I’m rarely more content than when I am perusing the shelves of a library. There are many reasons why that’s the case, but I’ll just focus on one of them today: it’s because I know where to find the stuff I want. There’s a lot of pleasure in finding a call number in the library catalog and then heading directly to the place on the shelves where the item is located.
Because of my desire to be organized and have a place for everything I own, a few years ago our family adopted a classification scheme for our thousands of books. As a busy graduate student I needed to know where my books were, so I could consult them regularly for my research. Enigmatic piles of books and haphazard shelving practices were not my friend. So we used the Book Collector program to create a database of our book ownings and tagged the spine of each book with its Library of Congress number for easy shelving and retrieval. It was a lot of work. So much work that it took two summers (one for fiction, one for non-fiction) of data entry before our collection was entered and tagged.
When we divorced, John took the bulk of our books. I was happy about that–wanting to shed the weight of so much ‘stuff’ in the process of moving on with my life. However, I did keep the academic books for my teaching and research (and my poetry books), bringing them to my office at Chapman University. However, in moving them I didn’t pay much attention to their shelf location and also acquired many new books as I was in the final stretch of dissertating that weren’t in the book database or weren’t tagged with a library number. I told myself that when I was done with my PhD I would get things organized again. And of course that means now.
So last week I did some research on the best software for creating my new book database and settled on the iPhone app Book Crawler. It allows you to use the camera on your phone to scan the ISBN barcode on the back of any book for importing the relevant data fields into the app (i.e. title, author, publisher, etc). It can also do google searches for books on the title or author name if they do not have a barcode on the back cover (this is the case with many books printed prior to the 1980s). And, it can sync your book collection to Dropbox.com and export as a CSV file (right now I’m emailing a CSV of my database to myself daily as a backup for my collection).
Even with the handy Book Crawler app, cataloging my books is taking a lot of time. I set a goal to do one shelf per day and have accomplished that on most days since I began. But in the midst of the project my office is looking a bit untidy, which is good motivation to power through and get this done as soon as possible (because I like people sitting in my groovy office chairs, not stacks of books):
Not only is there a lot of pleasure in getting my books in their rightful places on their shelves, but it’s also fun to peruse each of them and consider how I acquired them and why I’ve kept them (I regularly cull my books to keep the acquisitions from getting out of hand). Along the way I’ve found a few treasures, such as this early self-portrait by Catgirl, and this signature by author Terry Tempest Williams, which spawned a series of memories that will be another blogpost soon.
I feel certain that many of my readers are probably rolling their eyes at my desire to be so organized with my book collection. I’m sure you think I’m over-the-top with my need to control my shelves. But for me, one of the best parts of owning books is that they are there when I need them. So if I’m having an I-need-Mary-Oliver-right-now moment, I can reach over and grab that book in an instant. Because if I didn’t know where to locate my books when I needed them, it would hardly be worth the owning of them for me. If I can’t find it, what’s the use of having it?
PS: One of the biggest charms for me, in meeting my current partner, was seeing the library in his home for the first time. Knowing that he cared about books as much as I do confirmed my hunch that we had a future together. I think you can tell quite a lot about a person by how they treat their books, right? :)