Saturday, January 23, 2010

Whatever Happened to Browsing?

You know, for some time, I've worried about the (possible) death of browsing as a way to learn about new books. The main reason, of course, is the Internet. Most of the time, when we're looking for books on the Internet, we're concerned with making (what librarians would call) precision searches. We're usually looking for a particular book by a particular author.

The question is, is this limiting our reading universe? Are we suffering a lack of knowledge of other books due to our ability to find particular titles without browsing other ones and making serendipitous choices about them?

I'd make the same argument for news reading. We can get our news delivered by email now (on topics we choose to monitor), and this eliminates the need to browse through the newspaper. But what are we missing out on because we haven't run across the random item that sparks our (unexpected) interest as we browse for the ones of most interest? (That's why I continue to get the Sunday paper delivered, no matter what.)

The other enemy of browsing is time. We all feel rushed these days. And it takes time to get in your car, go to a bookstore or library and browse through the shelves. (Time and gas, unless you ride a bike, in which case it takes even more time.) Our modern world and the Internet provides us so much information, which we have so little time to consume, it already feels like there's no time to do this.

However, even the hardest working person deserves some leisure now and then. So, spend your precious time doing something fun. Like having coffee with a friend. Or browsing the shelves of a library or bookstore. Or doing both. It'll be worth it. And your local librarian and bookstore owner will thank you.

This post was inspired by a similar one on The Reader's Advisor Online.

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