More on a Scholar’s Office

Given how much work I have to get done by this time two weeks and a day from now, I shouldn’t even be writing this down.  But I felt compelled.

Doing more cleaning (see previous post), and now with the promise that I will box up all the professor’s books in the near future, I felt a bit overwhelmed even with one small room full of books and a stack of empty boxes.  So I started with the academic journals – I put like titles together, sorted by issue and date, etc. etc. and only filled two boxes with three runs of journals.  It made such a tiny dent in the total amount of material at hand… not to mention that these journals may not even be kept, as they are somewhat more redundant and have less of a shelf life (it seems) than, say, Max Weber.

Needless to say, I’ll have to come back to the job itself later.  But it got me thinking about just how huge a project it is to organize a library – a personal library, an organizational library, not to mention the utopian ideal of the “universal library” whose plausibility has been reconsidered with the advent of digital storage and Internet and other technology.  And all digital aspects aside, just the weight of all those books.  Even the two boxes of journals I could barely lift.  Imagine how much a library weighs.  Imagine the Library of Congress.  Or even just the small public library down the street.  Or even your own bookshelves, however modest your collection may be.  These books may be said to have some weight in terms of ideas, insights, etc. but speaking just physically, materially, books are heavy stuff.

Anyway, I’m not entirely looking forward to this project, but it’s certainly a lot of inspiration for further pondering.  And I think sometimes we forget about, or just don’t appreciate, the amount of infrastructure which is in place for our convenience (I think I’ve talked a bit about this too at some point).   The laborious processes of cataloguing books, trucking them around, putting in place methods for loaning them out and ensuring their return, is a huge undertaking.  And digital libraries won’t really make things easier – they will just make the challenges different, I think.  Less the physical weight, but no less of a burden of organization and maintaining a useful and accessible collection.

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