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Missing the Book Shelves in Falvey? Give Virtual Browsing a Try!

Carl Spitzweg, Der Buchwurm,
ca. 1850, oil on canvas, 49.5×26.8 cm,
Museum Georg Schäfer.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Jutta Seibert

This is a year like no other. The Villanova community grew to meet every new challenge. When the Library building closed in March, for example, we had to rely exclusively on electronic sources. The dedicated folks at Falvey brought back access to the print collection in July with contactless pickup. However, the book stacks need to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

We know many of you miss direct access to the shelves and the ability to browse their contents at your leisure. Scholars often wax nostalgic about shelf-browsing and fondly remember serendipitous discoveries made in the stacks. They encourage their students to do the same and gently nudge them by telling them where to start.

Shelf-browsing has unique qualities that are not easily defined. What is it that drives us to reach for an unknown book? Is it its title or the fact that we are familiar with its author? Is it the color or material of its binding? Is it its size or its condition?

Every spine along the shelves contains worlds and new knowledge.

It is easy to forget that shelf-browsing has its disadvantages too: books that are missing or checked out escape our notice unless we take note of the empty space on the shelf. These “missing” books are often the most influential or “popular” titles. But the biggest drawback to shelf-browsing is the absence of electronic books, which continue to grow in popularity.

Did you know that you can browse the Library’s collection virtually? Virtual shelf-browsing is in many ways a superior alternative to in person shelf-browsing. It is one of the most overlooked search features in today’s library catalogs. It may lack some of the meditative, relaxing aspects of getting lost in the stacks, but it certainly will lead to more serendipitous discoveries than a stroll in the stacks. Virtual shelf-browsing shows the complete collection: the virtual shelf presents digital records of electronic books and print books. Print books are represented regardless of whether they are checked out.

Learn How to Browse the Shelves Virtually! It is easy enough once you get the hang of it, and maybe you will even keep doing it in post-pandemic times.

Contact us if you have questions.


Jutta Seibert is Director of Research Services & Scholarly Engagement at Falvey Memorial Library.



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Last Modified: September 1, 2020

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