Organising books

The photos below of the colour-organised bookshelves got me thinking about book organisation. I once got the task of organising a small school library. There were not a lot of books in it, probably about 1500 or so (certainly fewer than in my home library right now), but it was an eclectic collection of mostly reference books and novels, with some art and technical books in-between, all in no order at all, except fiction was kept in a different room so it wouldn’t get mixed up with the non-fiction. I decided right away that this was not a Dewey job and invented a coarse system that suited the library and the disorganised lending system.

This was the lending system: you took whatever books you wanted and returned them to the shelves once you were finished with them. Or not. There were no cards, no lending list and no catalogue, and most of the students (adults, one and all) could not be trusted to remember from what shelf they took the book, basically just sticking the books back wherever they found an empty space on the shelves.

I divided the books into broad categories: art & architecture, science & maths, guide books, geography & travelogues, etc. and stuck a coloured label on the spine where regular libraries put the Dewey label. Then I alphabetised the fiction by author and arranged the rest on the shelves alphabetically by the labels, knowing full well that that trying to organise them by genre would only end in confusion. The system meant that once you had learned the colour codes you could quickly find the kind of book you wanted, even though it was not in alphabetical order, because there were not a whole lot of books in each category, usually less than 100. I would be interested in seeing if the system is still in use...

Link to part 2.


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