About My Library
In a library we are surrounded by many hundreds of dear friends, but they are imprisoned by an enchanter in these paper and leathern boxes; and though they know us, and have been waiting two, ten, or twenty centuries for us,—some of them,—and are eager to give us a sign and unbosom themselves, it is the law of their limbo that they must not speak until spoken to.
My library is a labor of love. Friends and family might call it thousands of “labors of love,” schlepped up and down flights of stairs, across town, and across the country on moving days.
There are more statistical ways to describe my library, too. I have uploaded roughly ten percent of it into LibraryThing, an online catalog which lets me tag, review, and otherwise categorize all our volumes. For the first two hundred or so then, the statistics show:
Dates of the Editions in Our Library
|2000 - 2008||22|
|1990 - 1999||62|
|1980 - 1989||24|
|1970 - 1979||25|
|1960 - 1969||18|
|1950 - 1959||5|
|1900 - 1949||34|
|1800 - 1899||13|
Date is the edition’s publication date of the copy we own, not date of the original work.
I collected more in and from the 1990s, when I was in college, but I still own sizable amounts from much earlier times and I still find reasons, even now, to acquire new material in book form. I started building a library before the World Wide Web and browsers and search technology, before MIT OpenCourseWare, Google Book Search, et al., and before sites like LibraryThing brought classic literacy full into the Participation Age. Now in the 21st century, there is far more content that is easily found, free, useful, and interesting than I can experience in one lifetime.
So much has changed hardware side, too. I started college in the early 1990s, with a cutting-edge laptop that weighed less than three pounds. Some of its other once-unusual, cutting-edge features were a color screen and a port for Internet access :) My IBM 701 CS was so cool it had been featured in a James Bond film, and it is so tiny it has a butterfly keyboard. I wondered then if it meant the end of books. I also had free video chats with my parents who lived 3,000 miles away, and wondered then if it meant the end of people paying for phone lines. Well I still own and still buy some books, I still pay for some phone calls, and alas! I still don’t have a jetpack or a flying car.
15 years and thousands of books later, I now have one slim, slate-form tablet PC and two other convertible tablet PCs, a super-light XO laptop whose screen you can read in bright daylight, and a touchscreen smart-mobile “phone.” I have an oversized monitor on a desk in my home office, connected to a desktop machine, for when my legs are tired from all that mobility and my eyes start to water from the small screens. I have terabytes of space at home and more than I could use online.
All of this technology has drastically changed my experience of the written word and my idea of a library. The reasons to collect content in book form are dwindling. As for what I already have, my wife and I are slowly giving away most of my, or rather, our library. She has encouraged me for years to find schools and give. We have given away enough stacks and boxes that the library is near 2,000 volumes. At its peak it might have been twice as large, and I may have acquired a few dozen more since I first gave some away.
As for what a library is — it now seems more personal than ever. What was once a list of bookmarks or favorite links saved in a browser is now a vast, searchable (thank you Google), extensible history and collection and prediction of what I read or might want to read. It’s constantly accessible on a half dozen machines in my home, it’s in my pocket and just about everyone else’s — it seems like it’s everything, everywhere, and yet still more personal than ever.
I am a Lifetime Member of LibraryThing, which is not only for cataloging but some social networking, too. One of my goals on that site: after spending time with my friendly old fire hazards and LibraryThing, I can know what to give and prospective beneficiaries can know if they’re interested. Another goal is smarter access to the library I keep. In fact, I’ve kept my 1994 edition IBM 701 CS alive, because it’s book sized and makes a nice terminal for access to my LibraryThing, in my home library. I recently upgraded it to Windows ‘95 (seriously!) and my next challenge is to either get it online wirelessly, or to simplify synching its offline version of my LibraryThing with the real, online deal.
As for what I read, I am somewhere in the middle of a dozen or so books right now, on paper. I probably will be in the middles of a dozen or so for the rest of my life. Recently I finished Obama’s Dreams from My Father and started The Audacity of Hope, both gifts from my wife in 2008. In the summer of 2008, a neighbor loaned me Summerland by Michael Chabon, which I read 30 to 50 pages at a time as a bedtime story. In paper form, I probably read only a couple dozen books per year completely, and many more than that partially. Another friend of mine recently invited me to check out a site for social networking based on what you have read, are reading, and plan to read. I added a handful of each and this is my profile over at goodreads.
Thanks to LibraryThing, you can browse my library randomly or browse by tag, and below you can search it: