Posted by: Burlington Public Library (WA) | March 28, 2013

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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