On Browsing for Books

I rarely go to the library knowing what book I want. Instead, I roam the stacks, hoping it will find me. During college, I got my exercise roaming the stacks. A university sized library demands that the reader who wishes to fully explore it be a good walker.

A few years ago I joined the Boston Athenaeum. Its half a million volumes are spread out over five floors. There is an elevator, of course, but I don’t use it. I have not yet learned the library’s catalogue system, nor am I particularly eager to, for there is no better place to be disoriented than in a great library. When I need a particular book, which I sometimes do, I ask the librarian where I might find it. Usually, I’m instructed to either ascend three floors or descend two. Invariably, the book I need is never on the floor I am.

Once I know what floor I must go to, I never immediately go there. Instead, I make a gradual approach, stopping on each floor separating me from my destination. Every floor has its own treasures, all vying for my attention. Most of these books I will never read, but it is wonderful to strike up a temporary acquaintance with as many as I can. For every twenty books I open, I finish probably finish one. How boring it would be to handle only those books one had an intention of reading! The pleasure of a buffet comes as much from contemplating all of the dishes as from the actual consumption of a few of them. So, my advice to you: get a roaming.