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02/09/06

Getting Dewey eyed about books

Design Observer's Books Arranged by Colour

Design Observer has a nice post about cataloguing books (at least in the pre-Librarything era). Arguing about Melville Dewey (father of the bibliographic taxonomy most publishers I hope hate) versus Georges Perec may seem a little, um specialised:

Perec lists several possible ordering schemes in his essay, and in practice I have used a number of these, sometimes alone and sometimes in combination with one another. Randomness (or chance) has dominated certain shelves of mine for a while. Loose categories governed by architectural constraints was a working method of mine, too, with a large wall grouping my novels and a side table sheltering the smattering of books I have on the dramatic arts. Sometimes the size of the books themselves is the governing agent: I have ganged up a set of cheap paperbacks on a squat shelf because they fit there splendidly. A book’s value can govern my placement of it: for example, I keep my expensive books away from the sun. In other cases, time is the reason for a book’s placement, with older books piling up a dark corner of my studio while newer books are proudly displayed on my coffee table. (Though there is some method to my madness, I still take solace in Terry Belanger’s aptly-named Lunacy and the Arrangement of Books, which profiles several of my predecessors.) The central issue, as Perec warms us, is that “None of these classifications systems is satisfactory by itself,” and he is right. But one idea from his list, “ordering by color,” seems to be gathering a small following of late, particularly among the visually-inclined.

but it’s still kind of fun, especially when you get to look at the pictures:

OCD studio bookshelves

Chris Cobb bookstore colour installation 1

Slightly less scary bookshelf by colour

Lots of light (and not so light – Adorno is included) links from the article for further reading.

I have to admit to a mild OCD when it comes to paperbacks, or at least those within a series, and arrangement by colour. And, possibly, size. As my LibraryThing profile attests, there’s a row of old Tsichshold era Penguins, including some omnific Pelicans and the first editions of Pelicans 1-5; another of Rebel Inc Classics, one of my favourite series designs of modern times, by Angus Hyland, a ‘black’ row of 80s/90s Penguin classics, original first-edition Rebel Incs, and everything else mulched up into one. And that’s just in the wall by my desk at home.

Something else to add here is that the great film One Hour Photo (implausibly starring Robin Williams as a borderline psycho), directed by promo director Mark Romanek took a similar, colour coded view to supermarkets. When I saw the film at EIFF three or four years ago, I was delighted by the art direction of the supermarkets, with typographical restraint and colour coded shelves:

One Hour Photo

One Hour Photo

One hour photo production shot in supermarket

The article ends,

So, will Pantone’s numbers replace Dewey’s decimals anytime soon? Probably not. But don’t let that discourage you. To rearrange your books is to see them afresh and to investigage yourself in the process. Even if you make a terrible mess, Perec reminds us that “Disorder in a library is not serious in itself; it ranks with ‘Which drawer did I put my socks in?’” and your sock drawer is probably color-coded already.

Posted by Peter Collingridge in Design, Librarything, Publishing.

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