Of Catalogs and Curry

Did I mention that my Dutch library degree isn’t recognized in America, and that that was pretty much the end of my pretty good career? Well, you can take the librarian out of the library, but can’t take the library out of the librarian.

I have always had the urge to arrange books systematically. This may be traced back to my very earliest youth, when rearranging books was strictly forbidden. I have been making up for that cruel deprivation ever since.

One day when I was nine, my parents left me alone in the house for a few hours. When they came back I had rearranged all their books by the publisher logos on the spines.

Not only that, but I had arranged the publisher logos as well. So not only were all the Penguin books put together, but next to them were the Bezige Bij books (which had a bee logo), and the Salamander books, etc. I don’t remember if I further sub-categorized the non-animal logos, but I do remember having fun and being very proud to show my parents the service I had done them.

My mother was not amused.

I was to stick to rearranging my own books. And I did. By publisher looked good, but then they weren’t arranged by size. Arranging them by size looked really good from a distance, but on closer inspection books by the same author could end up in different places if they were published in paperback and hardback.  Oh boy, the possibilities for arranging and rearranging!

In library school I learned how to arrange the books one way, and to catalog them in such a way that all other features could be searched as well. I can’t say I was thrilled at the time; it took actually putting it all in practice in my own library for it to start being fun.

In my police school library, I arranged the books by subject, according to a classification similar to the Dewey Decimal System. Of course it wasn’t sufficient, since practically all the books were about police. Giving ninety percent of the 8,000-title collection one number–395.75–wasn’t going to work.  For one thing, it would look really boring.

Because I was still new to the police world, I adopted a 10-page classification written by a policeman. It was an addition to the regular classification. So the number would be 395,75. and then at least five more digits. Too long. And once I began to learn more about the police, I also discovered many flaws in the logic of the system.

So I wrote my own 72-page classification.

Oh, the nitty gritty of figuring out the best way to categorize police-related subjects, them applying the new classification numbers to the book spines (no more than five digits anywhere!), and seeing the entire collection come together in the most logical way.  I loved that!

And the librarians of the other police schools adopted it, which was also a nice pat on the shoulder. But my need for approval is another matter, for another post.

The 90,000-title archaeology library had the same problem. I wrote my own 140-page archaeology classification. It took me a year. I emigrated right after beginning to implement it, and the next librarian couldn’t be bothered, but I had fun creating it, anyway.

The archaeology library was the high point of my career. Then I emigrated and America did not require my services.

But that didn’t stop me. Though I no longer work as a librarian, it goes without saying that my fiction books are arranged alphabetically by author, and my non-fiction by subject. My CD’s and DVD’s are also arranged alphabetically.

But how many people arrange their spices alphabetically?

I have close to a hundred spices, and almost eighty that fit in a spice rack. When you have that many, you really need a system. Otherwise spices get lost, so you buy more, and chaos reigns.

So first I had them on those step shelves. But that was annoying because the steps weren’t high enough. The labels of the spices on the higher level were blocked by the spices one level lower. I would have to move lower spices to see what was behind them, and then they would start falling, and that wasn’t good for my blood pressure.

Next, I bought four of those wooden carousels. I put labels on all the lids, so I could tell which spice it was, since only the lid was facing out. But those carousels took up a lot of space and weren’t all that efficient. Always having to twirl them, always bumping into the adjacent carousel . . .

I’m really happy with my latest spice organization thingies, which I bought at Target last week. They are sets of two racks that pull out and hinge open. I can fit eighty spices in them, alphabetically, and I’ve labeled the ends of the racks so that I know which one to open for any given spice.

And the real kicker? They remind me of library stacks!

So, America, you can pooh-pooh my Dutch library degree and prevent me from continuing to be a pretty damn dedicated librarian, but it’s your loss and my spices’ gain.  I’m still having fun.

My next project? The bathroom cabinets . . .

4 responses to “Of Catalogs and Curry

  1. This is so cool! I also arrange my fiction alphabetically and nonfiction by subject then author. I’m not a librarian but my degree is in English and I like to be able to find the book I’m looking for. I also alphabetize our CDs and DVDs, and my family picks on me incessantly about it. I love your story about arranging your parents’ books. And the archaeology library – 90,000 titles! What a huge project. I’m sorry our country is so backwards about recognizing degrees from other countries. (And your spice racks are awesome!)


  2. Impressive! Especially expanding the classification schemes. I worked as a cataloguer from 1980 to last April; 12 years in a university library and the rest in a public library. There is something compelling about organizing information, but in my case it never extended to stuff at home. My books and CDs are very roughly organized, and I don’t have enough spices to make it worthwhile.


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