Tag: library

Organising Your Personal Library

Posted February 14, 2017 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 4 Comments

Recently I have been thinking about building the perfect library; this was due to a collection of essays I was reading called The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel. In this book, Manguel explores the process of building his personal library from an old barn but he also looks at the history of libraries around the world. Each essay is titled ‘The Library as…’ space, power, shadow, and so on. These essays explore different topics, giving you a wealth of information. Take for example ‘The Library as Shadow’, which explores a darker side of library history, from book burning to censorship.

What I am particularly interested in was from the essay ‘The Library as Order’, which focuses on how we would arrange our personal library. It does not matter where or how you house your personal library; every person has their own opinions on that topic. I wanted to explore the concept of how we arrange the books. There are so many ways to arrange books, currently my books are everywhere and there is a certain appeal to this. I have bookshelves around the house and any new books end up wherever it fits. If I need to find a particular book, I can spend hours searching for it. This is not always ideal but there is something about this literary treasure hunt that I enjoy. I often discover books on my shelves that I have forgotten about or I want to dip back into. Looking at a shelf that offers no rhyme or reason can be mesmerising, and who does not enjoy just staring at a bookshelf? While this method works for me now, it is not practical if I have a library, I need to arrange my books differently. In The Library at Night, Alberto Manguel suggests some different ways to organise books;

  • alphabetically
  • by continent or country
  • by colour
  • by date of purchase
  • by date of publication
  • by format
  • by genre
  • by literary period
  • by language
  • according to our reading priorities
  • according to their binding
  • by series

Amidst all of these choices, I have to admit ‘according to our reading priorities’ does sound appealing but I feel like this would continually change. The obvious choice would be to organise alphabetically (by authors last name of course) but there are some draw backs with this. Not only will fiction and non-fiction sit side by side but the idea of Charles Dickens sitting next to Philip K Dick or Jane Austen beside Paul Auster seems odd. Although for those authors that dabble in both fiction and non-fiction, like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn this system may be preferable.

Sorting by genre seems like a popular choice, and for all intents and purposes the most logical. As someone that reads on a whim, the ability to just head to somewhere like the detective fiction section and pick a gritty hard-boiled novel sounds wonderful. My only problem is the fact that it is often difficult to fit novels neatly into a single genre. Also, with an author like Jonathan Lethem you would have to separate his works, especially with his early books. I like the idea of sorting by genre but I found too many flaws in this system.

Picking an organisation strategy appeared to be much harder than it looked. Organising by colour is aesthetically pleasing but I never considered this as an option; it is just too random. I am playing around with a book-sorting app on my phone, which allowed me to create different shelves for organising. This allowed me to scan my books into the program and play with different ways to organise.

I eventually decided that there was no perfect way to organise a library, you can go into your public library and see evidence of this everywhere. I had to come up with a solution that worked for me. I do not have a library yet, but when I do, I am now sure I know how it will be organised. I have settled on sorting by continents for my fiction, this is because I have a keen interest in books in translation. I have discovered that splitting my fiction into continents will give me the opportunity to see where my strengths and weaknesses lie. If I organise my fiction by continent, I will notice which continents I need to focus on, like South America and Africa. I love reading around the world, I find it both an educational and rewarding experience.

If your reading journey and your library is a personal reflection, then the books that do not appear on your shelves say just as much about you as the books you do have on your shelf. When I became a reader, I quickly started building my book collection to a point where I have shelves and shelves of books everywhere. The problem I face now is the fact that I have only read about half of them. Publishers sent me books because of my blog but I also purchased books that sounded interesting. Now I have evolved as a reader and discovered where my literary tastes lie, there are books that remain on my shelf that are not a reflection of me as a reader. These books do not tell you anything about me because I have no desire to read them. While I know I should cull all books I have no interest in, it is hard to let go of a book that you have never read. What if it is fantastic and I just do not know that yet? There is the problem, but I do feel like I am getting to a point where I can be confident about a book I would not like. So maybe a purge is coming.

Now the problem with sorting the fiction by continents is that there are some countries I have a greater interest in – the literature of France and Russia for example. Do I split them into their own section? I am interested in all post-Soviet literature, so that brings up another question. How do I shelve these books? Russia seems too exclusive; calling them post-Soviet countries just does not sit right with me; Baltic and Slavic countries do not cover all the countries. This is one problem I need to solve, but for now I think this is the best choice for me.

Another issue I found with sorting by continent is that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland fall under Europe but they do not feel the same. There is so much literature from the United Kingdom anyway, I feel like it would require its own shelves. I wonder about North America but honestly, does it matter if Canada and the United States sit together? For me it does not, although this may displease my Canadian friends. There are so many things to consider and this is only a small fraction of the problems I face with sorting my books.

When it comes to non-fiction, it was not difficult; this was always going to be sorted by subject. Philosophy, history, Russian history, books about books, art, and so on. However, that posed some interesting questions as well. Do you include philosophical novels like The Stranger by Albert Camus or Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard in the philosophical section? My feeling is yes but where do you draw the line? There are novels that are philosophical in nature that I would not include under philosophy, like The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

I will continue to ponder just how I would organise my dream library, but I wanted to give you plenty to consider. Instead of reviewing The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, which everyone should read, I preferred to explore what I got out of this essay collection. I have not even touched on any of the other topics in this book; I will leave that for you to discover. Also, I have not even talked about other aspects of setting up a library, like using the Dewey decimal system, or a card catalogue system. Thinking about setting up a dream library is an exciting activity for every bibliophile and we all have different ideas. I loved reading about someone’s journey and it gave me plenty to contemplate. For now, I will continue cataloguing my books using the app BookBuddy and working out how to organise everything. This experiment should also help me discover the gaps in my own library so I can pick better books to purchase.

Rant about my TBR

Posted July 26, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 24 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot about my TBR piles lately. I have this weird love-hate relationship and at the moment I’m feeling very stressed over it. You know that feeling you get when you see the piles of books you have on your shelves to read and you get that feeling that you have books coming in faster than being read? How do you deal with that?

I recently watched a vlog about killing their TBR and taking a minimalist approach to their bookshelf. I love that idea but I can’t help but feel like that would never work (for me anyway). I buy or receive books and I have every intention of reading them but then more books come in and those are new, exciting and shiny and they distract you from the books you already have.

I’m not the kind of person that can just organise my reading and have a pile of books to read and not waver. When I finish one book I tend to pick up whatever I’m in the mood for at the time. I love this reading on a whim approach to reading and it takes me through some interesting journeys but it isn’t very efficient. What about all those ARCs that I should be reading or those new books on my bookshelf? I have to force myself to read my book club books at times and that isn’t really ideal but it needs to be done.

This is a bit like a rant at the moment but I don’t know the answer, what should I do with my TBR? I’ve thought about culling my bookshelf and even getting rid of books I’ve not read just so I can have room for new books but that sounds scary. I know I can buy the book again if I decide I need to read it but giving up books is hard, too hard in fact. I probably can look at my shelves and wonder about some of the books. I know I’ve brought books in the past, excited to read them but then I lose interest and they just sit there waiting. I know it is the hype that is problem but I tend to think that my reading tastes have evolved so much that I’ve outgrown those books as well.

I need to take a year off work and dedicate my entire time to reading the books on my bookshelf; I think that is the only way I’m going to get a handle on my TBR. I’ve tried giving up buying books for a year but that didn’t work, it just forced me to use the library more, and I still use it frequently. I know, as far as problems go, this is a pretty decent problem to have but I just felt like ranting and wanted to know if people had advice for dealing with a TBR that won’t stop growing.

Book Buying Bans Don’t Work

Posted December 7, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 9 Comments

This year I decided to go a book buying ban, I was only allowed to buy books that I needed (for book clubs or study). The idea was to reduce my TBR (To Be Read) and focus on the books that are on my shelves that I haven’t read. I have so many unread books that I have a whole bookshelf in my bedroom full of books to read next. I kept to this book buying ban till very recently and what I learnt was; there is no way to reduce your TBR!

As a book blogger, you soon discover there are a lot of ways to get books you want to read without having to pay for them. Granted this is not always the case and for the books you are dying to read, it is probably better to just buy the book. I think all serious readers know the different ways to get free books. I’m not talking illegal; I’m talking about making use to your library, ebook services, galleys, egalleys and so on. You can do pretty well for yourself as a book blogger and never have to buy a book.

For me, I’m not the type of reader that focuses just on new releases so galleys (or ARCs) and egalleys (while great) was not my main source of books this year. Most of the books I read this year were actually from the library and there wasn’t much from my shelf. I spend so much time on the library website looking for books that I had on one of my Goodreads TBR’s selves (I have two on Goodreads one for books on my shelf and one for the books I don’t own) and reserving them.

So what I learnt from this experiment is I like owning books and I’m glad to be out of this book buying ban. But the main lesson was that I need to use the library more, they are a great service and I need to take full advantage of it. There is one other thing I learnt from this book buying ban and that is, some books interest you at a point in time but you often lose interest before actually reading it. There is a heap of books I wanted to read but never got around to it and I’m glad I didn’t impulse buy the books. Buzz books are interesting but sometimes you need to understand what you like to read more than what is so exciting at the time.

Have you tried a book buying ban? If so, I would love to know why you tried it and did it help you achieve what you wanted to achieve. I don’t think I’ll go on a book buying ban again but I think I will approach reading differently. My TBR is so big and I’m not sure how to reduce it, maybe I have to force myself. Let me know if you have any other thoughts on book buying bans, I would love to hear them.

The Site for Library Recommendations

Posted August 28, 2013 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Literature / 0 Comments


I’m not normally one to write a post promoting another bookish site but I can’t help but want to tell people. Library Reads is a site where regularly employed U.S. public librarians share their recommendations for soon to be released books. I know there are many sites out there dedicated to book recommendations but what I like about this one is that it’s the librarians offering some suggestions. Libraries are such an essential service for a book lover and I know that most public libraries out there are trying to get back into offering the service of book recommending. Library Reads may just be a good starting point for both book lovers and other libraries out there.

How it works is basically it takes the ARCs being submitted on Edelweiss (with the Organization Type “Library – Public”) and works out the 10 most recommended books that will be released in that month and use them to create their list. As these are all ARCs, it will tell readers what to look out for and helps libraries get a sense of what might be good to stock. I’m sure there could be other uses for this site but I like the idea that as you watch this site you might start recognising librarians whose opinions you might trust.

I’m not sure how long this site has been around but currently their September list is up with Library Reads favourite going to Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (an author I want to try sometime). Other interesting books on the list include Night Film by Marisha Pessl, The Returned by Jason Mott and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. With each book there is an excerpt from one of the librarians’ reviews so you get an idea of what the book would be like. I know the books I’ve listed here are probably books you’ve already heard of and possibly even read but there are some books there that I’ve never heard of; I think they want to cover all genres. I love the idea of getting an email every month with librarian recommendations so I’ve subscribed to this site. I’ll be interested to see how well it goes and hope maybe one day Australia has a similar service.