misssylviadrake (misssylviadrake) wrote,

A home library: coping with books, close to the heart

Dear friends,

Sometimes a thread emerges on facebook which is close to the heart. In this case it was because I was talking to a congenial friend. It began when I couldn't find a xerox of the memoirs of the life of Anne Oldfield which I thought I had made. It turned out I hadn't, but I had xeroxed modern little lives of her and George Anne Bellamy -- both 18th century actresses: about Anne at least two people wrote biographies and Bellamy wrote her own long autobiography, which was then "corrected" and abridged by a male into a 2 volume version.

"Do others have this problem of books disappearing. You know you have it in some form but it's not in the 7 different places in the library it could be. You (I) give up. Then years (really) later you come upon it with a bunch of them put behind you in tall bookcase in a pile under yet some other form of placement. There's probably some Gorey (Edward) cartoon for this but I'd have to find it :)"

Lost in a library

One friend wrote: "Books disappear, yes, but they do not reappear because someone has borrowed them and not returned them. I can't tell you how many copies I bought of the "Collected James Wright" before the "Complete" came out. It was too big and too expensive for me to let it go."

To which I replied:  "
That does happen. It didn't happen in this case. Probably I'm now tired and when I get tired I get discouraged so got myself in a further muddle. But now I've found all my old stuff: one reason I could not have lent it, is much of it is xeroxes of books (whole and part) on 3 women autobiographers I've written papers on or on feminist poetics (as in essays on how women's life writing differs from men). Nowadays I don't lend out books ever though. The big risk is one loses a friend :).

Then another friend (Jill) wrote:  "I've bought some copies of my much-loaned books on ABE books, keeping my copies safe. They're cheap too; generally a buck a copy."

A third: "
Book lending is book giving. I don't have much call to lend books these days. There are some books that I would not lend (a 1940s hardcover copy of The Well of Loneliness, e.g.). If I wanted to lend that work, I'd order a paperback copy sent directly from Powells. I've done that often.

I have many senior moments these days about book locations. Even though I have probably between 1500 and 2000 volumes, I know almost every book on sight. The size, shape, color and type of binding. I could tell you that The Well of Loneliness is a pale gray binding, about 6-7" high, worn but still in good shape. So when I go look for that book, I'm looking for that object.

Since I arrived in CT, I have not maintained my library; books are so many that they are shelved in multiple locations throughout the house. And, of course, stacked in many corners, under tables and so forth. I've squandered a monumental amount of money on books, over the years. I expect I'll continue to do so until the lights go out."

Someone perpetually hostile to Library Thing:  "
I would assume that anybody with multiple thousands of books will be unable to lay hands on a specific book now and then! I have far too many, and am far too busy, to ever have the time to institute Library Thing (maybe when I retire?), but I thought that was supposed to solve such problems, and you have managed (I don't know how you ever did!) to Library Thing-ize your books, haven't you? In that case, it doesn't sound like it does solve this problem...which is another rattling good argument against Library Thing for me, not that I needed one. I never lend books, by the way."

Then my friend from Connecticut: "
Sig Eisner married a librarian. His entire library was card cataloged. ;-) Books tend to lose their usefulness when you can't lay hands on them when needed."

Then Jill:  "
This thread made me think of an awkward situation I run into now and then. Friends, knowing I love books and reading, often buy them for me. I make a point of reading them and often am delighted to be reading a book I never would have chosen on my own. But I do have two strong dislikes; books that involve violence, or abuse of animals or children. Many, if not most, modern publications seem to incorporate some or all of these in their plots. Do I feign enjoyment of these books, chancing getting more of them, say nothing..."

Me:  "
Hi everyone. We now have -- according to Library Thing, which we've kept up -- 9463 books. The catalogue is a treasure and helps; we do have some control over our books and manage them in ways we couldn't before (like when we rearrange our sections). In this instance the problem was that the xeroxes were of essays and parts of book. I only put into Library Thing those books I xerox the whole of. the catalogue is not as good as it could be since we didn't fill out the forms fully in some cases (e.g, not putting in a note which section the book is in); the owner of the system does not disambiguate different editions of the same book.One of my mottoes on Library Thing's profile of me comes from Carol Shields's Swann: "Our books, dear Book Browser, are a comfort, a presence, a diary of our lives. What more can we say?" Also La bibliothèque devient une aventure" (Umberto Eco)"

And the person again hitting at Library Thing:  "
Well I'm glad it's got a cool motto, but the practical use of Library Thing is what I can't understand. I mean, if you're interested in the social aspect, meeting people who have similar books, that's legit, but otherwise, I can't conceive of how anyone can find the time to catalogue 9,000 books (I think we have more like 7,000). And what xeroxes? Do you xerox your books? Oh well. I sure can't catalogue, them all, and gyess I'll just have to put up with them occasionally going stray, as they do. Maybe the cats carry them off...I wouldn't be a bit surprised if that's what they get up to while we sleep."

To which I replied:  "
You've said this before many times. At the time we did the bulk of it it was time-consuming but not that bad since the way the thing works is you just put in the ISBN and all the spaces are automatically filled out - well almost all of them (not which section of the library you are putting the book in). And then ever after if you just keep it up, it's not time-consuming at all. The first time we did the bulk we learned what books we really had, we had forgotten and we re-arranged. Yes I xerox some books; if they are very expensive and I want them, I xerox them. I've done this for just about all my major projects on earlier women. Sometimes it is just a chapter of a book I xerox or essays on a collection: I call this a partial xerox and have not been entering them in Library Thing."

My kind Connecticut friend:  "
Ellen, have you thought about scanning your photocopies into PDFs? This would not be practical for whole books, of course, but for chapters or excerpts, you could archive all these documents in a single place and you could more easily keep track of them.

The initial input of volumes into any catalog is an annoyance, but unless you're buying dozens or hundreds of books at a time, the expense of effort afterward seems trivial. I didn't know about Library Thing, perhaps I'll have a go at it, too."

Me:  "
Mike for my three "big" projects it would take a long time to scan in the pages for a pdf: i xeroxed a lot of stuff for Colonna, Gambara, and Finch as most of it was out of print. Yesterday I found my stuff about the memoirs of 18th century actresses put with all my xeroxes and folders on Anne Murray Halkett - a fascinating 17th century spy for the Tories in the civil war, again I had to xerox a lot as most of what she wrote is out of print. This stuff I was able to reach out beyond the Folger and local Library of Congress to the British Library (through the wonders of the Internet) and paid for someone else to xerox from a microfiche in the British library. I do need a system for these things and don't have one. They are just in my room and after all I rely on memory as after all I have not done that many of these serious research projects. For Austen and Trollope by the way there's no need: just about everything is in print.

Library Thing is well worth the initial effort but it has some important flaws. You can enter books quickly and with ease if their ISBN turns up in a large number of central venues linked in (as libraries, bookstores, including Amazon), but the software does not sufficiently disambiguate different editions. I don't understand why this is when the ISBN can be different (if only by one letter or number) when it's the same text and a different edition, but the machinery will tell you that you have 2 copies of this book when what it means is you have 2 different editions of this book. When you are like me and care about the different editions (as they do have slightly different texts often), this is aggravating. There are other problems for someone with a large library as the target audience is probably someone with at most 1000 books. As to the social software, it's silly mostly because most people don't use it. They don't use it because it's not set up to begin to make any community in the way of such listservs or groupblogs or here on Facebook. So it's best use is as a catelogue and control and manipulation of your library, yet that is where there are failures in the software. Jim could tell you more. Our own case has this glitch: Jim rarely fills in individually anything about a book particularly, mcuh less where we put it until after we've had a problem finding it. I did that throughout. He wanted to enter everything fast and if it wasn't fast, his idea was this was not worth it. He now says he was wrong, but still would not have had the patience to fill in the columns of "comments." I did all the manually entered books by the way; often foreign language or older books.

Mike: "
We have this cheap $99 Lexmark printer that has a document feeder for scanning/copying multiple-page documents. The software is funky, so the process can sometimes be opaque, but the loading of the pages themselves is automatic. I don't know the page limit for the feeder. This printer also prints double-sided automatically.

I would probably store these documents in file folders or paper binders with labels. In the past, I have purchased "banker's boxes" and stored legacy files in those. Office supply stores often have sales on folders, I bought 3-for-the-price-of-1 some years ago, 300 file folders being way more than I actually needed."

One aspect of cataloging that I find interesting is "tagging." It turns out that a useful system of tagging any set of objects -- books, CDs, DVDs, whatever -- is not trivially determined"

Mike I have a wall of bookcases with file folders in them and another two shelves of the stuff; and I have file folders on top of one of the bookcases. I have a method of cutting and stapling the xeroxes to put them into readable form. And then I alphabetize them under subject and there are about 7 or 8 big sections for people I've researched in depth. I don't always go as far as writing papers; so I never "did" Gaspara Stampa (Renaissance poet) nor Charlotte Smith (thus far) and so on. The existence of ECCO on line has changed my production of these folders. Not everything printed but a helluva lot was years ago put onto microfilm and these microfilms were in big research libaries. A corporation scanned these in and makes all of it available to institutions who pay. So for the last couple of papers I've had access to that. I was doing an edition of George Anne Bellamy's autobiography: very rare. Well now it's in ECCO and anyone who is part of an institution or knows someone who is can get the texts.

Tagging is so complicated. Only after I'm mistagged say for ever so long do I begin to see what I should have tagged or not. But even doing it without foresight is better than not.

Mike:  "
Yes, thinking about it up front bears fruit. I usually try for a tree structure, e.g. "literature, American literature, fiction, novels, 20th Century" -- but once I'm well into the process with many branches, it can become difficult to remember all the branches I've created. And then the custom nodes, like "stream of consciousness" or "war literature." Spelling is the other bugbear. I can easily end up with "20th C," "20th Century" and "20th century" because I forget which form I started with.

And the boon of the internets and digital copies. Years and years ago, I wrote a paper on the concept of 'understanding' in Pride and Prejudice. To tease that out, I literally went through a copy of the book and underlined every occurrence of the word and documented its location. This had the beneficial side effect of giving me an intense knowledge of the whole novel. Today, I'm sure, I would get a digital copy somewhere and simply do a search for the word. (With some e-readers, I would be able to bookmark each occurrence, even highlight and annotate it.) Much faster, but I would surely come away with a less deep understanding (!) of the novel. Still, it was a bloody lot of work."

"I did leave out how much fun it was cataloguing. It was deeply pleasurable to take at least some of the books down -- like old friends and go through them. I agree on these short cuts precluding hard work that nonetheless is fulfilling. Thus I was typing George Anne Bellamy's autobiography from an 18th century book I bought, 6 volumes in wretched condition so I got it for under $200. I was learning a lot as I typed -- for I was going through the book so carefully. Now I've given over, but I do know the 2 volume version that Pickering and Chatto has chosen to reprint rather than the 6 is much inferior, cruder and probably more tampered with than the 6 -- FWIW :) If anyone asks me (one person has!) I say read the ECCO version of 6 volumes. Both versions are on ECCO."

"Oh, yeah, and that reminds me, with the B&N NookStudy, the textbook reader, when you copy a section of text out of a book and paste it into a document, you automatically get a properly formatted footnote reference text, too."

Yes, I really like my books. Often, when I am at a loose end, I just cruise the shelves and find something I haven't read or finished and start it up. The majority of my books, I write the date of acquisition inside the front cover. The oldest date of acquisition in my library is Aug 2, 1969. I have had a nomadic life so my library has been churned and culled a number of times. That odd book is the only remnant of my youthful university days. Its mate is my first Robinson Jeffers book, from 1973. I could easily sit here and catalog all day, if other duties didn't beckon."

I've been a homebody and stayed in one spot each time a long time. That's chance but also a character trait. With my 1st husband I moved into the very apartment I had lived in with my parents and got my father's and my old books; the admiral and I have been together 43 years and have lived in our present house since 1983. The majority of our library was acquired after 1983 and it grew by leaps and bounds in the first years of the Internet. I gave some of the baby books to Laura to take with her (and she still has them) but otherwise I really do have a lifetime plus (my father's -- and those books my mother got from Book-of-the-Month club which I rescued before she could pitch them) and some of Jim's too. Three ancient (19th century) books given me by my mother-in-law. I have bought old books myself but these were given me as family keepsakes"

And returning to the distance between me and my cat, Clary:

Savoir Faire
Claribel Alegria

My black cat doesn't know
he will die one day
he doesn't cling to life
as I do
he leaps from the rooftop
light as air
climbs the tamarind tree
barely scratching it
doesn't dread crossing bridges
or dark alleyways
nor the perfidious scorpion
my black cat falls in love
with every cat he meets
he refuses to be snared
by a single love
the way I did.

--tr. D. J. Flakoll, Vintage Book of Contemporary World Poetry, McClatchy, ed

Tags: books, life-writing (mine), listserv life

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