Browsing matters

There was a moment of serendipity on my Twitter feed today. First, Nnedi Okarafor wrote:

I had to discover African lit on my own by accident at the Michigan State Library. I walked past a wall of books in the stacks...

...An Igbo name (Buchi Emecheta) caught my eye and I stopped and picked up the book. I ended up reading everything on that shelf.

Then, Zeynep Tufeczi penned a paean to the United States’ robust infrastructure, especially things we can take for granted like the post office and the library:

I bit my tongue and did not tell my already suspicious friends that the country was also dotted with libraries that provided books to all patrons free of charge. They wouldn’t believe me anyway since I hadn’t believed it myself. My first time in a library in the United States was very brief: I walked in, looked around, and ran right back out in a panic, certain that I had accidentally used the wrong entrance. Surely, these open stacks full of books were reserved for staff only. I was used to libraries being rare, and their few books inaccessible. To this day, my heart races a bit in a library.

For Tufeczi, accessible stacks remain a powerful metonym for our infrastructure, while for Okarafor, the serendipity of browsing revealed a previously unthought-of literature.

Joshua Beatty @joshuabeatty