I took my children to the public library not too long ago. I am lucky that both of my children like to read, although my daughter is generally pickier than my son about what she will read. Neither of them particularly like library books, because, so they say, they are convinced that everyone who has borrowed the book before them has coughed and sneezed and dripped their lunches into the pages and, well, yuck. Easy for them to say, since they don’t have to pay for much, and they know I am a sucker for buying books. I feel like denying my children something good to read is as close to child abuse as denying them green vegetables. I like the library, though, I like wandering the stacks, waiting for the joy of accidental discovery on the spines.
But I like the library, particularly the books on tape, which are not books on tape, they are on CDs, but I am old and I can’t change the word in my head. Also, I make amazing finds there just wandering the shelves. So I took my children there, because they were in the car, and they had no choice.
My daughter remembered something she wanted to read, and stood helplessly in the middle of the stacks. “How do I find what I’m looking for?” She asked.
This made me very sad, and I admit that the ancient, creaky phrase “card catalogue” slipped through my lips before I dragged her over to the computer to show her how to search for the book. She found it, went to the shelf where it was supposed to be, and that was that.
And it got me to thinking about search engines, and how much easier it is to find what you are looking for on the computer than it was to walk your fingers through yellowed cards, soft with age and everyone else’s fingerprints.
But it also got me to thinking how you only find what you are looking for.
I mean, I do like the dictionary on my Kindle. I like being able to point to a word I don’t know, and get the definition right away, so I can read on and move on. But I also like getting out the giant unabridged dictionary I keep on a shelf in the living room. It makes my children roll their eyes when I say “let’s see” when they ask me what something means, and I thwomp the book on the dining room table and leaf through the pages to find what we are looking for. They can NOT understand why I don’t just tell them, or why I don’t Google the answer. I think they are kind of surprised that I didn’t just check with Google to find out what their names were when they were born.
The answer always there in the book. So many other things are there, too. If you look up the precise definition of “contumacy” (to pick a random word that happens to be on a piece of paper near me as I type) you will also find “contumely” and maybe “consummation” or “consomme” along your way there.
Back in the day, when the word “google” was always paired up with “eyed,” and you wanted to look something up, you went to the Encyclopedia. And more often than not you’d spend a million years looking for it, because some picture of a really gross looking fish would catch your eye, then maybe you’d look at the dinosaurs, then maybe you’d get around to looking up whatever it was you went to look up. Granted, I was a nerd-child (who has grown into an unrepentant nerd-adult), but I remember spending many hours just thumbing through the encyclopedia finding random things.
Same with card catalogues in the library. You’d pull out the long drawer, looking for something to help you with your social studies project, flip-flip-flipping the cards, and along the way you’d find a card for a book that seemed even more interesting.
The only way my kids will accidentally discover anything interesting is if they misspell whatever it is they are looking for and the misspelling happens to be something else. Everything else is algorithm-ed directly to their demographics, browsing history, and blood type, for all I know. These kids don’t even see ads that aren’t related to something they have already looked at.
So, they’ll find what they want. They’ll find it quickly and efficiently, and then they’ll move on to the next task.
How they’ll ever feel the joy of accidental discovery, I’ll never know.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Asked in the First Place” was awarded the Gold Medal for humor in the Foreword INDIES awards in 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here. If you want Lori to help you market your book, click here.