Friday, February 21, 2014

Request hunting

We have been reading a fair bit of Michael Pollan at my house. In our current book he is now doing a lot of mushroom hunting. Like much of what he writes about, it is very interesting. He is talking about learning to hunt chanterelles, about not seeing them even as his teacher seemed to be reading almost impossibly subtle signs to locate them, and about starting to find the mushrooms on his own. He said at one point something about how finding these fabulous golden mushrooms, hidden in the leaf layer beneath oaks, seemed to be a result of a confidence and the expectation that he would find them. There was something very familiar to me about all of this. It reminded me of hunting books at the library.

I hunt books every single day that I work at the library. It is good sport, interesting, occasionally quite frustrating, and usually satisfying. I hunt books where they are supposed to be, I hunt them in an array of places they might be, and I hunt them in places they shouldn't be. Michael Pollan is quite right when he muses over these ideas of expectation and confidence. In one of my main hunting grounds, the request shelves, the strongest instances of failure and success in searching come down to these qualities. Patrons approaching timorously and with hesitation are frequently thrown off by slight glitches, and sometimes by mere phantoms. An item not appearing like they expect it to becomes invisible, as does something the tiniest bit out of order or barely obscured or simply out of some natural synch. These patrons despair quickly, and they come to me. I am a very old hand. I can smell the right book at forty paces. I can feel it in my blood. I know I will find the book with every fiber of my being. I walk over to the appropriate area of the shelves and I might as well be blindfolded. I reach directly to the book before I even bother to glance at it. It is a matter of seconds for me to get the book for the patron. If I sound dramatic or showy, that's just description. In reality I try not to flourish, and have no impulse to show up these patrons. They don't bother me. I just want to find the book. That is always the goal, the satisfaction, and the point. I need nothing greater. I may be very proud of an intuitive deduction involving some complicated mistake that leads me to the revealed book, but the finding is always the thing, the scratched itch, the quenched thirst. A blindingly confident, just as it should be, two second find is as good as an exhaustive, four person, ten minute hunt, just so long as the book is found.

Sometimes patrons feel a little embarrassed when I find, in a moment, what they couldn't in a thorough search. And, honestly, when I am hunting with others I want to be the one who finds it, and I feel a little deflated when I am not. But as I tell the patrons, and as I tell myself, whatever small disappointment there is not being the one who finds it is a miniscule trifle when it goes up against no one finding it at all. That is the only real indignity. And the book (or mushroom) in hand is always the treasure, however it happens.


  1. I'm glad to hear someone else does that too. It's kind of spooky to touch the book before really seeing it. I guess familiarity also breeds intuition!

    1. I am terribly sorry that I have taken almost five months to respond to this comment. I guess it just sort of slipped through. I only even sort of found it again by accident!

      Anyway, thank you for your comment.

      I think that phrase of yours is quite excellent: Familiarity breeds intuition. It sure would have been a great title for this piece.

      Man, thinking about it here, really, I'm bowled over, familiarity breeds intuition. Well done!

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