Student Snippets A Window Into The Daily Life & Thoughts of SLIS Students

Searching for the Unknown

Amie Grosshans

We are taught early on how to search for information in a library.  You search by author, title, or subject, and find what you need.  But the reality is, it’s not always easy to find exactly what you want unless you have a good idea of what you are looking for.  In LIS 415, Information Organization, we completed an assignment where we searched for the word “grey” as author, keyword, and title.  Predictably, the results were numerous and varied, as “grey” is a fairly common word that can be a name or a color.  That assignment gave me a lot to think about.  I use the library a lot, both for school and for myself.  Most of the time I have an author or title in mind when I’m searching, or at least a subject that can narrow down my search.  But how do I search when I don’t know what I want?  And more importantly, do I ever search for the unknown?

All these questions came up because of my trip to the Needham Public Library last week.  They had a “Blind Date with a Book” table set up, and it immediately intrigued me.  The books were wrapped in brown paper, with only the keywords taped to the front.  I browsed the table and chose two books.  It was not an easy decision!

Book 1:  Death–Afterlife–Making Amends–China–Ghosts–1920’s

Book 2:  Paranormal abilities–search for truth–academic life–rivalry–magazine    editors–past lives–philosophers–aunts–relationships

It was disorienting to search for books using only those identifiers.  I’ve spent considerable time so far learning about the complexities of categorizing information, and this simple exhibit forced me take a closer look at what exactly that information provided.  Clearly the keywords gave some idea about the book’s content, but not about how everything tied together.  Consider Book 2.  How exactly do past lives, paranormal abilities, and (this one makes me laugh) magazine editors relate to each other?  What is the book actually about?  I had no clue, but I wanted to find out.

I don’t know if I will like either of these books, but that’s not really the point.  The point is that I was open to checking them out and to getting out of my reading comfort zone.  Reading new books is the perfect way to take a risk.  If I don’t like a book, I can return it.  But if I love a book, I can discover a whole new world.  The next time I’m at the library, I’m going to take another chance.  Because sometimes not knowing what you want allows you to find just what you need.

For those who are interested, the mystery books were:

Book 1:  Three Souls by Janie Chang

Book 2:  The Novel Habits of Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith