I suspect many of my readers will have no more problem than I do relating to yesterday’s NY Times story by Carole Braden about Kathie Coblentz, a cataloguer at the New York Public Library, and how she deals with her own large collection of books. (I couldn’t get a blogsafe link, so this one will expire next week.)
Her 16 bookcases – about 214 running feet – reveal no deference to John Dewey and his decimal system and varying degrees of respect for the alphabetical-by-author rule. Indeed, it seems she has grouped her books less by subject than by country of origin. Dust-free and with carefully cracked spines (a sign that books have been read, or at least leafed through), the books in Ms. Coblentz’s library are navigable to no one but her.
“Your system doesn’t have to be logical, it just has to work for you,” said Ms. Coblentz…
Nice to hear, since in my latest attempt at cramming too many books into too few shelves one bookcase has books on Greece and the Greek language followed by books on Central Asia and Iran followed by travel books. I think many of us can also relate to this anecdote (sparked by her recommendation on how to weed out a collection): “Nicholas Basbanes… confessed that he regularly gives books to charity sales, then drops by to rummage and buys back his own donations.” And of direct LH relevance is this: “Grouped by country of origin – Ms. Coblentz speaks or reads 10 languages – the collection includes 12 shelves of classic German literature and 14 of Swedish mysteries.”
Some of her rules I can only dream about following, since they would necessitate far more bookcases than I possess: “She never packs shelves tightly (strains the bindings) and does not ‘double shelve,’ or stack rows behind rows (keeps books from breathing and triggers looking-for-Goethe-in-a-haystack syndrome).” On the other hand, I’ve never heard my books breathing, and the bindings seem to have survived decades of tight packing. Another rule I suppose I could follow, but I’ll just take the risk of warping, since separation by size is just too weird for me:
To avoid the warping that results when tall books are interspersed with short ones, Ms. Coblentz has subdivided her categories by size, ranked 1 to 5; 1 is devoted to diminutive books including some Swedish tails, travel guides and comics.
And look: the piece even has a typo for our amusement!