Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 25 Apr 2020

Cataloguing My Books

It’s now a month into the extreme social distancing of the Coronavirus lockdown and I have to admit my patience is getting a bit frayed. I’m tired of the hopeless incompetence of government ministers, I’m tired of the avalanche of upbeat ‘we can do it’ propaganda and I’m especially tired of all those people who want to show off about how creative they can be from home. I really don’t care how many times they have climbed their stairs dressed as a Storm Trooper, how they have learned Esperanto or how they formed a model of the Eiffel Tower from their ear wax.

I suspect that most the population are doing the same thing as me: getting though as best as they can and doing nothing inspirational or formative. I make no apologies for that and even if I was doing something improving I’d keep my mouth shut about it.

But it’s also undeniably true that I have a lot of time on my hands and a project of some sort would, I thought, be useful. There is, after all, only so much time you can spend reading and once work is done (long distance academic tutoring is a damn strange way of earning a living) I’m not given to DIY, gardening or handicrafts.

So, I’ve bitten a bullet that needed chewing a good while ago – I’ve started cataloguing my book collection. Or maybe to make it sound grander, my library. Not world shaking and not likely to be something that’s going to be featured on regional news bulletins but given that my house doesn’t have a single room (bathroom apart) without bookshelves of varying size and shapes, it’s a pretty monumental task.

My wife and I have recently made our wills (nothing to do with the current virus by the way) and in it we leave the books to her children – which for them is probably a daunting prospect. It’s not just the quantities that poses a problem but knowing what’s what when you’re not yourself a mad book collector. Don’t just throw the books out when we die, we constantly tell them, lots of them are worth money. But how are they going to know what is what?

So cataloguing them and indicating the likely current market replacement value of them should be a help when it comes to disposing of them or if they want to cherry pick the ones they want to keep. But I’m also keen to make sure the collection is insured properly and having an idea of what’s there and its value would be a good thing.

But this is a labour-intensive task and as I write I’m about two-thirds of the way through the living room and I’ve been at this, on and off, for a couple of weeks. It’s going to take a long, long time to get through the remaining half a dozen rooms and a couple of corridors.

I’m using a basic excel spreadsheet which is a package that was probably designed specifically for this kind of task and that makes life a whole lot easier. But what I hadn’t really factored into the whole exercise was the time I would spend re-familiarising myself with books I’d completely forgotten I had. Just the process of having to handle each book, open the covers, look for the date of publication, author details and the like almost always leads you into a more thorough browse of the contents. It’s like having some of them again for the first time. I had no real idea just how many books I’ve bought that have – rather shamefully - gone straight onto my shelves without me spending nearly enough time with them.

It’s also giving me a chance to clean and dust books that have been sitting around undisturbed for literally years. I’m pretty shocked at the level of grunge that settles on the top page block of a book. Who knew that two people could create such a miasma of muck?

So cataloguing actually turns out to be a less utilitarian task than I imagined it would be and it has become a chance for me to get reintroduced to my books, not just as titles but as physical objects of desire.

How long will the lockdown last? I’ve no idea but I no longer speculate just on the basis of days, weeks or months but on the basis of how far into the book collection I’ll get before I can go out and start adding new books to the mountain of those still waiting to be entered.


Terry Potter

April 2020