Recently, there was an interesting essay in the St. Petersburg Times about serendipity. The author is concerned that it is in danger in today’s world:
Think about the library. Do people browse anymore? We have become such a directed people. We can target what we want, thanks to the Internet. Put a couple of key words into a search engine and you find – with an irritating hit or miss here and there – exactly what you’re looking for. It’s efficient, but dull. You miss the time-consuming but enriching act of looking through shelves, of pulling down a book because the title interests you, or the binding. Inside, the book might be a loser, a waste of the effort and calories it took to remove it from its place and then return. Or it might be a dark chest of wonders, a life-changing first step into another world, something to lead your life down a path you didn’t know was there.
I’ve become a big public library patron the last couple of years. During one of the interviews for my new job, the interviewer asked me some personal questions, among them, “What are you reading right now?” One of the books was a novel that I’d picked up while browsing through the new books display at the library. It was by an author I’d never heard of and I couldn’t recall the author’s name for the interviewer. I remember feeling slightly embarrassed that I wasn’t reading something intentional or directed, that I didn’t have any sort of goal in reading this novel.. After reading this essay, I realize that there’s absolutely no shame in browsing.