Finding a New Book at the Library: Scanning Technique

One of my favorite things to do is to go to the library just to look at the books. This is an amazing way to find something new to read, if you have a little time, and a little patience. Multnomah County Library is a fantastic resource. They have so many branches that you’re likely to find one in your neighborhood. While it’s tempting to wander down to the magnificent central branch, I’d recommend starting with your neighborhood haunt. A smaller branch is going to be easier for this trick, because you’ll be able to look at every single book on the shelf in a relatively short amount of time. I find the central branch a little overwhelming and tend to leave with more than I can read and a sense of frustration for all the books I didn’t get a chance to look at.


If you’re not familiar with your local branch yet, walk around and learn the layout. This will probably include a distinct fiction and non-fiction section, with a new book area, a magazine area, and a DVD rack. If you don’t have a library card, now is the time to get one. It’s free to sign up and it will instantly allow you to take books home.


I like to start at the beginning of the mystery/thriller section because I’m a sucker for misery. You could start at the beginning of general fiction, or at the end, if you want. Maybe you want to start in YA fiction or non-fiction. Just find a good place where you can keep track of where you started and where you’ll end.


I like to look for several things when I’m scanning the bookcase.

  • Books placed facing towards me 

Typically books are placed with the spine facing you, all lined neatly on a shelf. Other times, interesting books are chosen by librarians to face forward. I’ve found several excellent books by just glancing to see what is front-facing. 3

  • Book covers or titles that sound interesting

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by the cover, but I definitely give bonus points to a book that visually grabs me. Sometimes the cover is a part of the book – someone put thought into it. The title or the cover of the book can help tell you something about the book. I read a lot of books that have blood spatter on the cover and tend to stay away from books where nondescript children are smiling and holding hands. One is likely a gripping thriller, the other a non-fiction self help book about childhood depression.

  • Book titles or authors I’ve already heard of 

If you’re scanning the books you might stumble upon a name you recognize. Hey! I’ve read a book by them, I really liked it too! That happens to me all the time. I’ll snag the book off the shelf and add it to my stack.

  • Book titles or authors I’ve already been recommended

A name might catch your eye because someone told you it was good. That’s another good reason to pull it off the shelf and see if it sounds interesting. Read the first few lines, flip through it, see if it’s worth a read.

  • Books that appear to be the length I’m looking to read

Sometimes I’m looking for a really quick read. Sometimes I’m looking for an absurdly thick book for a vacation. Sometimes I may scan a shelf and only pull thin books that catch my eye. Knowing what you’re looking for can help the scanning process go more quickly.

  • Books that appear well-loved 

Newer books are likely to have bright white paper that looks nicely lined up. The spine might be a little stiffer. Older books might have pages that have worn with time, they appear slightly yellowed, the spine might be beat up or torn. Sometimes if a book is particularly beat up I take it as a sign that this book is well-loved and frequently read. If a lot of people are reading this book I might pull it off the shelf to see why.

  • Books that smell or feel nice 

I’m a sucker for a book that feels nice in my hands. Some books are so large that they are unwieldy to hold, and don’t like to stay open on their own. Some books have paper that feels gritty against my fingers like nails on a chalkboard. Other books fall open like they’re demanding to be read, with smooth paper, that smells like dead, dying tree. Give me some of that good book.

  • Books that are recommended by the librarians or are part of a theme week/month or books that are a part of the “lucky day” program

There are books placed to the side that might catch your attention. Maybe they are a new release that has a lucky day sticker (books that are in high demand, checked out for less time) – maybe they’re a book with a recommendation tag attached – or maybe it’s poetry month and a series of poetry books has been placed along the wall. These are all great ways to explore books that have been separated from the bunch.


I often have 20-30 books checked out at once. I can take the books home and look at them a little closer and pick which one I feel like reading that week. Many of the books can be renewed more than once as long as no one else is waiting for them. If you get into reading a book and it doesn’t click for you, don’t feel bad. Put it aside and return it the next time you visit the library. There is some debate about when you should stop reading a book that you’re not into. I think if you’ve given the book a good hour and you’re still not interested, it’s not worth the time. Only read things that make you happy(!!)

Looking for more book recommendations? Visit my recommendations page and let me know what you’re looking for and I’ll write a little post about it! Happy reading! xx


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