Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Treasure hunt

Every once in awhile I like to trot out the proposal that our library abandon its whole tiresome, complicated, labor intensive system of shelving. Indeed, I propose that we dispense with the shelves altogether, and merely throw all our library materials into one massive, unsorted pile. If a patron wants a book or a movie, or whatever cultural detritus we're pushing, they can sift through our gargantuan, miscellaneous heap, like poor people combing over a trash dump, or disaster victims looking for precious mementos in the wake of some devastating tornado or flood.

Yes, it's pretty strong stuff. Strong enough that, though I have come up with hundreds of vigorous commentaries on my library in the course of this blog, it has never seemed quite right to bring this idea up. But I think this idea was merely biding its time, waiting for the fulcrum on which its revolutionary aspects could gain some proper leverage.

I could, of course, spend all day here listing reasons why my throw-all-the-books-into-a-pile idea is unsanitary, ridiculous, untenable, dangerous, unworkable, unpleasant, and generally awful. I will even readily admit that the only good reason for this system, besides how it could conceivably let we staff lounge about all day reading adventure novels and drinking espressos, is in how it would profoundly and joyously accentuate the exciting treasure hunting aspects of going to the library.

One might think that the treasure hunting aspect of going to the library would be but a very small portion of the experience. I myself thought that very thing. But my eyes have been opened.

Today at my house was book cleaning day, a day to bring back all the great backlog of checked out library books we had been accumulating. I had two big cloth carrying bags and we started stuffing them with books. We stopped only when there was no more room in the bags. I could barely lift these two bags, and I still had to leave several books at home.

I lugged the bags to my car, drove to the library, and lugged the books inside. Then I decanted the books onto a shelving cart in preparation for check in. Once all the books were on the shelving cart they were very easy to look at and analyze. So I did that.

I was shocked to find that all my carefully accumulated books were utterly and completely random. They seemed to bear no relation to one another. They came from absolutely every section of the library, spanned every genre, and touched on a vast scattering of non fiction subjects flung across the dewey decimal system hundreds. I was shocked to find that my conception of myself as a discerning reader, one who needs to carefully track down very specific, badly needed materials is a sham. It's not that I would be happy reading anything, no indeed, it's merely that if one tosses together a hundred random books there is little question that my poking about in them will net me six or seven volumes that will be pretty much as rewarding to me as those acquired through any other more careful system of book gathering.

I know, the giant heap idea is absurd. And of course we won't dispense with our shelving system! No doubt I will soon forget all this clarity and go back to comfortably fooling myself that there are books I need to request, track down, and read right away, that there is a real depth to my system of ravenous omnivorousness. I have been saturated in library for decades, and I am a creature of our elaborate and diverse and useful filing system, a master of it, a junkie, an acolyte, a laborer in it. But, also, I have seen the light now. I know that secretly, it's just a heap.

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