The Joy of Browsing in an Algorithmic World

After a year of placing holds on public library books to pick up (I prefer to read print), I spent a half-hour the other day browsing the shelves. I have certain go-to sections but found myself wandering over to topics I rarely encounter. It was nice and relaxing to let my eyes fall on titles that wouldn’t come up during a deliberate online search or suggested titles based on popular searches or A.I. recommendations.  

I was finding materials outside my algorithmic and self-selected bubble.

If You Liked

Spending so much time streaming online services often leaves us dependent on their algorithms for what to watch, read, or listen to next. 

If you’ve spent any time browsing for something to watch, you know how overwhelming it can be to find anything. Maybe this, maybe that, maybe this for later or for this mood. You slide down the rabbit hole of finding the “perfect” choice and end up watching nothing but the old standby. No wonder we prefer to leave our viewing and reading to a computer algorithm.


We all live in our bubbles: neighborhood, profession, media preferences, news choices, politics, etc. We enjoy the comfort of the familiar and predictable. Why go outside it when you may encounter something you dislike? 

That is boring. Offensive. Terrible. 

Why indeed?

The Risky, the Unpredictable

The joy of encountering the unpredictable can be a small or profound moment, but it is a moment. It provides an opening in our hermetic lives, an opportunity for reflection, for possibility. Browsing allows the mind to see that source that causes a pause. A new hobby? Interest? Habit change? New perspective? Only by taking a risk, however tiny, can we grow as individuals and become reengaged. 

So, when schools open this fall, welcome your students back with strong signage, displays, and aligned shelves. 

Encourage them to explore and wander, taking time to find and peruse new titles.  

Let’s allow our students to find their next immersive experience by themselves.


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. So well said!! I am beyond excited for my students to be able to browse the collection again next year–there’s nothing that replaces that physical experience of searching and discovering.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.