Decay of Discovery

For all the accessibility, storage, and bells and whistles that come with eBooks and eReaders, there are also clear drawbacks. Among them is the loss of opportunity for discovery inherent in stack perusal. Whether casual browsing or focused searching, libraries and readers have always counted on accidental discovery to augment reading and enhance the user experience.

eBooks rather squelch discovery. The reader may be given suggested titles and authors, but how meaningful are those suggestions? After all, anyone who understands fundamental cataloguing and information management knows that books are organized on shelves according to method and explicit criteria. Volumes tend to be related in very specific ways. Can a for-profit digital bookstore account for that? A library’s digital catalog?

And what about children? Emergent readers and younger kids rely on their parents to purchase or download titles. Without shelf perusal, the experience of spontaneous discovery is completely lost to children. Jaime Hammond, a thoughtful librarian, Library Journal Mover & Shaker, and mother of actual (not virtual) children, tweets:

Thoughtful parents will fill the void left by digital books simply by bringing kids to the library; by letting them have their run of the children’s and YA departments. Kids love finding their own materials. They do it by themselves. How are educators addressing the issue? Are they? How are libraries accounting for the loss of discovery?


About Steven V. Kaszynski
librarian, editor, contributor

2 Responses to Decay of Discovery

  1. There is an emergent reader (7) and a avid reader (10) in our house. Discovery is a highlight of their library experience, arms loaded with books we exit –some books they will like others will be returned unread, but THEY found them, on their own. Neither of them like browsing online.

    For our summer reading program presentation we are going to highlight the wonder of discovery, thank you for underlining the issue and its connection one of the problems with eBooks… there is nothing like a long summer vacation and hours of finding treasure hidden in the stacks at the library,

  2. Spencer says:

    This is a loss, for sure, but I don’t think anything can be done about it. Either people will notice they are missing it and seek it out again, or accidental discovery will disappear forever.

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