Saturday, February 04, 2006

Someone Else's Research Project

There's a site that gives recommendations on which of an unfamiliar's author's books one should start with. An interesting idea, though it solves a problem I do not have.

But here's an idea I'd like to see implemented, if there are any librarians out there looking for hobbies (or theses): a study of idiosyncratic library catalogues. Such a study would look at the personal libraries of various people, and either:
  1. Attempt to draw some scholarly conclusions; or
  2. Just make the information accessible to curious people.

Starting with the compilation of a database of databases - a list of lists of books - this project would examine the organizational principles (psychological and utilitarian) behind the ordering of books, and (presumably) come up with some interesting and/or useful conclusions about such things as research techniques, cognitive mapping, the formation of individual knowledge structures. It would allow one to access a given person's idiosyncratic filing system and see, not only what books they have, but how they value those books.

Wouldn't you love to know how, say, Thomas Jefferson filed his books, before he gave the whole kit and caboodle to all of us? Wouldn't it be interesting to know what books, in what order, are in, say, Lawrence Lessig's personal library? Or Harlan Ellison's, or Cardinal Roger Mahoney's, or DJ Qualls's, or Ezra Pound's, or... name your own object of interest. As interesting, or more so, would be the collections of more ordinary people. I know whenever I'm in someone's house I enjoy browsing their bookshelves, not to find books to read but just to see what I can glean from the titles themselves...


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