As I watched my daughters age 9 and 7, with their noses in their books yesterday, I couldn’t help but think back to the idea of browsing. You remember browsing, don’t you? It’s what can happen in a library when you wander the stacks, look at the spines and covers of books and find something to read.
Today, it seems like our kids/students are in the midst of full service everything. A smartphone is generally close by when a child wonders something, parents (and librarians) are more than happy to google an answer rather than have the child’s musings last a bit longer. Key word search terms and multiple entry points into a topic let kids narrow in on a bit of information quickly so that they don’t stumble over other interesting bits on their topics.
And as we reformat and label and categorize our collections in the name of ease of use, I find myself wondering about the experience of kids in the stacks. Would an avid mystery reader stumble upon an amazing realistic fiction title if s/he is used to heading toward the mystery bin/shelf each and every time? Would a kid obsessed with mythology look up and find a book filled with wacky facts that keeps him/her occupied for hours, calling out to his/her parents…”Did you know that….”? Would a librarian looking for something to read simply stumble upon a book she had never heard of that is set in the neighborhood of her school, or find a family story that packs a punch that wasn’t on the blogs that year?
I think we owe it to our kids to let them know that it’s okay to not always know what you want to read. It’s okay to slow down and browse a bit. Take some time in the library.
And librarians, we need to slow ourselves down as well. We shouldn’t be in such a rush to help that we assume a familiar reader may want the same kind of thing that s/he always seems to want. I can’t help but remember a now 6th grade boy who to my knowledge only read graphic novels. Imagine my surprise when he told me his favorite book was The Penderwicks. I asked him how he found it, and he told me that he was just looking at the shelves one day and liked how it looked so he picked it up.
So I guess what I am saying, is that sometimes less is more. Books themselves often defy categorization, and perhaps readers should too. Let’s put assumptions aside, and keep our readers open to the possibility of finding something in the way of a happy accident. Let’s keep the magic of a stumbled upon favorite alive.