Organizing the Library

A good library arrangement is not achieved at once, but is a slow growth through difficulties met and conquered. Unlike the strict arrangement the Dewey Decimal System imposes on an academic or professional library, a private library requires an attractive appearance as well as an order that can be intuited.

Imposing a coherent, cohesive and attractive order requires achieving a balance between practical and aesthetic concerns. Our first criteria is to bring the book closest to its purpose. Subjects are composed in natural order, alphabetically, chronologically, or by decimal. Their placement in the home or office lends definition to the rooms’ function.

I think of the study with the tooled glove leather floors and 18th century Chinese day bed, where the shelves flanking the entryway reflected my client’s interests in the interface between primitivism and modernism in acrostic. The silk bound Oriental folios surmounted the stout tomes on the ancient visual arts, segued through tribal, past folk, culminating midpoint, above the door, with the two volume slip-cased Museum of Modern Art catalog, Primitivism and the Twentieth Century. To the right ran monographs of artists entertaining ideas of savagery; expressionists – abstract and otherwise: Bacon, De Kooning, Dubuffet, Gorky, Lamm, Picasso, Pollock, etcetera and etceteras. The effect was in perfect harmony with the deep polished mahogany framing the suede walls and deep-slotted box shelves.

A good library is not dependent on such splendid accoutrements. My own sits on plain stained pine in the imaginary orders that careful study and scrutiny present. West African market literature and Igbo cultural history mixes with Brazilian pornography mixes with Colonial Baroque and Rococo ecclesiastical architecture and pairs with what I call Cubanity.

Reference works come more quickly to hand than Internet sites and skimming remains preferable to surfing for bringing to mind the fortuitous finds of serendipity. Webster’s Second and the eleventh Britannica, The Oxford Companion to…, the London Times Atlas and dictionaries to five languages look out on my quiet corner Uptown.

Many years in this location and I’m continually refining my library’s order. Reorganizing a library frequently intensifies it. An old client who’s recently reached saturation has decided rather than build more shelves to adopt my own solution to large accumulations in small spaces; to weed and replace what’s peripheral with what’s essential.

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