Obdormio.com Unwasted Hours

3 September, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: The Conclusion

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

Although this little project will probably never reach a completely finished state, I’m aiming to wrap up talking about it in this post – at least for now.

After a bit of back and forth, I decided to keep a category for General Works, and forego Applied Sciences, based on an educated guess as to what sort of books I might end up owning one day. That leaves me with the following top-level:

  1. General Works
  2. Formal Sciences
  3. Natural Sciences
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Philosophy
  6. Religion
  7. History
  8. Language
  9. Literature
  10. Arts

Although some of these aren’t very applicable to my current collection, I want it robust enough for future growth. Now comes the hard part – sensible subcategories. For the sciences, it actually wasn’t all that hard – Wikipedia has good lists of the various branches of science, look at Natural science for example, so I simply copied them over.

Although I ended up with ten top-level categories, this will not be a decimal system. The top-level will be identified by number, but after that the categories are identified by letter. Add an initial marker for non-fiction, and the final code will end up looking something like N-7CE-J.

I won’t go through every single category here, it would take too much space, but let’s look at Religion and History. I’ve attempted to find a balance between topics big enough to stand on their own, and topics that can be grouped roughly according to geography.

5. Religion 6. History
  1. Religious Studies
  2. Abrahamic Religions
    1. Judaism
    2. Christianity
    3. Islam
  3. Indian Religions
    1. Hinduism
    2. Buddhism
    3. Jainism
    4. Sikhism
  4. European Religions
    1. Greek Mythology
    2. Roman Mythology
    3. Celtic Mythology
    4. Norse Mythology
    5. Sami Religion
  5. African Religions
  6. Middle-Eastern Religions
    1. Mesopotamian Religion
    2. Egyptian Religion
    3. Zoroastrianism
  7. Asian Religions
    1. East-Asian Religions
      1. Taoism
      2. Confucianism
      3. Shinto
  8. Oceanic Religions
    1. Australian Religion
  9. American Religions
    1. North-American Religions
    2. Mesoamerican Religions
    3. South-American Religions
  10. New Religious Movements
  1. Historiography
  2. Archaeology and Pre-History
  3. Ancient History
  4. Eurasian History
    1. European History
    2. Asian History
    3. Middle-Eastern History
  5. African History
    1. North-African History
  6. Oceanic History
  7. American History
    1. North-American History
    2. Mesoamerican History
    3. South-American History
  8. Biographies

You can see the general idea, I think. For Religion there are a couple of categories encompassing some of the biggest currently active religions, and then geographic categories to encompass religions that aren’t universal in scope and to a greater degree limited to a single area.

In History, Eurasia is collapsed into a single super-category, to account for books that span the whole of it, and then subdivided for more specificity. That’s the general idea behind the whole system, of course, I can always subdivide a category further to get a more specific category. Hierarchy ftw, as they say. I have made no effort whatsoever to maintain equality in the hierarchy across top-level categories, because there are limits even to my madness. With the geographical division, I have tried to find the balance between purely geographical and cultural groupings – it is no accident that the Middle-East and North Africa end up next to each other on the shelf.

And this is how it goes, basically. Literature will also be divided geographically, I think, with a general literary theory category on top. Languages will be divided among major language families, and then subdivided as their genealogy goes. For the Arts, I turn again to Wikipedia for neat subdivisions – the Norwegian Wikipedia had a curious list which I quite liked, so it has both painting, music and architecture, as well as comics, cooking and role-playing games beneath it.

Like I said, this won’t ever be done, there’s always room for more subdivision and precision and clarification, but I think I am approaching something that’s usable. There are still some top-level categories to flesh out, and I want to work it all into a notation that will allow me to sort my book database accurately in the same order as they appear on the shelves – even the fiction – but I am getting there.

But for now, I’ll shut up about it.

30 August, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: But I Try

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

OK, so let’s look at top-level categories. You’ll remember the MDS from last time, but let me line it up with some other systems as well, just to get an idea of the variation.

Melvil Decimal System Universal Decimal Classification Library of Congress Classification Bliss bibliographic classification
  1. General Works and Information Sciences
  2. Philosophy and Psychology
  3. Religion
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Language
  6. Mathematics and Science
  7. Applied Sciences and Technology
  8. Arts and Leisure
  9. Literature
  10. Biography and History
  1. Science and Knowledge. Organization. Computer Science. Information. Documentation. Librarianship. Institutions. Publications
  2. Philosophy. Psychology
  3. Religion. Theology
  4. Social Sciences
  5. empty
  6. Mathematics. Natural Sciences
  7. Applied Sciences. Medicine, Technology
  8. The Arts. Recreation. Entertainment. Sport
  9. Language, Linguistics, Literature
  10. Geography, Biography, History
A – General Works
B – Philosophy, Psychology, and Religion
C – Auxiliary Sciences of History
D – General and Old World History
E – History of America
F – History of the United States and British, Dutch, French, and Latin America
G – Geography, Anthropology, and Recreation
H – Social Sciences
J – Political Science
K – Law
L – Education
M – Music
N – Fine Arts
P – Language and Literature
Q – Science
R – Medicine
S – Agriculture
T – Technology
U – Military Science
V – Naval Science
Z – Bibliography, Library Science, and General Information Resources
2/9 – Generalia, Phenomena, Knowledge, Information science & technology
A/AL – Philosophy & Logic
AM/AX – Mathematics, Probability, Statistics
AY/B – General science, Physics
C – Chemistry
D – Astronomy and earth sciences
DG/DY – Earth sciences
E/GQ – Biological sciences
GR/GZ – Applied biological sciences: agriculture and ecology
H – Physical Anthropology, Human biology, Health sciences
I – Psychology & Psychiatry
J – Education
K – Society (includes Social sciences, sociology & social anthropology)
L/O – History (including area studies, travel and topography, and biography)
LA – Archaeology
P – Religion, Occult, Morals and ethics
Q – Social welfare & Criminology
R – Politics & Public administration
S – Law
T – Economics & Management of economic enterprises
U/V – Technology and useful arts (including household management and services)
W – The Arts
WV/WX – Music
X/Y – Language and literature
ZA/ZW – Museology

It all adds up to quite the mouthful. And they’ve got some pretty different notations, too – I don’t know what’s going on with Bliss. To get way ahead of myself, I think maybe using the alphabet is a good idea, just for the extra room it gives you to expand – although the UDC has left a whole number unused by collapsing subjects into others. Combining language and literature certainly isn’t for me. So what do they all have in common, then? Can I draw out some main topics?

  • Philosophy
    • Grouped with Psychology (or Logic, in Bliss)
  • Religion
    • Grouped with Philosophy in LoC
  • Social Sciences
  • Language
    • Frequently combined with Literature, but screw that!
  • Literature
  • Mathematics
    • Generally grouped with Science, specifically Natural Sciences
  • Arts and Recreation
  • History and Biography
  • Geography
  • And they all have some sort of General Stuff-category

Some of them divide sciences and history further on the top-level, but my instinct is to go as broad as I can for the top-level, and go for greater granularity later. I’m actually tempted to go for just a Science top-level – Wikipedia organises its articles into Formal, Physical, Life, Social and Applied Sciences, and that seems like a good subdivision of a big field to me. Of course, I immediately get into trouble, as Linguistics should then be a Social Science, but I want Language on the top-level. Dangit.

OK, let me compare these pulled out with my own tentative categories, then.

General Works
Social Sciences
Natural Sciences
Arts and Recreation
History and Biography


I actually quite like this boiled-down list. Let me redo my list a bit, and see if I get a top-level I can work with, and throw in some of the rest as sub-levels just to see how it’d work.

  1. General Works
  2. Formal Sciences
    • Mathematics
  3. Natural Sciences
    • Geography
  4. Social Sciences
    • Politics
    • Education
  5. Philosophy
  6. Religion
  7. Language
  8. Literature
  9. Art
    • Food
    • Music
  10. History
    • Biography

That even shook out to ten! I’m not sure if I should be happy about that; if I go with these as top-level, I’ll obviously use numbers, and leave myself no room to expand. And I’ve surely overlooked something. And what are General Works, really? Like, encyclopaedias and stuff? Do they even sell print versions of those to private consumers any more? It seems like a good category to have, you know, “stuff”, but I don’t know that I’d really use it. Maybe I should have some sort of Applied Sciences instead – though it’s not like I’ll use that much either. I think this set-up will pretty much work for my current books, though… I think I’m on to something here.

27 August, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Classification Redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

About six months ago, I complained about my dissatisfaction with the Dewey Decimal System as an organisational tool. I bitched and moaned about its nonsensical hierarchy, and generally expressed a desire for something that made a bit more sense for organising my shelves.

While I’ve managed to keep quiet about it since, the dissatisfaction remains, simmering away out of sight, and bubbling up every now and then – usually when I look at my shelves. Now we’re in August, the start of a new semester, and with it comes a whole bunch of new non-fiction books. This is when the dissatisfaction boils over.

Proper classification systems are a lot of work and a lot of planning and a lot of careful considerations. That’s why there are professional librarians who do it, and why the people who own the big systems charge a good deal of money for licensing them. I have, reluctantly, conceded that a system of organising my own shelves does not need to be universal in scope. If I trim it to the bone, it really only needs to cover the books I own – though I do want it to be open enough to accommodate topics which I currently do not own any books in. So, forging ahead in ignorance, without any classification experience or qualifications, I am trying to make myself a system I can live with. This post will be partly what I have done already, and partly me doing it on the fly; let’s see where I end up.

I started with making little digital cards, with book titles on them – one for each non-fiction book I own. I then started sorting them into piles based on the broadest categories I could think of. This resulted in seven clear categories – History, Religion, Literature, Education, Philosophy, Language and Food (I own a single cook book).

Some of these probably shouldn’t be top-level. I’m looking at you, Food. There are some books left over which I have not quite decided where to put – do my books on comics go with literature, or should there be an art-category, or should comics finally get to be their own thing? The Communist Manifesto doesn’t feel like it belongs in History, should I have a category for economics, or maybe politics? Should The Federalist Papers and the US constitution, in that case, go into that bag, or should there be one for law? Do Michael Moore’s political satire go in with politics, or does it belong with the other humorous non-fiction I own? I guess I did put the satirical literary history in with the rest of literature. And what about my two quote collections?

Say I do add Politics and Art. Let me compare my categories to the tags I have used for these books on LibraryThing. I’ll line up the top twenty tags that describe contents with my proposed categories.

religion (44)
history (36)
ancient (18)
Christianity (18)
classic (16)
mythology (16)
epic (15)
literature (13)
Greece (12)
linguistics (11)
language (9)
Rome (8)
America (7)
Bible (7)
Antiquity (6)
English (6)
humour (6)
American (5)
biography (5)
empires (5)

Several of these tags aren’t really all that useful on their own – that’s the beauty of tags, they can work together to paint a more complex picture than a single subject label can. That’s also what makes them less than ideal for shelving systems. Books tagged Greece or Rome or America could easily be literature, religion or history, with no way of telling from that one tag itself. Tags like Christianity and mythology obviously belong as a subset of Religion. After talking the matter over with a friend, I also grouped biographies under History. The politics tag didn’t make the list, but it has five books associated with it, while art only has one.

I think it would be a good idea to look at how other systems do it – even if I am trying to tailor-make something for my own collection, there’s no reason to struggle to reinvent the wheel. Melvil Dewey’s top-level goes something like this:

  1. General Works and Information Sciences
  2. Philosophy and Psychology
  3. Religion
  4. Social Sciences
  5. Language
  6. Mathematics and Science
  7. Applied Sciences and Technology
  8. Arts and Leisure
  9. Literature
  10. Biography and History

Education would go under Social Sciences in this system, as would Politics and, indeed, economics. Food would go under Applied Sciences and Technology, which admittedly makes cooking sound pretty bad-ass, but I’m not quite sure about that particular delegation.

This isn’t a project that will be finished in this post. I think I need to look up some other classification systems, and compare more top-levels, before I hash out which ones I think make sense, but I want to do as much of the process as possible in public, so that others can let me know when I’ve done something dumb.  I think I’ll pause here for now, and go do some reading.

31 May, 2012

Gateway Drugs

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A couple of days ago, I suddenly rediscovered one of LibraryThing’s beta features, which I had looked at when it first debuted and then not thought about again until now: lists. In particular, the one that caught my eye was a list of fantasy gateway books. The idea of the lists feature is that it aggregates the individual lists from the members that create one, and generate a common list from it, in this case of books that first sparked the reader’s interests in fantasy.

I like this, and it got me thinking about which books made me so interested in that particular genre. Now, this particular list asks members to list a single book, which I have completely failed to do – what’s the fun in just one? But I’m having some trouble thinking back – what were the books that formed my tastes in early years?

There’s one that’s not even a question, the one I’ve put on spot number one, and the books that without question has been the most formative reading experience I had as a child: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I don’t know how many times I read that book back when I was twelve, or how many times since then – every couple of years, at least. It remains my favourite book. The series it’s part of is great as well, but this one was my first and will always have pride of place.

But I don’t think I can attribute my love of fantasy just to one book – if all the other ones I read hadn’t been good as well, I don’t think it would have stuck. The truth is, though, I don’t really remember reading much fantasy as a child. I remember reading sci-fi. Jon Bing’s Starship Alexandria series and, a few years later, Animorphs. I did read Narnia at some point, but I think I was into my mid-teens by then, having previously contented myself with the excellent BBC TV adaptation.

I do have a very vivid memory of reading Mio, My Son at what must have been a young age, and being so utterly terrified at the first appearance of Kato that I actually screamed aloud and ran away from the book. I have vaguer memories of reading Micheal Ende’s Momo, and I’m not sure if that was before or after I saw the film adaptation. I was 13 when Harry Potter first came out in Norway, and read that not too long after, so I suppose that has been an influence as well. I don’t remember when i first read Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit, but I think those came later, when I was already in love. The Belgariad certainly came after that again, so I’m afraid Eddings doesn’t get much credit for my tastes at all.

I’m trying to think back to afternoons spent snooping through the public library, digging out treasures and duds from its shelves, and completely failing to put any titles to these experiences. What books were big before Potter? What was the first fantasy I read? I have no idea. But I’m interested in seeing the other lists, where other people got started in on this peculiar genre, so I think I’ll make a point of going back to this one periodically, and see what’s changed.

9 February, 2012

I Am Not a Librarian: Damn It, Dewey!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

As you might have noticed, I am a big fan of books – both in the abstract and as the physical object. I am also a big fan of systems and organisation. This might not be readily apparent to anyone peeking at my floors, but in my bookshelves order reigns supreme. I am also an avid LibraryThing user, which lets me keep a catalogue of my books which approaches a library standard. This helps me organise them, and with tags I can have all subjects well described.

That’s an organisation of ideas, though. Tags can tell me what a book is about, in general, but they are not very well suited to shelving. For that bastion of order, I need to use something else. Currently, my shelves are separated into three sections – once by format, then by content. Comics are separated from the prose books, which are in turn divided into fiction and non-fiction. Actually, since Understanding Comics is in the non-fiction section, I suppose it is more accurate to say that my shelves are divided into fiction and non-fiction, and fiction further subdivided by format.

Fiction is easy; it’s shelved alphabetically by author. Non-fiction is where it gets complicated. Shelving by author doesn’t really satisfy me there – I want books grouped by general topic, in an orderly fashion, by a real system. Enter the Dewey Decimal Classification. No, Dewey is too copyrighted for thorough discussion, let’s talk about the Melvil Decimal System instead. They’re both based on the work of Melvil Dewey, who I imagine felt some of the same desires I do for orderly shelves. I’m sure you have at least passing familiarity with his concept.  I’m no librarian; I have no training in library science or in classification, which I imagine is a lot more work, requiring a lot more patience, than it would seem on the surface. LibraryThing draws data about my books from libraries, however, so most of them have already been placed neatly into order in the DDC – whose numbers translate easily into MDS – by qualified professionals.

The problem is that Dewey’s system sucks. It doesn’t make any sense. The logic behind it is obscure, and the attitudes it codifies are out-dated and extremely ethnocentric. Let’s just look at the 2-range: Religion. These are the divisions Melvil thought necessary for books concerning religion:

  • 20 – Religion
  • 21 – Natural Theology; Secularism
  • 22 – Bible
  • 23 – Doctrinal Theology
  • 24 – Devotional; Practical
  • 25 – Pastoral Theology
  • 26 –  Church; Institutions; Work
  • 27 –  Christian History
  • 28 –  Christian Churches and Sects
  • 29 –  Non-Christian Religions

That’s not Christianity, that’s Religion. A whole big lot about Christianity, and a single section set aside for the rest of the world’s religions. No good. I am also not wild about the way the Bible is classed alongside books about Christianity, while The Homeric Hymns end up in the Literature section rather than with the rest of Greek mythology. It makes little sense to me.

Another problem area is the 4-range, Language. There are a couple of sections set aside for general linguistics, and then English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Latin and Greek get their own sections, with the rest shoved into 49 – Other Languages. Norwegian is filed under German, while the equally Germanic English gets its own section. Latin has a section of its own, while three other Romance languages get one as well. It makes no sense, at least not today. Presumably, it made sense to Dewey.

I really want a more logical system I can use. I suppose it technically doesn’t even need to be robust enough for a public library. I have made some small attempts at making something logical, but it is no easy task – no wonder Librarians go to school for this kind of thing. I had some high hopes for the Open Shelves Classification, but that ended up not really going anywhere, so here I sit still.

It is a bit silly, I suppose. The MDS works, sort of, and the books are all in the shelf. I suppose I could just put them in willy nilly, based on what feels right at the time, but every fiber of me objects to such a chaotic approach. I’m sure there are smart people out there working on classification systems. The DDC is aggressively copyrighted, and its flaws well known, so alternatives are desired by people who are not me. Guess I’ll just have to wait, though I’m going to whine about it. I’m not a librarian, you see. I’m no good at being patient.

30 January, 2012

Mourning the Printed Page

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Obdormio @ 00:00

A home without books is like a body without a soul.

Cicero said that, with his customary artful understatement. Horace Mann apparently said that “A house without books is like a room without windows,” but I think the points go to Cicero on this one.

I don’t care for e-books. The news inform me that e-books are marching ahead, while the printed page is in decline – the hopelessly old fashioned book stores going out of business while purveyors of e-books grow and grow. Like the music and film industry before it, the publishing world must now adapt to a primarily digital model. That’s just the way the world turns.

I will get an e-book reader when they are physically indistinguishable from regular books.

I am not opposed to e-books on philosophical grounds; I actually think it’s a good thing that more obscure books become more easily available, and I can well see that an e-reader is practical on trips and plane rides. I just find the notion of reading off a screen profoundly unsatisfying. I know that many, if not most, e-readers do not have screens in the way that a laptop or a tablet does, but use e-paper instead. That is indeed nifty technology, and makes reading on them much less of a strain, but it is still a very different thing from actual paper – something I’m sure they’re working on.

A book is more than the text inside it. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the text is the most important part, but a proper book is something more. It is texture and weight and smell and the sound of the pages turning and the immense satisfaction of cracking it open. There is something magical about a room full of books, a big and beautiful library, that a tiny e-reader with all its storage space cannot match. Foolishly sentimental, perhaps, but I embrace that part of my personality wholeheartedly. And yes, paper books are heavy and require storage space, but I consider that a very good bargain. I am currently moving, and lugging boxes of books up and down stairs may be tiresome, but I would not trade satisfaction for a slight increase in convenience. As for storage space, I have no greater ambition than one day owning a house with a room that can properly be called “the library”.

Anyway, there are practical reasons why I don’t want e-books as well. I object to the idea of leasing books, paying for access, and that the access can be revoked again should the seller so decide, as when Amazon pulled back a book without warning. I think they don’t do that too much any more, and maybe the trend is towards my kind of model, where a file, once bought, is yours to do with as you please, but I would rather not jump into any risky sort of situation in this. I have not really gotten into the stream music services for the same reason; if I buy a copy of a song, I want to keep it and use it as I choose. I also scoff at DRM nonsense. I appreciate that piracy is a problem, but I will not meekly subscribe to solutions which only punish the lawful consumer. Paper books, I can read however and whenever I like.

So there. Through hopeless romanticism and stubbornness, I shall cling to my shelves and books, and not get an e-reader. It’s a matter of principle.

And we’ve seen how well I’ve stood on principle in the past.

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