Let ’em Browse

Birds do it, bees do it, and I do it every morning. It’s what brought me to the brand new Hippie Gypsy coffee shop (because I did it online last night). Richard Feynman did it on the beach (and Leland Myrick depicts that perfectly in his and Jim Ottaviani’s new biography).

Browsing: it’s that wonder-producing, only semi-directed activity that helps us find the obscure, enjoy the unexpected, and even discover that what we thought were disparate ideas or tastes could actually be connected by us to make wholes greater than the sums of their parts. Laura Larsell discusses this eloquently, so go to Mashable right now and–after you’ve browsed it–consider the ways your library staff might be energized by opportunities to browse on the job:

  • They could become more comfortable readers’ advisors for browsing the stacks instead of just the new book shelves
  • They might locate the perfect (and free!) online resource for that perennial, thorn-in-the-side-of-a-necessarily-limited-book-collection homework assignment
  • They could rediscover values that first brought them together and thus give them the opportunity to communicate well on the job

How can you help browsers to feel satisfied instead of overwhelmed? While birds and bees are “wired” to favor appropriate colors and scents (to say nothing of mates), Mary, at the Hippie Gypsy, puts out a specials board so newcomers won’t be turned off by the length and possibilities her menu suggests. In libraryland, that translates to displays, online discovery overlays for the catalog, and events we plan to encourage users to focus on specific parts of our collections and services.

So mix it up: let ’em browse as well as pointing out what you think might be the most expeditious way of getting to what they want.