I recently found myself in the rather odd position of trying to explain LibraryThing to several of my colleagues. Without getting too much into that conversation, let me just relate what for me was the best moment: Evelyn‘s question, “Why do people feel the compulsion to catalog their own books?” And this is why I love Evelyn: she has the rare ability to be snarky and simultaneously make it clear that she loves the world and all the people in it.

I have a library on LibraryThing, consisting of exactly 10 items, which are some of the things that happened to be on and scattered on the floor near my desk when I created my account. (I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader which were which. I suppose a bibliotherapist could make much of this sample. In particular, I’d like to point out that The 100-Mile Diet and The Singularity is Near are mutually exclusive.) Anyway, I can absolutely see how LibraryThing could be totally addictive. I even considered buying a CueCat for about 15 seconds. And I have attempted to catalog my own books in the past, mostly by attempting to develop my own databases. I say “attempted” because these were always failed attempts. I lay the failure of these projects to the fact that I was, well, attempting to develop my own databases. This was before I discovered tools like EndNote, which would have made the job considerably easier. But by the time I had discovered tools like EndNote, I had better things to do with my time.

Anyway, why do people feel the compulsion to catalog their own books? I’ve already admitted that I have this compulsion, so I can hardly criticize it. But on reflection, cataloging one’s own books does seem to me to miss one important fact: books have variable half-lives. That is to say, there are some books that I buy because I want to keep them, and there are some books that I buy fully intending to donate them to the next book sale. Usually the books in this latter category were purchased at a book sale, appropriately enough. Of course one could simply delete the books from one’s LibraryThing library that one purges. But does anyone actually do that? Cataloging one’s books just seems to me to give a permanence to stuff that stuff doesn’t really have or deserve. Of course, libraries weed their collections too. After all, the library is a growing organism.