The library's the thing

It's been about four months since anyone has commented on a post. This saddens but does not surprise me. Really I do prefer to do all the talking myself, as it saves time and prevents arguments.

But, in the interest of generating conversation, and in the even greater interest of not working on my dissertation, I'd like to share a brief anecdote and then solicit the feedback of my readers.

I've always wanted to pretend to have readers.

A couple of years ago, I paid for a lifetime membership to librarything.com. In my more optimistic days I thought I might have a future in academia, and so believed that my library would soon grow out of all compass and want some form of functional catalog. (I see by the little red squiggly dots we're no longer spelling that "catalogue.") I entered everything I owned and have continued to do so, but really it's been an exercise in narcissism. I for reasons passing understanding aspire to have more obscure books; I stand back and marvel at my almost oppressively canonical author cloud; I wonder when my "eighteenth-century" tag will finally dwarf all other tags by a ludicrous margin. It's full-on gloriously self-indulgent book-nerd exhibitionism. But it hasn't been useful.

Until today. Having watched the trailer for Watchmen, I found myself wanting to reread it. I couldn't remember, though, if I already owned it. I was about to buy a copy when I remembered librarything and decided to check it. I searched my books, and there it was. Saved me eleven bucks, plus shipping.

Provided, of course, I can find it, which brings me to the point. Though my library is exceedingly small, my apartment is even smaller, so shelf space is at a premium. Like any actual library, I at some point had to make a decision about what I wanted to have immediately accessible and what could go into the apartment-dweller's version of off-site storage: some plastic bins shoved under my bed, in my closet, etc. Right now, sitting in prime positions on a very comfortable bit of pine, are books that I have not touched in years. Meanwhile, the book I want is no doubt at the very bottom of an unmarked box buried under three years' worth of stuff that even Superfund isn't prepared to deal with. Therefore, as has been the case several times this summer at the British Library, recovery of my requested item could take up to a week. The point is, I got it wrong -- I did not accurately anticipate my likely needs, and failed to make critical decisions about space according to the right criteria. I think I got tripped by vanity; thinking back on how I went about it at the time, I left anything that could be classified as Literature on the shelves and left everything else to the mercy of the dust-bunnies. Old textbooks, pleasure-reading, etc. went first. Eventually the Russian lit fell, then the French. The whole of the 20th century followed, and at the moment it's not looking good for 1850-1900.

So my questions are: 1) do you have a librarything account, and 2) if so, has it been useful? 3) If not, have you ever had to waste half a day looking for a book you couldn't possibly have known you'd need when you deprioritized it and 4) if so, have you actually found doing so a perversely rewarding experience? Lastly--5) how are your books organized now, and by what criteria did you determine their arrangement?


Liam Baldwin said...

I see by your reporting of little red squiggly dots that you have your spell checker loaded with an American Dictionary.

Try this:
That is assuming you are using Firefox

Scriblerus said...

Well, I am an American. Oh to be orthographically torn between two countries!

Anonymous said...

Dear Scrib, I am your faithful reader but have been out of the loop for sometime. Yet, here I am, again.

I use Library Thing but as you may have noticed not to store all my library but as a useful gadget to report on what I'm reading or would like to read on my blog. I just realized that using a different feature of blogger would actually allow me to do what before was only possible using the Library Thing widgets, so I'm thinking of leaving the Thing forever. I am sure this has not been useful to you at all. But perhaps you can count me as a kind of example of how the Thing may not be working or, rather, of how some users are not really using the Thing as they should. Cheers.

Greg Afinogenov said...

My librarything account serves two purposes:

1) to entertain me with vain fantasies of having my taste validated by some kind of massive outburst of online acclaim.

2) to remind me of my own inadequacies, both because of the library's small and fragmentary nature and because I haven't bothered to update it since sometime last year.

I like your blog; you're a very good writer. I also wish I could put that eighteenth-century tag to better use, but lately it's been Russia all the way down. Alas.

Tricia Kyler Bowling said...

Hello there, stranger. I happened across your flickr account, which then brought me here. I hope you are well.

I started a librarything account a while back, basically because I would read a book and then forget that I had read it and start reading it again, only to think "dammit, this book is familiar" and not realize until halfway through that I had read it already.

That said, I can't remember the last time I updated or looked at my librarything account. Perhaps I should do that. I've actually started using goodreads, which is nice, especially for keeping an easy "to-read" list, which is what I really need. Nothing like getting to the library or book store and blanking on what I wanted to get.