Tag Archives: browsing

The Lost Art of Browsing

I admit it: I have a bias towards browsing (for books, not for web content).  When a patron bustles up to the desk, asks for and is given the one title they’ve come to get, and speeds out the door, I feel a little melancholy.  Of course I’m glad they came to their library, wanted a book, and found what they needed.  But…. whatever happened to coming to the library and leisurely grazing your way through shelves familiar and new?  The surprising find in subjects you’d never thought to look for.  The new favorite author discovered you’d never even heard of.  The synchronicity of a book seeming to spring from the shelf and land in your hand, which turns out to be exactly what you needed at that moment in life.

To me, browsing is a veritable act of faith in a universe conspiring for your benefit.    It speaks to a different age, in which we moved less quickly and were more receptive in general.

All these nostalgic thoughts were prompted by a lovely article in The New Yorker by Claire Barliant called The Art of Browsing.   She says “Browsing is fundamentally an act of independence, of chasing your own idiosyncratic whims rather than clicking on Facebook links or the books recommended by some greedy algorithm.”

How about you?  Are you a browser, past or present?  Do you teach your children to look through bookshelves with an open mind and heart?
–Mary Beth


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The Art of Browsing









The other evening, I was helping an enthusiastic young reader look for a particular book.  To her chagrin, it was checked out.  We put it on hold for her, and I suggested we browse for a different book she might like.  “Browse?” she repeated, as if she were feeling the word in her mouth for the first time.

I’m afraid that browsing is becoming a lost art.  Is cyberspeed changing our brains?  Does no one have the time to meander the shelves without aim, open to surprise, an open space within ready be filled with something of which we know not?

As Pam Kessinger, a librarian at Portland Community College, writes, “’No thanks, I’m just browsing’ is the phrase I love to imagine hearing library users say, as if they were perusing the books like they would the newest fashions, for their cachet and allure of uniqueness. Just looking, the implication would be, idly picking up visual cues and letting their minds wander, taking in ideas and forming juxtapositions.”

Your library: one place in which you can take your time and follow your nose, in public, for free.  And who knows where your nose might take you?  I know of one person who took home a book about Spain.  Her husband saw it and surprised her later that year with a trip to Madrid!

Your mileage may vary.  Come in and browse anyway: it’s good for your brain.

–Mary Beth








Filed under Books, Libraries, Reading