The joy of browsing the shelves

Imagine a bookless library, one in which all materials - from academic journals to classic novels to picture books - are available strictly in electronic form. It's an idea that appeals to some people and that horrifies others, and both sides can support their points of view with a number of arguments. I don't pretend to be impartial here: while I understand that there are certain advantages inherent in electronic formats, I have always loved books for their content and as physical objects. And for me, browsing shelves of books is an experience that an electronic bookshelf can approximate, but can't even come close to duplicating in all of its incredible multi-sensory pleasures. What makes me take a book off the shelf? Sometimes the title interests me, sometimes it's that the book is so old and worn that the title has rubbed right off and I'm curious as to what it can be. Sometimes I'm attracted by shiny newness, or by something about the colors or illustrations on the spine. Different moods, different books. As a child, I discovered some of my favorite authors simply by virtue of the fact that their books were shelved alongside the books of authors I already knew and loved. For example, starting with Edward Eager (Half Magic, The Time Garden, etc.) I strolled down the shelf and became acquainted with Elizabeth Enright (The Saturdays, The Four-Story Mistake) and then the wonderful Eleanor Estes (The Moffats, Ginger Pye). Pushing on into the Fs I met Eleanor Farjeon (Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard), Louise Fitzhugh (Harriet the Spy), and Sid Fleischman (The Ghost in the Noonday Sun, Jingo Django). I can't begin to imagine how different my childhood would have been without the literary companionship of Estes's Moffats and Pyes and Enright's Melendys, without having been captivated by Martin Pippin's marvelous tales, and without having shared the adventures of Fitzhugh's Harriet, Fleischman's daring boy heroes, and the children in the Eager books. Browsing the shelves was a life changing experience, one I would hate for any child to miss. Long live our libraries, long may they be filled with shelves of lots and lots of cloth, cardboard, and paper books!

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