Serendipitous learning and the library

I am a firm believer in serendipitous learning at the library.

I cannot remember how many times a key piece of information for my assignments came from a book I picked up while searching for something else on the book shelves. Not that serendipitous learning cannot take place online; in the digital space but it is harder and takes more effort.

Have you noticed how digital resources almost always present you with a search box? What does the search box signify? Does it not presuppose that you know what you are looking for via keywords? What if I do not know how to describe what I want? What if it is called by another name that I am unaware of? What if I do not know what I need to know?


Shelf browsing does a lot for me. Walking from shelf to shelf, I can observe the development of a branch of knowledge. I note with interest how certain call numbers have a bigger collection or lack of it. I recognized some titles and laugh at others. I discover books on topics that I did not even know existed. I learned about diseases and the latest diet plans. How about places of interest? Cities I have never been or even heard of.


I believe in the physical book collection. It is concrete and in the material space. I can concentrate, ponder and meditate with a book in hand, but my mind starts to wander when I stare at a computer screen. The inevitable question pops into my mind, “what will I miss if I do not click on this hyperlink?”.

The general trend is towards digital libraries at the expense of the physical. In many libraries abroad, and even in Singapore, book shelves are being relegated to the walls or under the staircases to make room for computers and furniture.

This is not a trend to be followed with relish, as if we are joining the big leagues. Emphasis on collaborative learning spaces must be made but deliberate planning to integrate the physical collections should be made.


I hope we can cherish the physical books we have. When everyone else is hailing the digital, I hope we can guard the print.


9th Grader Browsing the New Magazines!
It is always a joy to see someone so engrossed in reading