I’ve written here before that I have CueCat lust. Well, I finally caved and asked Y to get me one as a stocking-stuffer for the holidays, which she obligingly did. So I spent far too much time last night playing with it and adding books to our LibraryThing library, mostly from what we refer to as our Pretentious Bookshelf, which is to say the bookshelf in the living room where we have most of our books from college, plus most of our more highbrow reading. (And before you ask, yes, we have actually read all of them, or at least between the two of us we have.)
Anyway, I’ve come to the following realization: lust was the correct term for what I had for the CueCat. Because LibraryThing turns books into fetish objects. The OED (which, I would just like to point out, I have in my LT library) has a variety of definitions of fetish including: “Something irrationally reverenced.”
Not to be crude, but I actually do mean this literally. What is a book for? For reading, for storage of ideas. Maybe for other uses, but those are certainly the primary two. I’m going to ignore the latter since that happens prior to my coming in contact with the book; a book performs that function for the author, not for the reader. The function that a book performs for a reader is to be read. (Books are for use, Every reader his book, Every book its reader?) Though what I suppose I’m saying is that the function a book is intended to perform for a reader is to be read. Not to be, as my colleague Helen puts it, fondled. LibraryThing is essentially book fetishism. (I would almost go so far as to say book frottage, but I am going to stop just short of being that offensive.) Instead of actually reading my books, I’m stroking them, performing arcane rituals over them involving bar codes and lasers and ISBN numerology. (There is real irony in the fact that now I’m going even a step further and writing about my book fetishism, rather than actually engaging in it.)
(I would also like to mention how chagrined I have been to discover how many books we own that do not have bar codes. Also chagrining is the fact that so far, LT’s queries to Amazon are returning book info at a considerably higher rate than queries to the Library of Congress, even for books printed in the US.)
All that said, I have to admit that adding my books to my LibraryThing library is quite gratifying… but then, you’d expect it to be, if it pushes the same psychological buttons as other ritualized behaviors. I’m not giving up on my CueCat: I plan to finish the Pretentious Bookshelf and then move on to my science fiction collection. But after a point, it becomes not about the books at all anymore, the ritual takes on its own importance.
Now I feel bad about telling you I have an Unused Cuecat and PS/2 to USB converter in a drawer in the ibiblio office.
I missed one point in your posting: You should expand your barcode scan through something like xISBN or thingISBN before doing a search against LC.
A friend of mine once wrote a poem that goes, “Books are for use, librarians all say”. This begs, what would other people say?
I spent some time on LT recently, cataloging the books of my late father, trying to get a sense of what his collection of books might say about him as a person. I didn’t make it all the way through the collection, and I think even with a barcode reader I might have stopped where I did.
I found myself wondering at the various bookplates and inscriptions. Some were gifted to him, and many he inherited from his mother or grandfather and choose to keep with his collection. It wasn’t always the subjects of the books that were important to him, but who gave them to him and what parts of his self they represented.
I will probably add many of his books to my collection and never read them. For him and for me, books are very much for remembering. Perhaps it is just as much of a fetish.
I am searching some more to read on this topic. This kind of fetishism is damaging actual critical spece which good books tries build.