One of this year’s recurring topics at Book Expo revolves around the current book industry reconsideration of DRM (the digital rights management coding that essentially keeps ebooks and eaudio locked from the user’s attempt to copy–and, too often, from accessing a rightfully owned file due to technical incompatibilities between file and player or other downloading snafus). As digital intellectual property becomes increasingly accessible, both technically and popularly, some of us librarians here in the digital collections conversation are identifying the need to create the opportunity for collection users to engage in physical browsing.
This, for me anyway, is an unexpected lapse in the rich world of digital collection use habits: youth readily scan web pages, sample music, and put their eyes, ears and imaginations to the end of sorting among options to find what fits the moment’s need or want, from an information standpoint. Browsing, however, has become a stranger. Browsing–be it among horses in a meadow or middle schoolers in the school media center– is a physical activity as much as an engagement of thoughts/feelings elicited by auditory or visual stimuli. Confronting three potential resources for pursuing research on Egyptian jewelry making is, of course, a lot about what visual scanning–and in the case of a video’s soundtrack, in this example–sound resonance. Engaging one’s evaluative powers, however, can be enhanced by leafing through plates that were set in just this specific order, noting that the volume offers a biographical note about its author who turns out to be a noted jeweler, and how this volume’s smell contrasts with the scent of that other one which has beautiful little pen and ink sketches and no photos of artifacts. And, oh look, this third is printed on heavy stock that seems to promise its contents are similarly substantive…but are they? Can one judge content worth by its package…oh, look, another now personalized question to explore by the beginning researcher….
The intrinsic difference between this kind of browsing and online research scanning is subtle. No superior term paper grades abound to demonstrate the academic worth of touching, turning, riffling and hefting as part of the resource selection process. And yet, these browsing activities call up resources within budding researchers’ awareness. It’s not just who said it, when it was said, and whether it works in my information gap context; it’s also about learning to learn, and learning is an engagement with the world in its concrete aspect as well as the abstracted formulations we can draw.