Library Matters

We are in the process of reorganising aspects of the house: The Mr’s office, downstairs, will somehow be made to fit all his music equipment, thus giving him a combined office-music room, and the freed, upstairs, room will become both my office/studio and the library. My desk will move from the landing;

Small home office on the landing.
My current office space, to the right is the music room, to the left the bedroom, and behind is the staircase.

my extendable work table, which is currently squeezed into the bedroom, will be able to open its flaps once more; my art supplies will come down from the loft, and all our books will be given a proper home (see header image for more of their current situation!). We had some idea of asking someone to build and fit shelves, but that’s too expensive so I’m hoping to get floor to ceiling bookcases from Ikea that will perfectly fit the space, after which will come the question of how to organise them? The options seem to be:

•Alphabetically by writer, whereby all of them are mixed together and filed left to right, A to B.

•Grouped by genre with the books filed alphabetically within categories.

•Grouped by colour.

•Grouped by some other way I haven’t thought of.

Alphabetically by author feels like the easiest way when thinking about putting one’s hand on a book one knows is there; for example, if I want a book by Cormac McCarthy I’d be able to go straight to the Ms and find it instantly; but, what if I’m looking for, say, poetic inspiration? In that case it would be good to be able to go to a section that has all the poetry where I could browse, ponder, and perhaps be surprised by something I’d forgotten we had. Ditto philosophy: I can’t always remember which philosopher said what, so to be able go to the philosophy section to jog my memory could be useful. But how many categories, of what sort: big loose ones, or small tighter ones?

Fiction; non-fiction; poetry (big and loose)?

Novels; short fiction; poetry; philosophy; maths; art; architecture; science; natural history; history; geography, etc. (smaller and tighter)?

What of anthologies (which can be a mixture of all number of genres); magazines (ditto); and odd things like books on fishing; knots; bricks… When grouping by category/genre how small is too small? Do I put photography in ‘Art’ or give it a shelf of its own, and do biographies get their own section or do I put them in the section in which the subject was active – e.g. a biography of Erdös in Maths?

I think I can discount colour as a tool of organisation, the likelihood of either of us deciding we want to read a green book is pretty slim.

But what of the ways I haven’t thought of?

Any suggestions on any of this would be great, how do you organise your books (have I asked this before?)?

12 comments

  1. Oh bugger! I just wrote a comment about my Council library’s new-fangled way of shelving books.And the internet ate it!
    I’ll be brief this time – Mark is right. Alpha/author for fiction.Surname of subject for bio.
    And don’t try to put over-sized, heavy books upright. a) it’s hard on the spine b)heavy books hurt when they fall on you!
    Things like poetry and humour deserve their own section.
    But you’ll have fun deciding as you go.

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  2. I (should) do it by category. And because over some years some topics became more central, like e.g. Third Reich, something like this gets an own shelf. One for lexica & “Hilfsmittel” and handbooks ; one for sources ; art history ; photography ; philosophy & theology. I seperated the biographies and sorted them after the name of the subject.
    I once knew a man who sorted his books by format. True. He was gifted with a kind of “photographic” memory and knew format & colour of any book he possessed – and the subject. He had no small collection.
    A problem are the large formats, Atlanten for example, some photobooks etc. Magazines (I hold some) are strictly “there”, slowly filling boxes (because of the dust). Anthologies & “Festschriften” (always mixed bags) are, like the biographies, in a section for themselves.
    This is what comes to mind.
    The schöne Literatur, belle literature, is sorted strictly by author, no matter whether its novels, short stories, poems. A kind of order could be here, eventually, by “relationship”. So I have the works of my household deity Schmidt, and of course there are the texts of authors he translated, and stuff he mentions / talks about in his theoretical articles. But this is not much material after all, and pretty specialised. Nevertheless something like a “genealogical order” could be thought about.

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  3. I like the idea of a genealogical order, you could have such fun, and spend a great deal of time, feeling for the relationships; it could be a life’s work to interrogate each book about its family. I think I’d have to start with a huge Venn diagram. And new books wouldn’t be able to filed until I knew them intimately, so I’d probably have to have a holding shelf.

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