I'll Take the Orange One

I’ll Take the Orange One by pendragon David Whelan As a librarian, I may be a bit fussier about books than many people. I admit to finding great satisfaction in organizing things into a comprehensible collection, bringing order from chaos. Helping people to find books is a daily occurrence, and is made more amusing when someone comes in and asks for the book with the “orange cover”, which may limit the possibilities to a few hundred or thousand different volumes. Even then, it’s not too hard to get them to where they want to go. So imagine my surprise when I heard that an “artist” had reorganized a book store so that all of the books are arranged by color!

Talk about a hair-raising experience! This National Public Radio story (11.22.2004, All Things Considered) described the tragicomic 10 hour redistribution of a book store’s collection by color. It will return to its original collection scheme but even the apparent artistic statement that is beeing attempted seems ludicrous to me.

The joy of finding a treasure in a used bookstore because of the serendipity of the owner’s organizational scheme – Dewey Decimal ™, Library of Congress, whatever – can’t be described. Even using something as simple as genre, or alpha by author, can make this experience possible. The organization of books by physical properties – spine, color, etc. – increases the odds that you won’t find anything or, if you find it, it’s not worth finding.

Clearly, the bookstore’s owner suffered a momentarily lapse of reason. I nearly laughed out loud at the description of the “visual exhibit” that moved all of the books in the store into a color-coordinated rainbow. What a load of rubbish. The store must have a slow period (which picks up after Thanksgiving, when the collection is put back in order) because I can’t imagine any book buyer wanting to scan book shelves knowing that a significant amount of time will be wasted looking at titles that one doesn’t care to see.

It’s not pornography, but I know a self-indulgent, twee “art installation” when I hear about it. There’s no reason that one can’t harvest the mucus from babies’ noses and create a sculpture that stops conversation, but why would you? On the positive side, for people who are drawn to this kind of frippery, at least they are spending their time looking at books and not standing, drooling, on the streets of San Francisco and blocking pedestrian traffic.

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David Whelan

I improve information access and lead information teams. My books on finding information and managing it and practicing law using cloud computing reflect my interest in information management, technology, law practice, and legal research. I've been a library director in Canada and the US, as well as directing the American Bar Association's Legal Technology Resource Center. I speak and write frequently on information, technology, law library, and law practice issues.