Notes from a Library Apprentice: Putting Books in their Place

San Francisco Center for the Book

The Post-it: organizational tool of champions.

When discussing with Mary Austin about the extent of my duties this summer, I mentioned that I might be interested in becoming a librarian. She was overjoyed: upon moving from DeHaro Street to Rhode Island street recently, San Francisco Center for the Book’s small collection was rendered utterly  disorganized. Who better than an intern with a penchant for the library sciences to put it to right?

Previous interns from Bennington college had set up a cataloguing system, separating the  books into categories, some relatively straightforward (“Printmaking,” “Calligraphy”) and some considerably more vague (“Book Arts,” “Related Arts,” and “Clip Art”… which seems to have an almost 100% overlap with “Design”). My duty was to tidy up these sections and take stock of the 70 or so books that hadn’t yet been put into the system. This involved a great deal of looking up ISBN numbers, a considerable amount of reshelving (two whole sections had to be moved), a bookshelf being dragged across the floor, and Post-Its. So many Post-Its.

I spent yesterday afternoon with Megan and Rick Prelinger, of the Prelinger Library, to talk about libraries and what I might do with ours. Artist’s books and magazines are difficult to catalog because they don’t have ISBN numbers? Rick’s immediate response: don’t use a catalog. The Prelinger Library is built on the principle of serendipity – books are organized into broad groups and while you might find what you were looking for, you’d be much more likely to find something you never knew you needed. Don’t try and systematize so rigidly, the Prelingers suggested; instead, try a taxonomic tree of themes. “Typography” leading to the subgenre “Linotype,” which then undergoes divergent evolution and branches off into “Linotype Specimens” on the one hand and “Keyboard Operation” on the other.

So, my introduction to radical librarianism. We’ll see how it plays out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I’m content to dig around the shelves, unearthing treasures… and reorganizing them.

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Zoe
Zoe
Zoe is a student at Reed College, and an amateur playwright. During the summer of 2013 she is a volunteer at SFCB contributing her time and wit to the library and her sorting talents to the California job cases in the print studio.

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