Can merging two personal book collections break up a marriage? I asked this question last month and got some excellent tips on how to deal with domestic disputes that arise when “marrying” two systems of organization (or lack thereof).
Merging and Arranging Book Collections
Some people grappled directly with the issue at hand. Others responded with ways they organized their personal book collections. Some simply said, or implied, that the best system is to donate books once you’re done with them.
Beth Dietricks’ first response to my question was that she doesn’t have many books anymore because she’s “tired of accumulating things” and tries to “pass them on to get rid of them.” After trying to organize her remaining books by size, though, she discovered that she still had books in every room of her house.
“So much for decluttering,” she said with a smile.
Liz Rambeau also alerted me to the “breakup scene” in Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader. I’ve been meaning to read that forever and now certainly will. Fadiman apparently writes that she “seriously contemplated divorce” when she begged her husband to keep Shakespeare’s plays in chronological order.
Makes perfect sense to me.
Booking it Out
The responses to ways couples reconciled book arrangements were so varied and interesting that I have to share some of them verbatim. In a few cases, I (TZ) cannot help commenting.
Sage Snider: I like to leave my books all over the house so I can see them in every room and be reminded that I should read more. I generally categorize my floor piles by mood. Is this book just for spurts of fun/distraction? Then it’s in the TV room. For personal research? Dining room. Directly work related? Office. Other people claim that this isn’t an “organized” system, but that’ s just because the formula is too complicated for them to follow.
TZ: Seems like a system that works well if you live alone. But what happens when that person has books of his or her own? (And for what it’s worth, Sage’s fiancé responded to her “system” by saying “Stubbing your toe on a pile of books first thing in the morning is better than any coffee.”)
Nancy Daffner: David and I have book shelves in five rooms of our primary residence and stacked around various spots in our lakehouse, which is less furnished than more at this point in time. We started with a plan each time but haphazard took over–not always for the worse. Looking back through one another’s books and the kids’ books is similar to opening the photo shoeboxes. It also motivates me to donate boxes of them. If I won’t be rereading or referencing them, the time has arrived to share.
David likes his books lined up neatly at the edge of the shelf. I like haphazard with art objects interspersed—decorating with books. When I assembled a children’s bookcase for our grandchildren (child at present), I combined both placing them at the edge and interspersing with decorative toys. I wanted to make them look enticing. They are arranged by age, author, and composition—board or paper. I realize this organization will last until a child visits.
Margaret Maschel: I love ‘em, he wants to remove them….They are staying.
Lyn Horan: Trying to find well-made bookshelves that are affordable and accommodate all the many sizes of books they publish now is almost impossible. Always dreamed of a true “library” in my house with wall-to-wall shelves, a rolling ladder, and a few comfy chairs with excellent lighting. But we would likely still argue over the organization. And if only he would get rid of some of his books….Ha!
There’s an App for That
Lyn Horan joked that you could probably buy a book that describes how to organize your book collections. Apparently you can also buy an app that can do it for you—many apps, in fact!
After pitching the tried-and-true Dewey Decimal system, Maribel Cabrera Ibrahim, a facilities manager at the Anne Arundel County (MD) Public Library rocked my world when she said there is, of course, an app for this. She discovered a book-organizing app for personal libraries that uses ISBN numbers when she was reorganizing (i.e., purging) her book collection. Later she found there are multiple apps. They include Libib, Library Thing, Shelves, Book Catalogue, iCollect Books Pro, iBookshelf, Book Crawler, My Library, and Home Library.
“The brilliant part of this is that you can define any space as a library,” she says. “So if you just scan all the books in ‘Living room green shelf 1,’ you will be able to search for all the books that are there from the app. With your smartphone as a barcode reader, you could catalog your whole house and use whatever type of notation you would like to define where your books are. The best part of this is that you now have an inventory of your books and can search your database to locate the book you want, when you want it!”
Since multiple users can log into the same database for access to all books in a household, this app seems like a perfect solution to mixed (literary) marriages. Maribel had been using the Android app “Book Catalogue” but is going to give Libib a try. There is also a pro account for multiple users that can even manage borrowing, she reports, and “end up saving a marriage!”
On the other hand, Margo Keyser, who is single, may have the best way to manage book collections of all. “One of the joys of living alone!,” she rightly observes.