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A library is a space occupied by books, but it is also a space occupied by people and human activity. This is true of all libraries, great or small. But the personal library is a special case. We live and work and relax in it, but in another sense it is in us. It occupies a space inside a living home, and it shares that space with other people and in many cases other domestic functions. It competes for attention and space within the home, and at the same time it has the potential to complement and define the home. In the end each personal library finds its own balance, but it is also the case that the owner of the personal library can do some things to maximize the positives while minimizing the negatives.


The definition of a personal library

"...all those rooms, too humble to be called libraries, where the pursuit of reading is carried on by private people" Virginia Woolf

The word 'library' brings to mind an image, of imposing buildings holding thousands of books. The library in the home, might be humble in comparison, but we can take some pride in them. Many institutional libraries, after all, started out with donations from personal libraries. And it's not just history that reminds us of the importance of personal libraries. We can surmise that of the millions of books sold each year, the vast majority end up in homes, and that far more people have contact with books in the home than they do with books in the Institutional Libraries in their community. So the library in the home is not so humble after all, but it is distinctly different.

The real distinction between libraries in the home and Institutional Libraries is not, however, in their size or how they're accommodated. It's an issue of ownership and management. Institutional Libraries use procedures to regulate their operation, and are organised to facilitate research and borrowing and to ensure inter-operability with other institutional libraries. All of this is achieved by employing staff trained in a certain way of doing things to a certain standard. And there is a rich literature on how these people are trained and how things should be done, all in the context of an Institutional Library.

But each person who keeps a library in their own home makes their own choices about how things are done. There is no standard to achieve, there is no qualification that they must hold. The operation of a library in the home comes down to a matter of personal style, and personal choice. For this reason, and because this is the thing that fundamentally distinguishes this type of library from all others I recommend and use the term 'Personal Library' to describe this type of library.

It's true that personal libraries are often referred toas private libraries. This notwithstanding that many personal libraries were historically open to members of the public. Furthermore, the use of the terms 'public' and 'private' can be misleading in the modern context where some libraries open to the public are run by private institutions and many libraries owned by public institutions are closed to public access. Then again, the internet is redefining what is private and what is public.

There's one thing left to add. There is no intention here to set up any ill feeling between those who support or work in Institutional Libraries and the owners of personal libraries. The expressions 'amateur' and 'professional' have no place here. There may be a difference in the roles and expectations of those who work in each area, but the circumstances that apply in those areas are also very different. Except for this of course: our love of books and our belief in their capacity to enrich lives.

The shape of a personal library

The shape of a personal library is not just about how it fits into the space available, or indeed in how architecture and services are built around it. It's also about how the library fits around you and your lifestyle. If most institutional libraries seem to share common elements of design it's partly because they generally exist to serve the same kinds of needs wherever they are located, and have tended over time to find the cheapest and most effective way of doing that. But in the case of the personal library, the unique needs and circumstances of each person's (and family's) situation dictate that there will be a different solution whenever books are brought together in the home. But while we could expect to find infinite variability in how each of us creates and shapes our personal libraries, there are still some common themes.

The most 'fixed' of these is the requirements imposed upon the personal library by the books themselves. A book's ambition - if it had one - is essentially about self-preservation. It doesn't particularly care whether it is accessible, or whether it is 'on show', or even if the owner has any idea where it is located. The best preserved book is one that is kept locked away in the dark, possibly in a vacuum or alien atmosphere. None of this of course is particularly conducive to your utilisation or enjoyment of your library - unless you are keeping books purely as cash investment. Which leads to this observation. Within the library space there are requirements and preferences, but the final definition of that space will be a result of balancing needs, and reaching compromises that will certainly be modified as time goes by. Because the library will change to adjust to changes in your life circumstances, and perhaps - in a small way - your life circumstances will be modified by your library.

It's true that most personal libraries start and grow without any conscious thought. Issues that require major decisions, about locating books or insuring them or making them accessible, really only come to our attention when they reach 'crisis' point. And often that 'crisis' is drawn to our attention by other members of our families who have a less blinkered view about the benefits of sharing their home with hundreds - or thousands - of books. This Guide doesn't suggest that the owners of personal libraries should discard their haphazard and disparate approaches to managing their personal libraries, because that's part of the freedom and charm of personal libraries. But it does recommend a review of the major issues and some reflection from time to time on the path that your library is taking. If by small changes and adjustments as your library grows not only might you avoid some of the pitfalls of keeping books in the home, but you might also improve the chances of improving your library and your lifestyle.

The book's requirements of a library

Most of what we see and think about in libraries is about our convenience and our needs. We want organisation, we want to be able to reach the books, and we want an environment that pleases us. These things make up the human dimensions of a personal library. But none of these things are essential from the perspective of the book. A book doesn't have ambitions, it simply has requirements. If a book had an opinion, and the means to voice it, what would a book ask of a library? To do its utmost to preserve its integrity.

The only thing that matters from the book's perspective is that it continues to maintain its identity as a book. Even then its components will betray that simple requirement. You might say that it yearns to return to the earth, to re-enter the cycle of nature from which it was taken and converted into paper. Even if the pages don't include corrosive acids (and many of them do), they will ultimately oxidise and decay. Their fibres will fall apart and blow away as dust. Entropy rules the universe, a book simply arrests it for a while. But if you can keep the paper dry, and shielded from direct sunlight and free of vermin you could expect to see at least a couple of hundred years of 'arrested development'.

The amount of effort and money you are prepared to spend - and the compromises you are prepared to make with the other requirements of your library - in order to preserve your books really depends upon how much value you place on them. And we need to define what exactly it is that you are placing the value upon. Is it the 'work' or the 'book'? If it's the 'work' that's important to you the actual physical book might be of trivial significance. If the copy is worn or lost you can replace it with another, or replace it with a digitized or audio copy. There are costs associated with doing this, but perhaps the cost is less than that you might have been liable for if you had installed extra security and sophisticated environmental controls.

But if it is that specific copy of the book that is important to you, whether because of sentiment or its high replacement cost or it's unique attributes, then you need to give some serious regard to the requirements of the book. Many of the specific strategies for arresting the 'internal decline' of books, and preserving them from external hazards are covered in the following two Sections of this Guide:

It is worth noting at this point that digital media also deteriorates with time, and potentially becomes less accessible with the evolution of technologies. And anyone who has lost data that was stored on a defective hard disk, or on a 'suddenly missing' portable data storage device knows that electronic media is just as vulnerable to theft and damage as traditional print media. The requirement of digital media have not yet been discussed or addressed in this Guide, yet. It's a task for the near future.

The Personal Library Guide, Section: 'Understanding risks to books'
The Personal Library Guide, Section: 'Responding to risks with care'

The human dimensions of a library

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

The needs of the book are relatively simple and easily satisfied, but the needs of people in and around the library are both complex and overriding. Which means that as long as we satisfy some minimum requirements for protecting and housing the books, we should - if we get the chance to actually think about and do something about this - build and manage our libraries around the individual human requirement. Essentially this describes the relationship between the library and each individual who uses it, walks through it or simply looks at it. This is all about to what extent are the needs of the individual met by the library, and to what degree do you design and modify the library to meet those needs. Those needs can be somewhat artificially, but conveniently, divided into matters relating to the body (physiology), and matters relating to the mind (intellect).

Before continuing it is important to acknowledge that the discussion here relates largely to needs of the individual. Even where we discuss how a whole family of three generations might relate to the library, the consideration here is focussed on their individual experiences. But of course a library in a home that is occupied by more than one person invariably becomes part of a complex social inter-relationship that is potentially multi-gendered, multi-cultured and multi-generational. Those issues, beyond the individual factors, are not to be found here, but have been given their own area over at Section 'Balancing library and family' and 'Activities in the library space'

Physiology matters: generally

To the extent that we all mostly have to cope with the same physiological issues - we all can only reach so far, we all have trouble seeing in the dark - these issues are common to all libraries. But to the extent that each of us has different physiological capabilities and unique combinations of these capabilities, then each library faces a unique set of issues. Then if you build in an expectation that the personal library might be accessed by several members of a household then you have an even more complex scenario, especially if some of those family members are very young or old, or have chronic medical conditions or disabilities.

Meeting all of these needs - and doing it competently - is a challenge for the owner of the personal library. It is always possible, and often the case, that you'll simply build the library around your own requirements and capabilities, and add a few components that make it 'usable' to others on a 'as needs' basis. But if you wish to encourage others in your home to participate in your library then it pays - if you can - to build their requirements into your library from the ground up. It may be the case that the result is physically not much different than if you had built it solely for yourself, but what is apparent to the rest of your family is that you have made a strong commitment to their involvement in your library, not as an afterthought but right from the start. And it should be remembered that a library might still be serving you in your older years and in periods of less robust health. What you do for others might eventually be something you have done for yourself.

Physiology matters: visual acuity

(Groucho Mark quote about the insides of dogs here)

Lighting is a complex issue, too much and your books will fade, too little and you won't be able to read the titles on the shelves and you'll likely stumble over furniture and fall off your book ladder. And it's not just an issue of lighting, but also your ability to see. It's a sobering fact that at the age of 40 most of us have only 50% of the visual acuity we enjoyed as teenagers. Even if we can still focus (with or without spectacles), our eyes become cloudier with time and reduce the amount of light reaching the retina. Effectively we lose the ability to see in low light conditions. This article] gives a good (if technical) overview of the situation. Loss of peripheral, and inability to process contrasts also important. Color blindness might be an issue if you use color cues in your book organization.

Even young eyes need some light to see however, and one of the problems in libraries is providing even illumination across the entire face of a bookcase. A light at ceiling level will tend to leave the lower shelves in shade, and a pendant light might leave the upper shelves of a very tall bookcase in the dark. The light level required to read text is usually significantly greater than that needed to read the titles of books, hence it makes sense to have multiple light sources if you plan to read in your library. If one of those light sources is natural light be careful to arrange your books so that they are never in direct sunlight. Books covers will fade incredibly quickly in strong sunlight. There's a case for having no windows in your library in order to avoid that hazard, and indeed a well ventilated room or hallway or corner that has no windows makes a great library space or book nook. Where you prefer to do your reading though is a different matter. There's something about having a vista, and - on a good day - fresh air and birdsong that makes the reading experience even better. Having a library with north-facing (or south-facing if you are in the southern hemisphere) windows is a generally safe compromise.

A full discussion on lighting issues, designs and technology is in the Section Library Display - Lighting the library'. And remember ...

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx

Physiological matters: thermoregulation and homeostasis

The optimal environment for a book is 65 degrees farenheit, and a 35% to 40% humidity. Science suggests that the comfort zone for humans lies between 68 and 78 degrees F, although one study suggests that productivity peaks around 71 to 73 degrees F. I understand that at these temperatures humidity would be in the range of 40% to 50%. In practice there is a zone of comfort that combines considerations of temperature, humidity and airflow. Generally speaking the cooling and warming requirements of a library room are much the same as any other living area of your home, but there is some sense in running it 'cooler' rather than warmer. Airflow becomes very important as temperature and humidity rises. Options for heating and cooling. Note that variations in temperature are generally more unsettling for books - and people - than steady state (within the normal range).

It is recommended that readers use cotton gloves when handling extremely precious books, so as to avoid damaging the paper with skin oils and perspiration. In the tropics however, an arm resting on a table can literally create a pool of sweat. And an arm resting on paperwork or a book can be equivalent to pouring a cup of water into it. The ideal solution is to use a book stand, and have a towel to rest your arm on.

If you opt for air conditioning or heating to make the 'human environment' more comfortable avoid placing books near the sources of heat or cooling. If you have high bookshelves check the temperature up there, it could be substantially warmer than at 'head height'.

The elderly, and people on certain medications, may have a decreased ability to regulate their own body temperature. Usually this manifests as an inability to keep warm, but it can also affect the ability to sweat and hence reduce the ability to lower body temperature. The clinical signs of mild hypothermia (too low body temperature) and hyperthermia (too high body temperature) can often manifest themselves as confusion and irritability - and these signs can easily be mistaken for dementia. Generally people with these conditions self-regulate by wearing extra (or less) clothing, and adding shawls, blankets and rugs. They are also likely to use radiant heaters, and place them much closer to their feet than is generally safe - especially when they have already wrapped themselves in a blanket or rug.

  • keeping a blanket or shawl in the library, accessible to the elderly or invalids who might be sitting and reading in this area - saving them from carrying these items, or having to get up and go and get them after they have already settled into their favorite chair.
  • install a safe heating option.

Physiology matters: ergonomics

As soon as we learn to stand we always find ourselves trying to reach further, and falling over. A certain amount of care around the library - especially if there are young children or the elderly in the house - doesn't go astray. A library is essentially a warehouse, with goods stacked on shelves. It's true that we aren't talking about refrigerator sized objects, but anyone who's been struck on the head by a volume toppling from an overhead shelf can attest to the fact that it's packs a wallop. Not to mention being bad for the book.

The proper way of addressing these hazards is a combination of adopting safe practices, of having the appropriate equipment and furniture, and proper design. There is a strong case for disregarding your specific physiology when it comes to the design of your library. Even if you will be the only person to ever use it - and this would be unusual for a library located in the home - then time and hazard will inevitably take a toll on you. Even if you don't plan to remain in this house when you grow older and frail, frailty might come to find you tomorrow when you slip on the side walk and break your leg. The best plan of all for a library is one that is built around an expectation of disability, rather than ability. So, while bookcases that rise to the ceiling look imposing they can be - literally - a pain in the neck and a hazard to life and limb. But, if you have to accommodate a large number of books in the home (and there's no choice if you are a bibliophile) and you have to 'go high', then at least you can take all reasonable precautions and introduce design elements that mitigate the risks.

A full discussion on safety in the library and around books is in the Section 'SAFETY AND HEALTH IN THE LIBRARY', while there is an extensive discussion on design and construction of libraries and library furniture in the Section 'BOOK SHELVING AND DISPLAY'.

Effects of prolonged sitting - hazardous for those with circulation problems, and in fact everyone. For the elderly, lying down is not a bad option, for those who can, a standing table is worth considering. Need good floor mat, and ideally shoes as well. The ideal library might include a chaise lounge, or long lounge, a regular chair, and a standing workstation/reading desk.

Mind matters: generally

quote about books and knowledge/experience


  • age appropriate
  • mixing books and internet resources for knowledge
  • accuracy, completeness, veracity

Just as your body interacts with your library, so does your mind. It could be said that this is the entire point of a library, or of any individual book. Even where a library is just for 'show', it's purpose is to gratify the vanity of the owner and increase his or her reputational value - all matters that relate to the mind rather than the body. In fact the range of issues it the intersection of libraries and the mind is so vast that makes sense to look at break them into three broad (and admittedly overlapping to some degree) categories: issues of the mind, issues of the spirit, and issues of identity.

Mind matters: knowledge and curiosity

the question arises these days whether the book and the library have any continuing role in developing and sustaining our intellectual capabilities and interests. Will the next Herman Hesse conceive an interest in eastern mysticism after sitting in front of a computer terminal in his grandfather's library? Well it might be tempting to say it can't be so. But yes, yes it almost certainly must be so. For every 19th century youth who was exposed to a large collection of books in the home, there are tens of thousands today who have access to the world via a computer in the home. Logic - and statistics - are on the side of technological progress, but our hearts (or is it our prejudices?) say otherwise.

Can we analyse this, resolve which is better at inspiring and informing - the computer or the book? If you acquire a book in order to learn something you can make some judgement about how effective it has been. But even then it might be hard to separate out the influence of other factors - what you already knew, what you might have looked up elsewhere in other books, what you have looked at on the internet. You might have discussed the subject with others who shared their knowledge with you. And who's to say that you have understood the book correctely or completely, and was the author right anyway? So can we pin down how much influence a whole library might make on our intellectual development? And is a library more than the sum of its parts? Reading two books on the same subject doesn't give us twice as much knowledge, but it does give us a second perspective, and perhaps another context. Does a library have a role even when it is unread? Does working and living surrounded by books suggest possibilities that draw the mind outward?

And if any or all of this is true, what makes a book or a library any different to a computer, quietly humming on the desk waiting to be explored? Is there some special quality that books have, some greater power to enlighten and educate? One could point to the process of making a book, that the process dictates a certain standard, that the final measure of success of a book is the ability to make sales (or to persuade the publisher to issue it at a loss 'for the sake of its content'). But the information on the computer doesn't have to meet that criteria, there is no 'cost' in publishing so there is nothing to filter out the trash. But at the same time, the internet is the chance for everyone to have a voice, and for voices that are not fashionable or comfortable to speak and be heard. And not all internet content is free, there is an immense amount of content that has to 'pay its way', and that largest of all encyclopedias (that has surpassed the Ming Dynasty effort) requires its writers and editors to go through endless hoops to get their content onto the screen. Is the very slowness of books their advantage? Does the long gestation period - of writing and publishing - give books a chance to be more reflective and expansive. We expect the internet to be quick, to summarise everything for us, to lead us straight to the answer even though we're often not sure what the question is. Does the effort that required to get through a book, to suspend all other activity while reading it, mean that we learn more from books because they are simply more difficult, and learning - deep learning - only comes with effort and pain?

But this isn't a death of books, and libraries, argument. If personal libraries aren't the undisputed mechanism for storing and conveying knowledge that they used to be, they still exist, they still have a role. If, logically they shouldn't exist anymore, their very existence says that we don't really understand everything about what is going on. Books and libraries still inspire and inform, and it's perhaps enough that this Section of the Guide address the question of how we can maximise that impact and that role. Most of the readers here, after all, still have libraries made up of books, of paper and ink. Perhaps we can say, with a nod to diplomacy, that computers can enhance our experience of books and libraries, and not just through cataloging. and work with that for a while. Later on we might have to accept that books and libraries will become adjuncts to a world of inspiration and learning based around computers, before eventually becoming defunct altogether - and highly collectible.

The last thing to add to this little digression is perhaps some perspective. It wasn't so long ago, and it's still true in some parts, that book learnin'was/is regarded as inferior to real life experience. And perhaps there's some truth in that. Now we have 'online experience' getting set to displace much of our book learnin'. Perhaps its just a matter of perspective - and balance ...

But the question is whether that inspiration and that informing has a different quality to that which arises from access to a computer, and why that might be so. That question goes to the heart of future role of personal libraries in inspiring and informing us, and perhaps (surprisingly) in suggesting a new direction in how we teach children in schools and in the home. (teaching 'reading computers' just like reading itself)

These are questions that are much larger than this Guide. Perhaps it's best to call a truce, and agree that in a Guide about libraries we might as well explore what's possible with libraries and leave aside (for another day) the question of whether we should have libraries at all. What we can say is that libraries and computers go together, and if one could say that there is one book that should be in every library, it is the computer notebook or pad.

If you build a library *What libraries can do for us, and our children. Research, evidence, anecdotal.

  • libraries as enablers of adult learning, role of journals in keeping up to date. Journals in libraries. Libraries in technical workshops.
  • Libraries as workshops for writing, studying
  • Role of computers in library, and options. Also of eBooks
  • What we can do to libraries to make them more powerful enablers of OUR (and our children's) intellect.
  • Value adding your library. Reviewing books - narrative and super-review methods (essentially taking notes for later studies/research). Acquiring books to aid current or future research. Building a reference collection.
  • minimum requirements - tools/References. References have a unique role in a personal library. They are part of the collection, and indeed can be rare and collectible items, but they sometimes used as a tool you can use to get more value out of the rest of the library. In that sense what references you have depends on what sort of collection you have and how you use it, hence mention of it here under 'human dimension of the personal library'. At no other point does this guide make suggestions for what sort of books of ephemera should be in your collection - as you'll notice there is no discussion on acquisition. Unlike institutional libraries there is no strong need for procedures for acquisition (although there is room for some guidance in relation to getting best value, quarantine and data logging...)
  • No library is really complete without a dictionary. And one might add an atlas, and a thesaurus (if you write as well). It can be observed that all of these features are available in a computer. But printed is more portable. If you are writing also dictionaries of quotations, specialist dictionaries, style guides. A globe - even a small one. Also strongly recommended is a guide to first aid, health, pharmaceuticals and pet care (if applicable). Sometimes having a book beats computer. In an emergency when phones and power is out a book might be all you have.

Computers vs books. Free vs costly. Impact primarily on non-fiction. But also fiction. Ppl can read 'notes' or the annotated version, or see the movie Some impact has been complete, at the level of publishing and collecting. World fact books, encyclopedias, atlases to some extent. Reading styles, learning to read/understand. Books vs web. Summarised vs expansive. Summary foregoes selection/discretion/taste something hard to pin down that impresses the intellect/soul about a collection of books that the front page of wikipedia doesn't. Why is that? Physical presence?

See: Taking Notes

Mind matters: mood and spirit

Seclusion and connection. Even in those homes where a personal library has a room of its own, it is still a room in the home. So there will always be some kind of physical connection with the rest of the home. Except of course in the case of the LibraryThing member who purchased the house next door and converted into that into a library... But is there an ideal degree of separation or connection between a personal library and not only the physical fabric of the home, but also the social fabric of the home? What are the consequences, and the benefits, that flow from different degrees of connectedness or seclusion, what has worked for other people? And if you were setting up a library from scratch, or modifying an existing library, what could you do to achieve either situation, and what could you do to create a flexible environment that was equally efficient at achieving seclusion, or connectedness, depending upon your needs at that moment?But what can you do to achieve the degree of connectedness or isolation you want to achieve (at that moment). Flexible tools. Screens, lighting, and most significantly - headphones (and wireless headphones with noise cancelling) the most powerful. The use of windows and 'portholes'. The use of sub-areas within the library. The use of video/audio monitoring and communication technology. Even to the point of skyping between computers within the same home. If writing (possible the most potentially isolationist activity - along with meditation) consider creating zone for that activity that is separate to the actual library, so that the library doesn't get entirely swept up in that requirement. Possibility of adjacent area, or of a dedicate area for that activity that is isolated to some degree 'within' the library. Permanent and portable and technological and social tools to achieve result. Note that social is equivalent to habits, such as 'do not disturb between x hrs and y hrs) solutions/suggestions. And a general principle of discussing/compromising/agreeing in order to achieve balance not only in the home, but also in the family or community that uses home and library.

A desk and chair for children (their own version of yours if you have one - their bit of territory in your territory. Ditto spouses, one I know created a whole library and extraordinary ephemera (and continues to do it) for her spouse. Created an exclusive space for the 'other'. This sort of thing based on generous feelings and happiness to have 'separate spaces'. Role of 'truce' signals on wars over space in the house, and acceptance time spent together/apart. Argument for moving the library into your family area (as opposed to moving your family into your library) Kind of works both ways. Creating music area, instrument space, music stand, chair, piano etc.

It's been said that reading is essentially an anti-social activity, although it would be more true to say 'non-social'. It's fair to say that reading has the potential to be non-social, whether it is carried out under a blanket with a torch at night, or in a custom built library behind a locked door, or on the far side of a breakfast table behind a book. But this is only part of the story. Reading out aloud is tremendously social, and can be much more than simply being read to. Then there is collaborative reading, and companionable reading, and a thousand variations that simply involve two or more people engaged in a variety of compatible activities and only one of that 'many' is reading. The only thing we can reliably conclude in these circumstances is that there is no absolute rule for how connected or isolated a personal library should be. But there is this 'anti-rule'. A personal library does not achieve, or enhance its credentials as a library by aspiring to emulate the 'hushed' environment of the institutional library. If you like that hushed, serene calmness by all means try and achieve it, but do it because you enjoy that environment, and not because you feel that you ought to in order to in order to give your library some legitimacy. The legitimacy of a library comes from your relationship with it, not from your library's similarity to some irrelevant institutional model. And how quiet and serene was the last public library you attended?

Different activities, different approaches to activities, pluses and minuses for each approach. Reading, writing, research, meditation, bonding, educating/learning, fun. Modelling reading as a social activity. Or modelling reading/books as anti-social and anti-family. Consequences beyond the self and the now. Getting to the point of making compromises not because you must, but because you want to. A matter of 'thinking it through'. The signalling of connectedness, of availability to participate, the invitation to enter. The ability to supervise or monitor in both directions (inside to out, outside to inside).

Quiet - noise in libraries

Effect of books/libraries on mood (inspiration). Calming - associations with calm/quiet Satisfying - possession of knowledge/assets; direct satisfaction and reputational.

(naming library, personal statement, collective statement - alignment and dissent) library as expression library as venue for expression

Mood (created by theme and outlook etc) A feeling conducive to reading or study or relaxation or whatever you are seeking. Sometimes it comes just from the books, but it can be supplemented by art or music or simply a view out a window. Consider bringing nature indoors with a small potted fern, cacti or palm, but putting them on a shelf alongside or above books is to invite disaster. You could always use dried flowers, but be mindful of not introducing insect infestations. The classic, of course, is a bonsai. But be aware that bonsai although they might be the right size have much the same environmental requirements as the plants - and trees - they are derived from.

First premise: there is nothing wrong with building a decor/theme around a library. It can be an expression of owners interest/enthusiasm for books generally (a book theme), or for some subject that their books specialise in (a subject theme). Paintings, photographs, sculpture, objects bring out other aspects of subjects. Can be gaudy or minimalist, the point is whether the owner enjoys creating the space and that the space then brings the owner (and visitor) joy. Interesting to consider whether some visitors might become interested in books through interest generated in objects?

There is no formula or set of rules about 'how' a library should look. It is probably the case that most personal libraries just 'happen' somewhere (or at several locations) within the home and spread. If there is any theme or decor associated with the library it was the decor of that space before the library expanded into it. Which highlights point that library lives 'within' home which means within the homes decor and theme. But the books and shelves are decor/theme in themselves and so we are already talking about a merging of house-theme + books/shelves. Situation a little different if library has dedicated room. But aesthetic (generally) more satisfying if flows smoothly throughout home. But the 'library look' is a theme in itself.

Generally representations of mixedmedia/themed personal libraries that come to attention are at the enthusiast/extreme end of the scale. Or the very wealthy end of the scale. Not the less worthy for that, but a little daunting to look at and consider, and definitely not if you don't share that enthusiasm (to the same degree) or have access to that wealth. It would be good if there were more representations over the whole spectrum. Not much guidance in the modern public library space - economising and need to focus on access and density means most public systems a bulidings full of shelves. Public libraries if they emphasise design often use large light wells/walls (large external vistas) and massive internal vistas of books - both not applicable to the scale of personal libraries (although note that the external vista can be...). Public libraries stay out of the 'art gallery' and 'museum' space. So where do you model from? Have to follow your own sensibilities, experiment and share.

Inspirations and suggestions: Visit sites etc on web, books etc. Start small, a small picture or object. Increase effect without spending lot of money or risking over-whelming sensibilities by keeping item(s) to a minimum, but highlighting the object with light (spotlight or shelf light - see Lighting Section) or geometry. Set aside space on the shelf, or a pedestal, or niche. Extending theme, by volume (eg complete collections), or by representation (eg showing progress through time of a style). Shouldn't be snobbery about well made copies - (almost) no book since Gutenberg is a one-of-a-kind but we still value THEM. Subtle theming, painting room, plants, painting ceiling, music. Furnishings, cushions and rugs. Different themes for different collections of books kept in separate areas. Ephemera.


  • Greek/Roman Classic - sculpture and pottery
  • Astronomical/astrological - ceiling designs
  • Asian/African/South American - art, sculpture, objects
  • Monastic/Religious - paintings, objects
  • Travel - maps, globes, ephemera
  • Botanical - prints, pressed plants
  • Zoological - prints, objects (sculptures)
  • Science/Medical - antique instruments
  • Maritime - barometers, found objects, prints
  • Geneology/Local History - maps, letters, objects, prints

Note: Copy old letters and documents (scan and print, or photocopy (or have done professionally) and frame THOSE. Keep the originals in archive conditions (usu. dark and climate controlled etc). See EHPEMERA for longer discussion.


Mind matters: identity and privacy

Giving Libraries a Name. Sometimes people give their libraries 'names' (particularly Chinese), but this can identify your 'feeling' about the library rather than the 'theme', or possibly both. See http://chinaheritagenewsletter.anu.edu.au/features.php?searchterm=013_soubriquets.inc&issue=013, also Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee novels for several references. See also LibraryThing Topic 'changing one's library (i.e. member) name' in case you want to change your LibraryThing name to reflect a new name that you have chosen for your library. Be warned though, it may be that you are then unable to edit your previous posts (this is not certain...)

You might not want to 'showcase' every aspect of your library (yourself) equally - or at all - to the world. Adult material in a house with children, material (religious/political/scientific/historical) that you might with to keep discreetly. Material that emphatically does not reflect your beliefs, but which you collect and keep for genuine research/archival reasons. In some cases fringe material which you keep for reference or completeness. In other cases material kept for it's market value rather than content (at all). Many reasons, and many responses - from 'brown paper' covers, to locked cabinets, to storage (especially useful for seldom-accessed reference (or completeness) material. In the latter case, using LT catalog to maintain connection with the material.

See message by kaelrenee in Topic 'How Many Have?' in Group 'Banned Books'

See also a blog devoted to the concep, and imagery, of beautiful libraries...

The organisation of a library

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

Owners of Personal Libraries are free to choose their own methods of organizing them. This is one of the things that distinguish a personal library from an Institutional library, and one of the things that makes owning a personal library so satisfying. But it can also be a source of frustration as your library gets larger and becomes constrained by the space available in your home and by the competing pressures of your home life. The key is to find some method of organization that meets your needs and works within the space and the time available to do the job. This Guide does not recommend any method ahead of any other but simply hopes to present some of the issues to the reader for consideration.

Organization as an expression of character.

Whenever one book is placed alongside another some kind of organization has been created even if it's name is 'randomness'. Some methods of organization are circumstantial, some are logical while others are aesthetic or intuitive. Sometimes the method will be immediately apparent to the casual browser, in other cases it will reveal itself slowly, like the answer to a cryptic crossword. And sometimes it will never be solved without access to the 'key' that's stored in the owners imagination. Just as the choice of books so does the organization of their library also say something about the personality of the owner.

In a sense, reading other people's library organization and understanding it as (at least in part) an expression of character has some bearing on your own decisions about cataloging methods. It gives you the context within which they have chosen and developed their system of organization. You are then in a better position to judge - if it comes to that - whether their system of organization is better or worse than yours, or simply different because it is built upon a different set of values. If you don't share those values there's no point in trying to persuade them to adopt your method of organization, or listening to them try to persuade you to adopt theirs. And if you imagine that there could be a value-less system of organization and that perhaps it's exemplified by Dewey consider the debate about the classification of Mormonism within the Dewey Decimal system.

But if you are not prone to getting into debates with fellow personal library owners about the merits of cataloging, and are perfectly at ease with your own system you might imagine that how your library organization is perceived by others is a matter of no consequence. Well, yes and no.

If you share your library with other people then how it is organized may have some bearing on the utility of the library to them - essentially how easy it will be for them to understand where to find - and replace - books within your library. But beyond this, if the cataloging system is opaque to others in your household, they may more readily incline to the view that it's not a library they are sharing the house with, but a collection of 'junk'.

If your library exists within a household that is already wary of books taking over the home, or openly intolerant of books, having a well organized system for managing your books might help persuade them that it is a library rather than a collection of junk and deserving of a bit of tolerance. Going all out with Dewey in order to impress or placate others - especially if that's not the way you'd do it if you had own way - is a big ask, but building a library within a home often involves some serious compromises and accommodations. In practical terms it might at least involve organizing your books so that more attractive - and less controversial - books are in the more public areas of the home, while your collection of well worn computer manuals and treatises on the sexual practices of ancient China are a little removed from the public gaze - if that's what you need to do in order to maintain domestic harmony.

Essential organization.

Is it vital that Personal Libraries are organized? Well in one circumstances, yes. If you have books which have certain environmental or security requirements and others which do not, and you are unable to provide the conditions to meet those requirements across the whole of your library, you should at least physically organize your books so that the books that need the most protection are kept in a separate customized environment and/or under tighter security. But bear in mind that putting your valuable books in a special cabinet makes them a more identifiable target for thieves.

Too small to justify the effort of organizing?

If you can encompass the span of your library in a single glance you are probably able to remember, or instantly recognize, every book in your library. Locating and organizing books within such a library is not a problem. The primary concern in this case might be aesthetic. To that end you might, over time, replace well loved paperbacks with hard cover version, or even limited editions of the same work. You might consider rebinding or re-covering some of those books, and arranging them by size or color. Conversely you might treasure a book for its physical 'presence', no matter how battered or well worn, or for an inscription or particularly decorative cover that you might choose to display. Even if you don't have a great many books, your choice about where you put your books within your home, or across several rooms within your home, makes and reinforces associations between your books and the activities that you undertake in those places. The bottom line is that organizing books is not just a concern of larger libraries, and that it is not an essentially burdensome task, but something that can make your small library look better, become more useful, or simply something that is a pleasurable activity in its own right.

If your library - no matter what the size - include books that are owned by different people and it is important to acknowledge that ownership, then an arrangement based on ownership might be essential.

The elements of organization.

The machine of organization needs some inputs, the wheel spins but the action happens when the tread hits the ground and gets some kind of grip on something. What that something is is some characteristic (or combination of characteristics) of the thing we are organizing. We'd assume from all the previous discussion that the 'thing' is a book, but it could be anything - and if in the library we'd expect - mostly - to find books, it's sometimes the case that we'd want to include journals, ephemera, music recordings and music scores and digital media. It can get complicated, it usually is, and hence it doesn't hurt to start with some 'first principles'.

Inherent characteristics of books - Physical and generally immutable (but see the cautionary notes...):

  • title (but can change between different editions...and do different editions constitute different books?)
  • author (but note the effect of pseudonyms)
  • size (but can be changed by rebinding...)
  • color (but can be changed by re-covering...)
  • date of first publication
  • publisher (but this can change between editions, and a book can be on release simultaneously by more than one publisher)
  • nationality of author (but is an author who was born in one country but lived his life in another a native of one or the other - or both?)

Interpretive characteristics of books:

  • subject
  • fiction/non-fiction (but does 'cup of tea' move from non-fiction to fiction when it is exposed as a lie? And where does Pat Shipman's appalling fictionalised history belong - if not in the bin or the fireplace...)
  • association with other books/non-book media and items
  • market value (and possibly anticipated market value rather than current value)
  • sentimental value

Contextual characteristics - Purchase and ownership circumstances:

  • time of purchase
  • price
  • place of purchase
  • provenance of purchase (eg 'the former library of xxx')
  • ownership (either who purchased the item, or who it was given to - relevant in libraries made up of material belonging to different people)

Additive characteristics - Derived from some community consensus:

Additive characteristics - Some 'added' physical attribute:

  • Markings added (oblique lines on spines etc)
  • RFID,
  • barcodes,
  • user created covers or bindings

Circumstances and constraints in the organization of personal libraries.

It is important to consider WHY you organise. We tend to skip this question, assume that it is 'just because', but if we look at what - specifically - we want to achieve THROUGH organising, we might be directed to different methods to achieve that organisation. Furthermore, the circumstances of your library space might force certain decisions on you

  • Institutional libraries are constrained to using library-standard systems of organisation, but they also have considerable resources and expertise to maintain those systems. Although Dewey is copyright there is enough information out there to follow it, and in some ways it makes a lot of sense to piggyback on the classification effort that others have already 'put out there'. It just that sometimes it feels so constraining, that it's not quite 'your library' if you organize it along someone else's lines.
  • Institutional libraries maintain a lot of extra capacity within their shelving systems, but you might not want to (for aesthetic reasons) or might (probably) not have the option due to constraints on space available. If you don't have the space available to absorb extra books as you acquire them you have a considerably greater challenge in maintaining organisation.
  • Organization depends upon space being available to house new acquisitions. Institutional libraries maintain empty space, but they also (usually) have a continuing policy of de-acquisition. Personal library owners shouldn't disregard this and note that a process of continual review and selective disposal is a lot less daunting and upsetting than having to make room for hundreds of books that have accumulated in piles on the floor around the house.
  • Libraries in the home do not live in a protected or static environment. As personal circumstances change you may have to adjust. You'd like to imagine that over time you could create more space in your home for an expanding library, but the reality is that changing circumstances such as the birth of children, the accommodation of relatives, even (and especially) marriage can result in a reduction of space available for books. Indeed marriage and the merger of two book collections is a common event. Nor indeed can you expect that you will always remain in the same location, and as you relocate your home you might move into an expanded space, or a reduced one. In either case you might need to re-organize your library.
  • Libraries in the home live and breath with you. As your interests and experiences change it is very likely that you'll want to change and re-organize your library. Even if not driven by these circumstances, you might simply feel the need - an itch - to change it, either out of boredom, or just simply because you can't resist the temptation to fiddle with it.
  • Some technological advance might trigger a desire or need to change the organization of your library. LT's catalogs can be configured to reflect the physical organisation of your library, but it can also prompt you to change the physical organization in order to reflect the organization or capabilities of LT's cataloging system.
  • Circumstances in your personal or working life might mean that you have less time to organize your library, to manage the placement of new books, to undertake de-acquisition, or simply to put books that you (or others) have taken off the shelves back into their right places.
  • If you are contemplating the 'final de-acquisition' you might feel the need to re-organize the library so that it can be taken over or disposed off by your surviving relatives or the executor of your estate.
  • If you borrow, books some method of identifying the books that belong to other people (including library books!) within your collection is important. And if you loan out books then the organization of those that remain should help highlight what is 'not there'. As many books are lost through the process of lending because you have forgotten what you have lent to whom, as are through the orneriness of those that borrow them.

The bottom line here is that you have to live with certain circumstances and constraints, and having adjusted to them, you can expect them to change continuously over time, even if the only factor changing is your continuing acquisition of books. A complex system of organization is less likely to survive or prosper within these constraints and circumstances than one which is basically simple.

Motivation and benefits and costs of organizing personal libraries

Doing it for yourself for utilitarian, aesthetic or circumstantial reasons. Doing it to impress others, or for their utility. Understanding the motive. Understanding the effort involved and future-effort costs, and immediate and future benefits of making that effort. Building organization as a continuous activity. How organization shapes your perception of your library and can enhance your appreciation and future-focus of the library (highlighting and developing associations). Taking time and space to organize. Having a 'incoming processing' area, taking time to consider classification and the place of new books in the system. Having a de-acquisition strategy that is continuous rather than episodic and 'panicky'. Enrolling others in the home to assist with organization. Using technology to assist in organization, making it work for you. How the physical construction of shelves (shelf height) can add or detract from ease of organization.

Methods of organization - putting it all together.

Method: Complete chaos with concealed books and completely random association between adjacent books.
  • If you want your library to surprise you and offer unexpected choices.
  • If you want your library to reflect a certain eccentricity in character
  • Almost impossible to locate OR return, specific books in a large library without LT location details.
  • Difficult to maintain a clean environment in such cases.
  • Books may be damaged or deteriorate, in many cases without it being noticed until it is well advanced.
  • Disordered or stolen books will not be noticed
  • Health and safety hazard.
  • Very confronting to non-book lovers and book lovers alike, and may engender a hostile response, including removal of the books (and possibly of you also).
Method: Arrange your books using an Established Cataloging System as a template.
  • If you want your library to reflect a respect for established norms.
  • If you want your library to be familiar to people who use public libraries, or to help people become familiar with public library methods.
  • If you want your library's physical organisation to facilitate locating and returning books without recourse to LT location details.
  • If you want your library to present you with some association between adjacent books on shelves.
  • New books will be added at points within existing shelves, necessitating 'shuffling along', relocating books between bookcases and possibly rooms.
  • The fine detail of most established cataloging systems is copyright and may not be easily accessible to you.
  • Some existing cataloging systems include assumptions that may be offensive, eg including some religions under the category 'cult'.
  • The logic of association in some cataloging systems might not suit you, eg most separate fiction and non-fiction at the top level.
Method: Arrange your books according to size.
  • If you want your library to use the space available most efficiently, an conjunction with variable height shelving.
  • If you want your library to be ergonomically 'friendly'.
  • If you want your library to maximise the care and preservation of books (different height books on same shelf contributes to book damage)
  • If you only have fixed height shelving available.
  • Depending upon the quantum on which books are 'broken apart', associations between books will be impacted to a greater or lesser degree.
Method: Arrange your books according to value
  • If you want to institute special protection (or levels of protection) for high value books
  • Unless the protection for the high value books is adequate, all you may have achieved is to make it obvious to theives which are worth stealing, and made it convenient for them to steal them.
  • Association between books is broken down to a greater or lesser extent.
Method: Arrange your books on shelves to achieve a decorative effect.
  • If you want your library to look nice, for yourself or someone else
  • If you want to make a statement about your own personality.
  • If you are using the book's natural colours or shape to create the decorative effect there is loss of association (does not apply where books are re-covered or re-housed.
  • Confronting to book lovers, but more immediately endangers books at hands of others who see collection as only a decorative effect that might be discarded at some stage.

See news item: 'Arranging your books by color is not a moral failure'

Note that there will be hierarchies of organisation (eg primary-vector:valuable before secondary-vector:associative), and tertiary etc etc. Note that these choices reflect your style (decide which of your styles you wish to reflect (see Goffmann)) Very likely your choices will change over time.

Total Organisation - Integrating the physical, logical, virtual and procedural environments

The organisation of books had become a little more complex now that we can build and maintain library catalogs using computer tools such as LibraryThing. Catalogs it should be noted though, are not just about assisting with questions of association or retrieval. They are And, for the most part, however comprehensive and detailed the electronic catalog is (and how good it is at exposing associations), its ability to assist in retrieval depends upon it's referencing of physical location. And oddly enough, this is the thing that most catalogers don't put much effort into. If the physical organisation is exemplary, or the referencing in the electronic catalog is very good, you have good retrieval. But if both are absent you have poor retrieval as soon as the library reaches a certain size. If you want to improve retrieval you should consider addressing problem with one or other, noting (more discussion later) that physical is easier to start, and electronic easier to finish.

Essentially two zones/fields of organisation - physical and virtual.

What is achieved by physical organising:

  • Find-ability (finding and returning books to correct location for later retrieval). Not the same as 'retrievability' or accessibility.
  • Association (like books are linked, allowing the reader to discover new books, or build up a picture from several books)
  • Maintenance (eg consideration for the book). Eg: Audit (ensure not stolen), Care (of fragile books, of valuable books)
  • Ergonomics (accessibility, requirement to/not-to shuffle books along, density or spaciousness)

Physical Organisation is constrained by:

  • Effort
  • Space

Physical Organisation is supported by:

  • Virtual organisation.

What is achieved by virtual organising:

  • Find-ability (finding and returning books to correct location for later retrieval). Not the same as 'retrievability' or accessibility.
  • Association (like books are linked, allowing the reader to discover new books, or build up a picture from several books)
  • Maintenance (eg consideration for the book). Eg: Audit (ensure not stolen), Discovery and flagging of valuable books, flagging of fragile books
  • capacity (space) planning.

Virtual Organisation is constrained by:

  • Effort
  • Data structures and field limitations and field associative limitations (without programming capacity to modify any of these)

Virtual Organisation is supported by:

  • Other levels of Virtual organisation.

See Also: http://www.librarything.com/topic/153677#4127983

Essentially these are a series of vectors and could be represented in a quadrant diagram?

Overall 'organisation' achieved by summing two systems. Increase in one make up for lesser of other, eg perfect location system in virtual will obviate need for extensive physical organisation, and vice versa. . In all these cases it is assumed that you have LT and in all cases your LT gives you a 'shelf' (or pile or box) location for each book. Consider

(note: essentially these are a series of vectors (physical size, associative links, etc) that might be represented in a quadrant diagram)

Using LT's capabilities, by steps... (1) AddBook, ensuring purchase location/price entered, ensuring edition and cover correct. Add cover using digital camera at this point if necessary. (2) Review LT pre-existing tags and recommendations and then add your own tags. (3) Review these tags in aggregate (which should now include this latest book). Confirm that it seems to 'fit' with the rest of them. Consider whether the 'rest of them' are already in one location, or scattered according to some other criteria. Consider whether this latest addition 'tips the balance' towards making or changing the aggregration in place. (4) decide on location, and place book there. Note the name of other books at that location. (5) Return to LT, confirm that all the physical books you have just seen at that location are actually entered in LT. Then enter the location on LT (using vs methods of shelf identification).

Taking account of the physical environment/context. Previously discussed as a constraint (size limiting) and a modifier (best books in the public gaze, books distributed within the house according to functions associated with different areas within the house). But also the case that you might modify the house to accommodate books. Inherent in any case - adding bookcases/shelves changes the character and utility of rooms. System of shelving also comes into play. Equal size shelves impose no organisation, but unequal size shelves do (and a very difficult problem...).

Procedural environment. Essestially - foremost - categorize and catalogue before putting on shelves, have de-acquisition. Not going overboard, but consistent process supported by built environment (desk and computer) maintains consistent behaviour. Note that process tends to come to wherever the computer is set up. Likely the 'computer desk' is not ideal location - shared with others, piles of books irritant to others (and self) and liable to be moved around, mixing up the processed with the unprocessed. In that case ideal solution is a book trolley.

Conclusion: Endless rabbit hole to consider 'best' way of organising books. A trap because no book has a 'single' characteristic, and argument will always exist what 'primary' characteristic is because THAT depends upon what you want to achieve with your organisation. Therefore cataloging systems will never meet all of your personal reqts, but are a valid option if you want SOME organisation, but can't justify effort to build your own (which you'll find - at best- only gets closer but never satisfies your needs). Stay calm, and note that re-organising is an excellent opportunity to think about your collection and your hopes for it, and to re-acquaint yourself with your collection, as long as you remember to enjoy the process. Hint - reorganise 'on paper', and use LT to assist, before physically re-ordering a large library. Constraints of space come into play with large libraries, along with Health and Safety moving large numbers of books.

Shelving by acquisition date - saves re-shuffling shelves. From http://www.librarything.com/topic/135483#3341934

See LibraryThing Group: Build the Open Shelves Classification
See LibraryThing Topic: How do you organize your books?
See LibraryThing Topic: Where to find Dewey Codes for specific books

The animal dimensions of a library

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

This isn't an issue that come up (much) these days in institutional libraries, although there are some exceptions, and most notable amongst those was Dewey Readmore Books. But actually libraries and cats have a bit of a history, and not so much for their personalities, but for their ability to hunt down rats and mice. But when we talk about personal libraries it's not so much a case of inviting animals into the library, and a matter of preventing them from taking it over. Actually if you have animals in the house it's already a lost cause, unless you adopt a strictly closed door approach. Dogs like to be where you are (as indeed do many cats), and cats seem to have a great affinity to shelving (they like to observe the world from above) and for the peace and quiet that generally characterises a room dedicated to books in the home.

There is no suggestion here that you 'ought' to have dogs or cats, or any animal, amongst your books. Some people find the combination terrible to contemplate, even if they do have a fondness for one or other or both. And cats and dogs are some of the threats to your library detailed elsewhere in this Guide. Nevetheless, the reality is that for purposes of companionship - or just because we can't keep them out, if there are animals in the home they are likely to share (or want to share) your library space. This section is a short digression into how you might manage that situation, minimising the risk to books while maximising the boon to companionship - or in the case of cats their self satisfaction which occasionally spills over onto you.

Research, they say, shows that cats and dogs are good for our physical and mental health. Much the same might be said of books. There's something to be said for bringing them all together. Actually they say the same thing about chocolate, wine, coffee and tea ...

CATS There is a strong argument for keeping cats indoors. If you live in any sort of location where there is wildlife you are protecting it from one of nature's most efficient killers. If you live in an area with no wildlife it's likely that the 'outside' environment is going to be hazardous for your cat. Hazards that can not only injure or kill your cat, but cost you a small fortune along the way. All up, cats that live indoors tend to live much longer, and if they have a stimulating environment their quality of life is not seriously impaired. And there's always the possibility of cat 'runs' and even training your cat to go for walks (if you think you need the exercise). Actually cats only want 'so much' stimulation in their lives, they spend most of it asleep, and sleeping on shelves and books seems to be one of their favourite things to do indoors.

Shelving attracts cats in several ways, within the house they take on the role that branches of a tree might outdoors. If you have more than one cat, taking up a position on the higher shelf allows one cat to assert dominance over the other - and even in the best regulated households one cat will always be the boss. From high above they can survey the world effortlessly, keeping an eye out not just for hazards, such as the slobbery dog or the 'toddler that's besotted with me', but also food opportunities. And while sitting on the highest perch they can bask in the warm (surprisingly warm) air that accumulates near the ceiling on a cold day.

But cats and books and shelving don't always get along. The scramble to the highest perch can result in your books being dislodged, or shredded by claws finding a grip on the way up. As with most things 'cat' the easiest solution is not to try to stop the behaviour, but to make it less destructive, in this case by providing a ladder or path to their preferred positions. Of course once you've put the effort into creating a 'cat escalator' the cat will decide to change its favourite venue, but if you live with a cat you've come to expect this sort or thing. Of course if your cats aren't neutered (or are just plain 'ornery' they might mark their territory on your shelves with scent, in which case banishment might be the only answer.

So what does a library with cats look like? Well you might have a few cleared spaces on the shelves high up - and clear of ornaments as well as books. You might put a folded towel up there, but beware of cushions and anything too loose - something like that has a tendency to topple off, bring the cat down with it. Entertaining perhaps, but not for the cat, and it might land on you if you're sitting underneath ... Some cats enjoy sharing a table with you, particularly in some position where the sun shines or there's a fresh breeze (on a warm day). The preferred position is always on top of the book you are trying to consult (or the computer keyboard), but you might be able to 'coral' them onto a cushion, or a shallow box with some soft lining.

As for reducing the risks to you books, well there's an argument for keeping those elephant folio books off the floor (actually behind glass at waist height would be better), and providing a scratching post as a diversion. Low-down books also provide an aiming point for urine marking. And if you do have a library with a door, consider providing a 'way out' for the cat that might otherwise be 'shut in' when you walk out. There's no saying what a trapped cat will get up to.

There are a great many links to websites talking about cats and books, but rather than list them all here I have created a topic in LT within the LT Group 'Cats, books, life is good'.


DOGS Dogs fortunately seem to be quite happy living at foot-level, unless they are lap dogs of course. But generally (and I am sure that there are photos to prove me wrong) dogs don't go for sitting on shelves, or even books. Dogs are not cats, which is an observation that no doubt sits well with cats, dogs and most pet owners. Dogs can of course be playful, and a book can - at a pinch - function as a toy. I've not heard of dogs being taught to bring books on demand (although I have heard of dogs that can open refrigerators and 'fetch' a beer for their legless owners), but this isn't to say that a dog won't fetch a book from the shelf for its own amusement. Especially leather bound valuable books. All in all its safest to give your dog (or dogs) a 'home' in the library, and the classic concept is the cane basket somewhere down near your feet. It might be added at this point that if you have a particularly happy dog with a large tail, that the appropriate solution is to remove any (valuable) items that might be sitting on shelves at that height. After all, if you have pets you have to make some allowances for their goofiness as well as their charm.

EXOTIC ANIMALS Well I'm not sure, hamsters perhaps, or mice (well contained mice). And then there's birds, and fish, and snakes. Certainly there's a case for fish and snakes to live in libraries, in appropriate enclosures of course. The generally quiet environment would suit them, although you'd need to be mindful of venting the humidity arising from a fish tank, and of course there's the catastrophic aspect of fish tanks. It would be tragic enough to be rushing around picking up your fish flapping on the carpet, but even more so if in the process your book collection had been hit by a mini-tsunami. But for all of that, fish have a wonderfully quietening effect, the sort of effect that most of us seek in a library. There's always ways and means, but if your book collection is valuable (and that means valuable 'to you'), then take all appropriate precautions, and that might mean just keeping books in your library, and maybe a photo of your pets on your desk, alongside those of you partner and children.

The social dimensions of a library

Note: this might be subsumed into the section titled 'human dimensions of the library' But it's actually an attempt to pin down the issues seen more from the human perspective. It is, essentially, about the library (literary) dimension of your life-space.

An Institutional Library has the luxury of trained staff and specialised accommodation, and a management team operating with a charter and dedicated budget. The personal library has you, and the people who you share your home with. It's true in almost all instances that the personal library will not be the first priority in your life. Issues of employment, health, education, maintaining social connections, and simply keeping a household running will inevitably demand greater attention than your collection of books. And it is not the purpose of this Guide to suggest it should be any other way. But what I mean by 'harmonising' your library with your life situation is not just about ensuring your library doesn't 'get in the way' of your other responsibilities, but also that where it can it supports you in meeting those responsibilities. And that doesn't just mean developing reading and technical skills based on the books you own, but it's also about being able to unwind with a book, and share them with others by reading aloud.


The amount of space books can take up is one of the two big issues when it comes to harmonising your library with your lifestyle. A few hundred books is generally not a problem, the problems start when you start to get over the thousand mark. If you acquire books one at a time at the same pace that you read them you're likely to grow your library by no more than a hundred to two hundred volumes a year. But if you acquire books faster than you read them then the only limit to the rate of growth is your budget and the availability of books within that budget. Some people declare a moratorium, in other cases a refocusing on 'what' the library is about might reduce the rate of growth, perhaps combined with a culling designed to reduce the quantity but increase the quality of the library. Once books start building up in piles on the floor you have a serious problem. Refocus on what your motives and interests really are (or go through the exercise to discover them).


It's all too easy to spend a lot of money on books, but it's not entirely necessary


Once a home might inevitably have a bible (for spiritual support and affirmation) and - oddly enough - cookbooks. Everything is being replaced by the internet, but in the meantime consider other type of books for family health + animal care + financial wisdom +child care + home maintenance + family history + local history. Building libraries for children. Argue that local history and family history vitally important for imparting a sense of (strong) place in the world. Self help.


Gradual, episodic, chaotic. Life events. Mergers, demergers. Interesting things happen when two peoples libraries grow together (or apart). Can be gradual, or dramatic following marriage/divorce/inheritance. Take your time to think about culling after mergers beyond the immediately obvious duplicates. Even then, keeping duplicates in case of eventual 'split' might be prudent for some, bad luck foreboding for others... Other people might re-invigorate growth, and set it off in different directions.


You don't have to 'own' a personal library to have a personal library. A library can exist without books at all, although in this case I am talking more about small libraries that are 'extended' by adding in the resources of public and school libraries, and the resources of personal libraries that you are connected to in either 'real' or 'virtual' space. Having read books in other libraries 'makes' the connection/extension, but I argue here that the connection/extension is made more substantial by some extra involvement (over and above simply reading the books). Thinking of at least listing the books you've read, and recommending reviewing them (for your own benefit). You are then able to incorporate these books in your calculations of what you enjoy (and didn't enjoy) which leads to further recommendations (or dis-recommendations) and analysis of motives and interests (see above).

Sharing a library

See Topic; Sharing a library with your spouse?

Multiple libraries

Sometimes just building one library isn't enough. I don't mean creating separate book collections within the one house, or even creating 'outpost' libraries at your workplace or at a holiday home. This is about creating entirely separate libraries for use by other people, and where your involvement might be limited purely to acquiring books or funds for it, and you might never see it or set foot in it. And the motivation? Well, potentially you have the satisfaction of providing a resource for others, you might enjoy the benefits of being seen as a generous helper, and (and this is the most selfish but possibly the most satisfying aspect...) you get to indulge your book collecting mania without having to bear the inconvenience of accommodating the end product. If you've sworn to stop buying books for your library (for reasons of lack of space), then forget the 'diet', buy books for some other library. If you have discovered cheap sources of good books - such as recycling centres or charity shops - you can start building other libraries for very little outlay. Places to start might be the staff or lunch room at your workplace. Community centres, clinics, and hospitals might also be happy to allow you to set up a small library.

The practicalities:

  • You may need to provide a bookcase. If you do, make sure it is secured against a wall and can not (under any circumstances) fall forward on a child.
  • You must not impose any conditions on how the library is used if you put it in someone else's space. A sign 'Free to borrow, free to keep' makes people feel welcome to use the library.
  • The books should be in reasonably good condition, but if they are to be used in a medical setting they should be scrupulously clean and 'bug free'.
  • Generally the books should match the audience.

If the books 'disappear' you should be happy (unless you suspect they are being sold...) and simply bring in more. After a while you may find that other people are donating some of their books into the collection. That's a very satisfying moment. Of course you might do this on a much larger scale, helping to build school and community libraries in this country and abroad. You might even consider setting up libraries, including funding the cost of buildings and library systems. These are grand visions, and worth considering as group projects. But even an individual can make a difference with just one bookcase.

Strategies for reading...

Speed reading, audio books, skimming, selective reading. http://lifehacker.com/5973158/can-i-learn-to-read-faster-and-get-through-my-backlog-of-books

Libraries come alive

Activities in the library space

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

Libraries have a reputation as places of retreat, of quiet and possibly even solitude. But if this might be true in many cases, the exceptions can be dramatic. A library with childrens books might also be a area for play and social activity. As indeed might be a regular library. Despite the injunctions against mixing food and drink with books, a library is a pleasant place to have tea or coffee alone or with a friend or several. A library is a perfect setting for a game of a board game, a jigsaw, or a quiet (or potentially quite rowdy) social gathering.

The Reading Library

The Working Library

The Study Library

The Contemplative Library

The Entertaining Library

The Performance Library

Work / Study / Writing: There is a natural connection between libraries and studies.

Inspiration: Not all activity is 'active', when you think about it.

Meditation / Yoga: A defined library space is normally associated with low noise, low traffic.

Refreshment: A library is a pleasant place to have a tea or coffee with a friend, and to that end it might include a separate table for refreshments, so as to avoid the temptation to put a drink or a plate down on a book shelf. Those that are tied to their library by study or simply obsession might consider creating a 'neutral zone', a small but separate area WITHIN the library where food is stored and prepared - and eaten. Equipping this neutral zone with a book stand that incorporates a protective cove means that reading can continue without interruption. The final touch is to have some hand wipes (baby wipes) at this location which allow a quick clean up before returning to the 'clean' zone that makes up the rest of the library. Other facilities that allow the obsessed reader (or writer) to 'never' leave their library are best left to the imagination, but it could be said that not a few writers have equipped their library with a lounge that doubles as a location for a quick nap, or indeed even a full size bed - which kind of stands the 'books in the bedroom' concept on its head.

Check: Salinger described sleeping on the floor of his study/library.
Not quite the ultimate...but close.
Check: A table laid for two, a romantic dinner. The perfect place to woo a bibliophile. It's somewhere on the net...

Board Games: A library is a perfect setting for a board game. Not only is it the sort of activity that goes with a quiet contemplative space, but if it is dedicated library area you can (usually) count on it being the sort of place you could leave an unfinished game for a few hours or days without it either getting in the way or being disturbed. Developing a library-themed version of a certain property board game would be an interesting project, but there are plenty to choose from, including chess, backgammon and chequers. But there are also more exotic games such as Shogi, Go, Chinese Chess, and board games from ancient times.

Social Gatherings: If there is sufficient room, a personal library space is the ideal setting for a book club meeting, or indeed any club or interest group that might share some of the interests expressed in your book collection. And you could generally count on these folk to take a respectful and appreciative attitude towards your books.

Party Games in the Library: Much more dangerous (but frankly sometimes much more fun) activities do have a certain affinity with libraries, and with a few basic cautions might be engaged upon without (necessarily) destroying your peace of mind, and your library. These are the sort of activities that often work best 'after dinner', but if children are involved they will of course work at any time of day. The possibilities include charades, Drawing Games and 'Who Am I' - all potentially with literary themes. You might just skip the drinking forfeits (and/or rewards) for winning and losing, and substitute penalties such as being required to read aloud (or indeed mime) a piece of poetry or prose selected by the winning team or side. Which might call upon your library resources.

Reading and Performance: Poetry reading, or spontaneous performance of excerpts from plays. You might have a themed evening, with guests invited to express themselves in their choice of costume of their favourite, or some nominated, book or author. While the J.K.Rowling crowd might have an easy time of it, some other authors might set an interesting challenge (Salinger? A man with a packet of frozen peas perhaps...). The potential for riot and disorder of course reaches a crescendo here, because of course this sort of thing works best with a very large crowd. You might think of subcontracting it out to a tent in the back yard of your well-secured house, or perhaps encourage someone else to host it, to share the joy around. Sometimes though reading aloud is something you do for your partner, or someone you hope might become your partner, or your children. If you particularly enjoy reading for children you might that your local library will welcome you as a volunteer reader. And when reading for children, don't discount the effect of simple props - a pirate's hat for instance.

See also LibraryThing Topic: Reading Aloud - for children and adults
See also LibraryThing Topic: Reading Aloud for Adults
See also Link: Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud

Now you might get a sense that these activities are not be entirely sedate, and possibly fuelled by the good cheer that flows from a excellent meal with guests, and of course they work better with more rather than fewer people involved. Since your books are likely to be called upon extensively to further feed the jollity you are left to ponder the suddenly-not-so-abstract concept of 'perfect preservation' versus utility. Perhaps one could, as hosts used to do in the 70's, hide the good records when the rowdy visitors were around. The best that perhaps could be done is that in anticipation of your guests' robust enjoyment of literature you might consider building up and making available a small library of 'utility' copies of works of poetry and prose, and locking the door to your real treasures.

A final note. An evening of extremely high spirits reading from books is very possibly going to result in some of them wandering off with their new best friends. Particularly as not all of your guests might be in a condition to exercise their very best judgement as they depart. Short of frisking everyone down, you could encourage them to stay overnight and have a themed breakfast, or fall back on the strategy of having an library of 'seconds' for such occasions.

Some Links: (that need tidying up...)
[1] [2] [3] [4] Link to Discussion Topic in LT
Link to Discussion Group in LT about the game of Chess
Link to Discussion Group in LT about the game of Go
Book about the benefits of board games in childrens libraries
The Role of 'Play' in Public Libraries
An academic being very 'Hands On' about games in libraries.

Activities in the virtual library space

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

It should be noted that a library is not just 'lively' when there are people visiting the physical space, but also when you are sharing it with others in the virtual space of LibraryThing. Everytime you participate in a discussion, or write a review that others read, you are inviting others into your library, and visiting theirs. The existing spaces in LibraryThing for social interaction are extensive and there is some written guidance on those facilities and a great deal of good will among LibraryThing members to help each other 'learn the ropes'. What might be worth considering though, is using your personal Wiki space in LibraryThing to express even more of yourself.

Legacy Librarhttp://www.librarything.com/wiki/index.php/Library_Spaces#Activity_in_the_World-wide_Library_Spacey activity in Library thing.....
LibraryThing Discussion Group on Legacy Libraries
LibraryThing Overview of Legacy Libraries

Outside of LibraryThing there are several book related 'online' activities that might engage you. One site at least invites book lovers to read and record books from the public domain as a resource for the blind. Another site invites readers to translate ancient greek from papyrus recovered from the Egyptian desert in 1904.
Talking Book Project
Greek Payrus Project

To be expanded.... Reading about books online, book Blogs etc, LibraryThing flash cataloging and Legacy Libraries. Libraries in Second Life?

See Group: Second Life
See Utube Link: Your typical librarians. Thanks to LibraryThing member: "waitingtoderail"

Activities in the world-wide library space

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing that relates to this Section.

Sometimes you read about travelling, or read in order to know more about where you are actually travelling to (see: 'Search for books about places and travel' in this Guide). But sometimes the book ethusiast will simply travel in order to see books and places associated with books. To travel on a pilgrimage to the birthplace of your favourite author, or their grave. To walk in their footsteps, or those of the characters in their novels. To visit their homes and their libraries. Or simply to travel to a place to look at books, in either the great institutional libraries or famous or quirky (or famously quirky) bookstores. To travel to meet living authors at book fairs, lectures or signings, or just to socialise with fellow book lovers and perhaps even meet up with LibraryThing members.

Literary travelling is now a major tourist industry in itself. Whereas once you might have included the Globe Theatre and Stratford-upon-Avon in a travel itinerary, there are now tours based around the Harry Potter novels and the Da Vinci Code books, along with do-it-yourself guides to authors and entire genres. Even if your travel intentions weren't inspired by a literary notion, these tour packages come in all shapes and sizes suitable for 'fitting into' your broader travel plans. If - as often is the case - the obsession with books is not shared by others you are travelling with, this might be a chance to let your travelling companions indulge their favourite pastimes (shopping perhaps, or visiting iconic sporting stadiums) while you indulge your own.

Library Thing Topic Discussions and Groups:
See: LibraryThing Topic: 'Visiting a place only previously read about'
See: LibraryThing Group: 'Travel and Exploration'.
See: LibraryThing Topic: 'Literary Tourism'
See: LibraryThing Group: 'Bookstore Tourism'.

See: The 20 most-beautiful bookstores in the world.
See: 16 bookstores you have to see before you die
See: America's best bookstores
See: 10 inspiring bookshops around the world
See: The world's greatest bookshops
See: The world's fairest bookshops

See: 62 of the world's most beautiful libraries
See: 49 of the most breathtaking libraries from around the world
See: The most spectacular libraries in the world

See: Yahoo guide to some of the world's best literary tours.
See: Literary Houses of Massachusetts.
See: Frommer's guide to literary tours.

For those wishing to pay their respects at the graves or memorials to literary figures the best place to start may be a their biographical entry in one of the online encyclopedias. It is worth then trying to connect to the website of the cemetery or church or museum to confirm opening hours. Many European sites have very restricted visiting hours in their winter season.

Some tours involve just visiting one site, others involve cross-country (even international) travelling. Some involve walking, some travelling by boat, some crawling (as in Dublin's literary pub crawl). There are some that take involvement to the next level, including themed gatherings, dinners and and readings. There are even re-enactments of scenes from novels (although I was thinking more Rhett Butler than E.L.James... And then there's the tour that is just yourself, a book and a special place.

In that spirit, if you are a living near a place of 'literary interest' you might like to extend an invitation to LibraryThing visitors from out of town to take them on a local tour. But take note: although we tend to imagine that anyone interested in books must be an 'ok' type of person, you should arrange to initially meet at a public place, and not feel obliged to take your visitors back to your home - particularly if you have a valuable book collection or feel in any way vulnerable. Similarly, you might arrange to get together with other LibraryThing members to visit a site of mutual literary interest.

Or, and especially if you are less socially inclined, you might gather some references to local authors and their work, or write your own notes, and post it as a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing as a guide to visitors. It's then possible to link that Discussion Topic to the book's 'Main Page' and/or the 'Author Page' in LibraryThing so that readers can easily find it.

And, once again, it may be worth your while to ask a librarian. That's to say in this case the librarian in the locale that is associated with your 'literary figure of interest'. Their library might have some material relating to local authors, or be able to put you in contact with some local 'specialists'.

And of course, if your travels take you to New York, you might consider this ultimate book travelling indulgence... the Library Hotel.

The personal library in context

(Note: This Section is in rough draft. Expected completion date December 2013.)

The modern concept of a personal library is one that exists in the home and is largely private. This hasn't always been true, isn't true now everywhere, and might not be true in the future. Essentially most institutional libraries owe their original existence to donation of personal libraries. Although less opportunity for that now, virtualization is creating new opportunities for community and outpost libraries made up of elements of personal libraries.

The Personal Library in History

There is a Discussion Topic in LibraryThing about this Section.

Does a knowledge of history change your experience of your current day personal library? Possibly not, but reflecting on history is a chance to see how personal libraries are shaped by circumstances in the 'outside' world, and how they have contributed to people's lives, and indeed to civilizations. If we were to look at those forces that have shaped the history of personal libraries—

  • the rate of literacy,
  • the creation of disposable income,
  • the esteem in which learning is held, and
  • the technology of printing and binding,

we can see that these are still issues in flux. And, it might be added, that in the case of the first three forces, change has not always been for the better. Indeed, at different times in different cultures these forces have played out differently. Consequently in this review of the history of personal libraries, once we leave ancient times it will be most expedient to follow three separate histories of three major world cultures, the Western world, the Islamic world, and the East Asian world.

The Personal Library In Ancient History
Sumeria, Egypt, Greece, Rome. Up to the creation of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium).
Just in case you ever wondered what the Romans did, here's a link: http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=3089
I am more curious about a Greek tradition, and whether Alexander's conquests spread or absorbed ideas about books and libraries.
There's room in here for mention of religious authorities controlling texts, and hence agendas.
The Personal Library in East Asia
Japan, China.
The Personal Library in the Islamic World
Early Islamic Personal Libraries
Very likely a very fertile area. Possible an example of cross-over, in the sense that these might have become very widely shared personal libraries, almost a stage where they become quasi-institutionalised, given the tradition of Islamic scholarship. Possibly not disimilar to the attitude of Greeks? Impact of large scale production of paper via knowledge from China. Universality of Arabic script equivalent Latin (or previously Greek). Availabalility of paper made a difference, possibly also higher rate of literacy due to religious obligation/merit(?) to read Koran (?)
Science and Islam: A History By Ehsan Masood: Reference to private libraries.
The Personal Library In The Western World
It is possible that the further back in time we go the less reliably we can ever say what was a 'personal' library and what was an 'institutional' library. Clearly monastic libraries were institutional, but the 'State' libraries which we might call institutional today were once the personal collections of princes and kings. Even today the Queen's Library in the UK is a personal library. In the pre-Gutenberg post classical period European libraries were largely in the hands of monasteries. Post Gutenberg personal collectors had the capacity to amass large significant collections that had the most impact through their conversion to, or donation to, early institutional libraries asociated with universities and specialist professions. Early personal libraries were perhaps more public than we think of today, being available to scholars etc. Post Industrial Revolution institutional libraries relied less on donation, personal libraries just as likely to be status symbols as previously, but now more of them. Coincide with subscribed publishing (Audubon etc). Personal Libraries tending more private, effect on family (example Herman Hesse's grandfather's collection). Impact of the rise in public libraries, particularly following Carnegie, and school libraries. Less call on personal libraries to be public. Equilibrium today? Or changes - effect of eBooks, virtualisation of catologs and collections allowing personal libraries to become community or research libraries. Wealth enabling in the West. Situation in the developing world? Asia? Collections always exist for collection's sake. Personal Libraries always had, always will have, accidental/inadvertent impacts, always - ultimately - the satisfaction of the total experience. Libraries and reading as radical and dangerous. The impact of competition from digital media, and digitisation of libraries.the effect of Gutenberg. Was there some kind of 'ethic' operating here, based on puritan values? The Bible and self development books? Similarly Quaker? Were there Catholic private libraries? The notion of self development. Workers institutes libraries flowing over into the home, or did the provision of public facilities cause stall and decline of personal libraries except among the very rich (who were very rich indeed). Process of pillaging going on from old collections, some institutional, flowing back to institutions through bequests.
The Personal Library in Recent History
Bringing Historic Personal Libraries Back to Life
The Legacy Library Project
Other Projects - preserving/restoring/rebuilding

The Personal Library In Our Time

Observation about how the impulse and rationale of personal libraries evident in history (and trends and fashions) continues into present day, into your library, and the future of your library. (section 'do books have a future' should be at the end of this section). Issues about sharing, how it contributes to your life, education opportunity, wisdom, community

Evidence suggests continuing interest, utility. I have considerable hope for satellite access to internet for children, but .... Susan Greenfields observations about effect of internet on brain development. Libertarian, disaster and regime proof (F. 451) aspects. Bottom line, it is what we know, even if we are wrong and wasting our effort preserving books at least we are being true to ourselves.

See Blog: Some thoughts on the utility of paper from inside academia.
See Wikipedia entry: Private Library
See Book: The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future

mixed media, one one hand objects, art etc. on the other hand electronic media.

  • A library can be a shared space. Different people might share it. Or it might be a space shared with other function, such as a music room, or a play room. Its role in bringing people together, letting them grow as individuals
  • A personal library can be a virtual outpost of an institutional library, or a node in a community library. Your role as a librarian/researcher/archivist
  • A libraries can be an expression and focus of Group Identity (personal libraries joined as virtual community/activity in the library space)
  • A library is a bridge to other libraries and lovers of books. All book shelves are ultimately connected.
  • A library can be a preservative and bastion against small and great disasters.(References)
  • A book in a library can save a life. (References)

Books in the bathroom: http://inhabitat.com/take-a-bath-of-knowledge-with-vanessa-mancinis-tub-made-of-books/

The Personal Library in Literature and Cinema

  • The Name of the Rose (not a personal library ...)
  • Gormeghast
  • Henderson the Rain King

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