Moving the books on the Titanic
OK, after recovering from the run of one night lecture stands, I knew that I had to get the books off the floor of my study at home before I could start to write the next chapter of the book I'm supposed to be writing .. two chapters down, six to go. And that is where last weekend went.
It is of course a hopeless task. The problem I have is basically the same as the problem faced, on a much bigger scale, by the Cambridge University Library, and probably many others: too many books, too few shelves, and too few walls to put up any more. We have a large enough house for living in, but not large enough for the books. And trying to clear the floor and fit a few more into the space that already seems full does develop some first principle librarianship skills.
Obviously if you took the UL strategy and systematically sorted the books by size as well as subject, you could find space for a lot more -- but at home do I really want to have the small commentaries on Cicero separated from the larger ones? I have, though, decided that 'out-housing' some of the lesser used things can open up a foot or two (in my case that has meant sending the series of 20 volumes Balkan Studies to the husband's study -- though it's not clear he wants them, and honestly it only shifts the problem elsewhere...the book equivalent of nimbyism).
Then there's the duplicates which really might free up a foot or two if one could get one's act together to flog them or give them away. No household needs three copies of Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, or two copies of Carlo Ginzburg, The Cheese and the Worms, or two identical translations of Joubert's Treatise on Laughter. Quite how we acquired these duplicates isn't exactly clear -- some are no doubt the consequence of marriage, some I suspect are the consequence of mess (I mean I bought another copy because I didnt realise I already owned it).
As far as layout is concerned, I sort of wished I'd been braver about forward planning. I mean it's all very well to squeeze everything in without an inch to spare, but if you are acquiring books at the rate of 3 or 4 a week, that only means that the new ones end up . . . well, on the floor. So this weekend I determinedly left 6 inches of shelf space empty, for the next volumes of the Journal of Roman Archaeology that will arrive in due course (though how long it will survive...).
But most of the time it was more like shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic. I'd worked out that I should use the big shelves downstairs for big books not the run of penguins. So I got good exercise swapping around the Lucky Jim's etc with the exhibition catalogues (non classical) that had been in the spare room.
The good news is that it did magic up a bit more space and clear the floor, and yesterday I had an hour in my study actually working on the book (only an hour, but sheer bliss). But the horrible truth is that I am due to retire in 10 years time and then I'll have two more rooms full of books to house. So we spent the weekend looking at the garden and wondering where we could put a bookshed . . . and feeling we shouldnt be quite so snooty about the Kindle.