Monday, August 15, 2011

Do-it-yourself yourself

So many books, so little space

Some of my friends and acquaintances keep flaunting their electronic book readers at me. They're confident I will eventually be assimilated. I'm confident I won't be—at least not to the degree they believe. Sure, I expect that one day I will acquire a Kindle or something similar. If I were more of a traveler, I'd probably have one already. However, I've had a life-long love affair with real books and my eventual e-reader will augment them rather than replace them. Trust me on this.

Of course, a love affair with real honest-to-gosh books is both time- and space-consuming. This summer I resolved to get my monotonically increasing collection under better control. It's been years since the last time I sorted and arranged all of my books into something approaching a rational system, and entropy has been steadily working its randomizing magic. Unfortunately, I discovered I had achieved grid-lock.

Are you familiar with the classic Fifteen Puzzle? The goal is to slide the numbered tiles about until they are all in numerical order. The tiles reside in a four-by-four grid, one square of which remains empty. That's what allows you to slide the numbered tiles around. Without the empty square, you cannot budge.

And that's what happened to my out-of-control library: It had grown to fill all available spaces and thus I was left without a staging area—a blank space—to use as a temporary storage niche while unshelving and reshelving books. You really need some elbow room if you're going to do a wholesale sorting of your books—instead of a painfully slow and incremental tweaking. I was reminded of RAM-poor computers trying to run programs that ate up all available memory and then ground to a crawl because of the lack of available working space.

Like I said: grid-lock.

My keenly-honed intellect began to consider options: (1) I could free up some space by tossing out a bunch of unneeded books. (Oops: no such thing!) (2) I could shift more of my math books into my office at school. (Ha! My office is worse!) (3) I could replace many of my books with electronic editions and an e-reader. (Too early! See above.) (4) I could magically create more space by cleaning house. (Huh? What is “cleaning house”?)

In a way, I did choose (4). My residence has a storage room attached to one side of the building, integral to the structure. It's where the lawnmower used to live (long gone; that's what gardening services are for). I went exploring and discovered it was full of old boxes (anyone need the shipping carton for a Gateway 2000 computer?) and some obsolete electronic gear (would you believe an original IBM PC monochrome monitor from 1983?). I began to clear it out.

The storage space is 44 inches deep and 108 inches wide. Room! I nosed about Home Dept and Lowe's and found a 5-tier shelf unit that was 42 inches wide. It would fit perfectly—but the shelves were rather farther apart than I might have wished. The paperback volumes I intended to stack on it needed much less clearance than the standard unit would provide, and the shelves weren't adjustable. (Adjustable-shelf units were also available, but they were all 36-inches or 48-inches wide.)

Of course, the fixed spacing of the shelves assumed that I would follow directions and mount the shelves on the built-in flanges provided on the support poles. Ha! Instead of following directions, I bought five shelving units (with an aggregate of 25 individual shelves) and created three eight-shelf units (one shelf left over).

After a bit of exploration and experimentation, I discovered that the toner cartridge box for my HP LaserJet printer was as wide as the shelf spacing I desired. After installing the bottom shelf, I placed the toner cartridge box in the middle of that shelf and slipped the next shelf unit onto the support poles and let it drop until it rested atop the box. The shelf didn't match up with the mounting flanges (of course), so I serenely drilled holes at the four corners and secured the out-of-place shelf with nuts and bolts. After extricating the toner cartridge box, I tossed it atop the new shelf, grabbed the next shelf, and dropped it atop the box. Occasionally, of course, I had to install the extensions of the support poles.

The results were stunning. The storage room has now sucked up two thousand paperback books and opened up several feet of shelf space in the house proper. Books that were stacked on end tables and floors and the piano (which I can now see again—and really should consider having tuned) are now being spirited into shelves. Hurrah!

I must admit, though, that they are not yet as meticulously sorted and grouped as I had planned. But soon, I'm sure. But first I have to put away some tools.


plam said...

A short step away from yak shaving!

Karen said...

Ah, Zeno, I can relate.

A couple of weeks ago, I reluctantly emptied my "office" at school. It was really just a desk, a bookcase, and some lab table space in the Sedimentology lab. I'm finishing my thesis (at home), graduating in the fall, and another grad student needs the space. It was no big deal, or so I thought.

I now have five boxes of "stuff" in the trunk of my car. They've been there for two weeks. I would bring them in the house and unload them but the bookshelves are full, the floors near the bookshelves have stacks of books, and I'm generally overwhelmed with books and papers.

I can't do anything about it right now; I have a thesis to finish.


Tualha said...

Hey, this is great - now you have space for a lot more books!

Zeno said...

Hey, Tualha, that's a good point! I should take a U-Haul trailer down to the nearest Borders and help polish off their going-out-of-business sale!

Laura said...

How do you organize your books? I'm not yet at an overwhelming number (they're all contained in 5 bookcases), but I recently found myself tired of the "alphabetical by author's last name" deal. As an experiment I put one bookcase in publication order, which I find interesting (but difficult to maintain and has the annoyance of splitting up series).

Kathie said...

We sort books first by his 'n' hers, then by affinity:

Textbooks (more recent, and from back in our student days);

Language (e.g., all my Portuguese volumes and references sit on two shelves next to my computer, for easy access while translating);

Topic (e.g., all the volumes re our computers are right by husband's computer);

Size (recreational-reading paperbacks, which are thus more space-savingly [?] stored);

Cookbooks (stored on a bookshelf just outside the kitchen).

Etc., etc., ...

Phillip Moon said...

An elegant solution. Good for you. Alas, when we moved from Washington state back to California, I knew we would be moving from a 4 bed room, full basement (library), and garage into an apartment.

My 4000 book library had to be pared down to 2000. Word has it I'm getting a Kindle for my birthday in October. All future purchases go on to the e-reader which I will not have to pare down. I'll never have to go through that pain again.

Tualha said...

All bibliomaniacs present, be sure to check out a couple of anime called "Read or Die" and "R.O.D the TV". The women in them put the rest of us to shame when it comes to obsessive book-buying and book-retaining :)

Zeno said...

My organizational scheme is pretty simple: by author within categories. My biggest collection is science fiction paperbacks, now filling my storage room to bursting (well, not quite). Math books are actually grouped by subject and/or author: Martin Gardner, calculus, abstract algebra, and whatever. Books that fall into multiple categories are subject to arbitrary decisions on my part: a biography of Tolkien? Over with the fantasy section, even though I have a bookcase full of biographies. Whatever suits me, I guess.

One of my friends said his most convenient organizational scheme was color. He had a strong visual memory for his books and could always remember a book's color, even if the author escaped him. Ah, yes, that should be in the red section. He eventually gave it up because he got tired of explaining it and justifying it to roommates and visitors, all of whom found it too bizarre to credit.

kai said...

Well, you already got your book cases, otherwise I would strongly recommend Ivar from IKEA, it has holes for shelves every 30 mm, so is very adjustable. (And smells good of fresh wood :-)