Maybe it’s just me, but I find the thrill of the unknown to be one of the greatest allures of secondhand shopping. Many of my fellow thrift store enthusiasts, on the other hand, go in looking for particular things. Some folks zero in on vinyl records, or porcelain dolls, or mid-century modern furniture. Others seek out collectible figurines, plastic toy bricks, fashionable dresses from exclusive designers, or hand-crafted shoes from stylish cobblers. With certain things in mind, those shoppers can laser focus in on the items at hand and then, after finding treasures (or not), move onto the next store. Working with a limited search profile in mind, a person can hit up a number of secondhand stores in an afternoon and still have time to grab a cup coffee or even a light lunch.

There are others, though, who love the joy of the random find. For those who have a taste for darn near anything or everything, a thrift store can become a massive playground of cool stuff to pore over, examine, load into a cart, and even possibly buy. For this kind of shopper, the visit might be an errand to check off the things-to-do list or just a serendipitous moment spent in an out-of-the-way store, with the goodies found just as nice and satisfying as the many things left behind. Seeking treasures this way sometimes resembles the lyrics of a Rolling Stones song:

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need

This joy of the random find can even be found in life itself. For instance, you just never know what else you might uncover when you go out seeking mushrooms in the forest, or what kinds of vegetables you will score when you hit up a roadside farm stand. Travel can become less mundane and more of an adventure when you break off the itinerary, exit the interstate highway, and go off to explore a country road. Memories can be made when you see the sights not found in the tour book, or when you taste new foods thanks to a quick glance at a menu hanging from a restaurant doorway. Our friends, our partners, our choice of careers, our interests and hobbies, and where we choose to live can sometimes come into our lives in the same fashion: sideways, without a preconceived notion of who or what they looked like beforehand.

That same joy of the oblique, sideways discovery sometimes extends itself to our library visits, when we are driven by a desire to find something new to read, but really don’t know what that “new” thing quite looks like. Like many people, I enjoy looking over a bestsellers list, or locating a book or movie that someone has recommended. Those particular titles sometimes help to satisfy my reading itch. But what I love more anything else is to go up and down the aisles with no plan in mind, with no particular taste bud to quench, and just dive into the different collections, just to see what I can find.

A random stroll through the aisles of the library or our catalog lets you be your own reference librarian. When folks come to the desk and ask for a book recommendation, I like to ask them, over the course of the reference interview, what they enjoyed reading last. When I have an idea of what to look for, I’ll then plow into the collection, hoping to strike gold. But when you are out there in the stacks on your own, you are free to pick and choose whatever you like. Instead of picking one title, pick and choose a dozen or more books, then find yourself a table and casually select what you want to take home with you.

At this point, my only recommendation would be for you to read the first line or paragraph, or even the first chapter of each book, and see how it feels. It is sort of like coming across an awesome wool overcoat at a consignment shop, one that you’ve been dreaming of finding all your life. You want to be sure to try it on, just to see if it fits. The same applies to books. And while not every book you pick is going to be a winner, I like to think that some will be of interest, and maybe, if you got lucky, one or two or a half dozen will turn out to be a good cozy afternoon read or, even better, a lifelong favorite. But what I encourage more than anything else is to free up your imagination. Let your eyes and your reading tastes wander, and let your sense of wonder, color, experimentation and style be your guide. If something looks interesting, pull it off the shelf. As a colleague of mine said to me recently, “yes, you really can tell a book by its cover.”

So, as you pore over our catalog or head off to a local Jackson County Library Services branch, think about what you want out of your next reading experience. If you have a title in hand, wonderful, let us help you find it. If you are just wondering what we have and you just want to browse, feel free to stroll among the volumes and find that next bit of joy that suits you best. It’s as easy as putting out your hand and pulling a book off the shelf. And if it isn’t for you that day, great. Set it aside and we’ll put it away. The bottom line is that the experience won’t cost you much more than a bit of your time. And that will still leave you with plenty of time for a cup of coffee or even a light lunch afterwards.

And here are some of the cool titles I found in the children’s fiction section when I went out and randomly browsed the collection.