One of my favorite childhood activities was going to the library with a big tote bag in hand. First, I would rush to the shelves to find specific books I had heard about from friends. And then, the real fun would begin. I would choose a random aisle and just browse. I would run my eyes through the rows of books until a title caught my eye. Next, I would take the book of the shelf, read the inside flap, inhale its scent and determine whether it belonged in my bag or back on the shelf. This ritual would last for close to an hour until my tote bag was filled.
Sometimes the random books I would pull off the shelf were terrible and I would put them down after reading only a chapter or two. But other times, they were incredible, introducing me to worlds and characters I could never have dreamed of. I read biographies of historical figures I had never heard of and fell in love with fantasy fiction I would never have known to seek out. But as much as I enjoyed reading the books I would take out, the process of finding the books was even more exciting. In the library, I felt like an explorer, searching through unknown territory, never quite sure of where the books I would stumble upon would transport me or how they would change the way I viewed the world. Nothing could compare to the feeling of standing in the library, surrounded by thousands of books, more knowledge than I could ever possibly amass, and anticipating the way these books would touch my life.
As I got older and busier with high school and extracurricular pursuits, I barely had enough time to read both the books for school and those recommended to me by family and friends. And so, I slowly let my library browsing ritual go, only to be rediscovered during my first semester of college.
I was sitting in the library the night before my first biology exam. I was restless and had already taken multiple Facebook study breaks. Instead, I paced around the library, walking through the aisles of books. The excitement I had felt as a child in the library immediately returned. My eyes feasted on the many titles and I began to take books off the shelf. An hour later I walked up to the librarian’s desk with a tall pile of books. Since then browsing the Hedi Steinberg Library has become a ritual of mine. I still feel like an explorer, never sure what great book I may stumble upon. The Yeshiva University libraries are among the world’s best Judaica libraries. There are shelves devoted to Jewish history, Jewish law, American Jewish literature, Israeli literature, Jewish sociology, and Biblical Jewish Scholarship. Often just looking at the book titles and learning about the existence of Jewish communities in locations I have never heard of—like Azerbaijan—is an eye-opening experience.
Often I take out a book only to discover that no one has read it since the 1980s. Sometimes I am even the first person to ever take this book out of the library. And while it is thrilling to be the first person to actualize this book’s potential, it also makes me a little sad. My friends often lovingly make fun of me, teasing me that I am the only person who still uses the library for books. I laugh with them but also wish they would join me in using the library for its original purpose. I think many students have come to think of libraries as study spaces as opposed to homes for books. And while I don’t know if this is a positive development or not, I do know that there is a certain thrill that comes from going to the library and standing between rows of books, stumbling upon a book you didn’t even know you were interested in, and spending a weekend devouring it. So next time you need a study break, give browsing the library a chance; you never know what great book you may find.