment designed “For you,” yet curated content doesn’t satisfy our wanderlust either. Swiping or scanning through social media doesn’t replace the glory of a meandering conversation with a friend over lunch in the shade on a hot day. And nothing replaces the stacks.
When I was a kid, my library protocol was a systematic wander. Sometimes I started with the As or with a recommended book, but sometimes I started in the middle just letting my eye roam over titles with intrigue, interesting fonts, and curious covers. My one rule was I liked to get ten books; my one irritation was that you had to write out slips in groups of three, which vexed me because there was one left over. (But I never picked out nine or twelve.) I was ever so happy when the slips went away.
When I was an undergraduate, I figured out a way to get special permission to go into the stacks at Berkeley’s Doe Library, one of the largest libraries in the world. Normally, only the graduate students had access. In their lone carrels, the exuded a haunted yearning that required quiet, desperate thinking, not to mix with the mass of noisy, playful undergraduate puppies bounding about in Moffitt Library. I would study up in the stacks, too, but I liked to pull random books of the shelves to “steal moments,” perusing books unrelated to what I had to study. (How do English majors avoid studying? they read something else…)
Consider this, then a love letter to pulling random books of the shelf, a paean to browsing, to wandering through places where information is stored and letting curiosity take over. For any kind of search, changing the paradigm can yield unexpected fruit.Continue reading “The Lost Art of Browsing”