Posted by: biblioglobal | October 17, 2012

Snacking on books in the academic library

I visited the academic library today to pick up a couple of books for my book-from-every-country project. (Unfortunately, it turned out that one of them was in its original Spanish, so I’ll have to track down the English translation elsewhere.)

I love visiting the university library, however I find that I frequently with an unexpected feeling of dissatisfaction. Here’s what happens:

Andrew D. White Library at Cornell University

Photo credit: Cornell University Libraries.

1. I excitedly go to the library armed with the call numbers of a couple of books I want to check out.

2. In the process of finding the right shelves, I am drawn in by the random books I pass by on the way.  I find myself leafing through The Faber Book of Anecdotes (a compilation of possibly apocryphal stories about famous people, sorted alphabetically by last name) or Modern Business Filing and Archives: A Guide to Current Practice (Published in 1963, a fascinating anachronism).

3. I leave the library and realize that I have spent far longer in the library than I meant to, but without having found additional books to read. Even though I enjoyed browsing, I feel like I’ve wasted time that I could have spent reading the books I actually went to the library for in the first place.

It’s the biblio-equivalent of snacking instead of eating dinner.

I never feel this way when I leave the public library. For whatever reason, I don’t snack there- I just gather books and take them home to feast upon. And I leave feeling far more satisfied.


  1. I love the description! It’s totally right. I would go in to write a paper and come out having done maybe an hours worth of work, after being there all day, but have an entire list of new books to read. (I recently got a new job at a College here in Boston and I’m steering clear of the library for a bit until I whittle my to-be-read shelf down.)

    • Yeah, I definitely don’t find libraries effective places to get work done!

  2. I’m the same way when I visit the library, either my university libraries or the public one. Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to spend in the library anymore (that may change when my youngest is a bit older–she’s too much to handle in the library). Why do you think you “snack” more in the university library? Is it because it’s a different array of books (possibly more scholarly)?

    • I think that it’s because there are so many books that make me think “There’s a book about that?!” and make me want to take a closer look. But since they are more scholarly I’m less likely to actually take them home with me.

      I know someone who for a while was limited to reading fiction by authors whose last names began with A or B because from those shelves she could keep an eye on her kids in the children’s section.

  3. This is just how I feel about bookshops! Although it should also be noted: snacking still beats everything but dinner.

    • Your comment just inspired me to eat a cookie.

      • My work is done.

  4. But who knows where those browsing snacks might lead sometime when you least expect it! 🙂

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