On Keeping Book Notes and a Professional Library

Benjamin Franklin Tracy, Secretary of the U.S. Navy, circa 1890. Not the Benjamin Franklin, but it certainly looks like this Benjamin is taking some decent Book Notes! (Frances Benjamin Johnston [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)
Why do I keep book notes on my blog? And why am I cataloguing my books? Well, it just happened that way. First, because I like using Goodreads and my blog, and second, I want my books to remain in good, workable condition as part of an orderly professional library.

I began using Goodreads a few years ago to record the books I read. This was before it was purchased by Amazon in 2007. I had tried a few other platforms, but I found Goodreads to be best, and later, I found having the system run by a company like Amazon reassuring. It helped the system remain stable and be less likely to disappear than non-commercial applications.

In fact, I liked Goodreads so much that I became a Goodreads Librarian a little while ago. I think of it like a commercial Trove (although I am sure there are many who won't like the comparison. And I don't work for Goodreads except for free as a Goodreads Librarian!).

Nonetheless, I purchase most of my books from Book Depository because there is no freight charge and it tends to be easier to have books sent to Australia. I usually find Amazon's stock and freight terms to be severely limited for Australian consumers, although that may change soon

But when Goodreads introduced the Reading Challenge a few years back, I decided to set myself an annual goal for my reading for pleasure, in addition to the reading necessitated by my work. I didn't start properly until 2015, and after a good beginning, we decided to buy a house and move interstate, thus ending my 2015 challenge.

However, by 2016 I had developed the habit of not only reading deliberately, but writing a review on Goodreads for every book I read. I enjoy doing this but it isn't for everyone.

Apparently, there is a down-side to the Reading Challenge. If one races off to read shorter books to meet one's target, then oh the humanity! Quantity over quality! Really? I do it to keep track of where I am at, and to allow me to write notes. And it keeps me motivated to read as a priority.

There are sound reasons for keeping good notes on one's reading. Important, too, because it is difficult to remember every interesting part to follow up or that may prove useful in the future. Keeping notes and having catalogued books certainly helps in this regard. 

Benjamin Franklin suggested that readers should keep book notes. Notice that he wrote his notes in a separate book, taking care not damage the book he was reading:
I would advise you to read with a pen in hand, and enter in a little book short hints of what you find that is curious, or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such particulars in your memory.
Ryan Holiday goes a step further, and keeps a detailed notecard system. But while I am all for keeping notes and reading hardcopy books, I am one of those book-lovers who cannot stand damage being done to books (I use the Book Depository bookmarks religiously). This guy just rips right into them!

But Holiday's full program of marking up and highlighting in his books, even rare books, is something I just can't bring myself to do.

My journal I write up with a pen in a leather-bound notebook, but I am happy to keep my book notes on Goodreads and catalogue the reviews via this blog's labels.

Indeed, I hate seeing my books damaged so much I went down to the Gunning Library and asked the librarian to show me how to cover my books using both contact (paperbacks) and plastic sheeting (hardcovers). I have a while to go, but in the meantime, I am trying to catalogue and cover each new book before reading it. 

I have gone on to learn how to catalogue my books using the Dewey Decimal Classification system. I chose this rather than the Library of Congress system because, well, I just did! But mostly, the Dewey Decimal System is the first system I learnt in school, and I have a fond sense of nostalgia whenever I think of the library at Parramatta State School in Cairns.

The School's Librarian, Mr E.C. "Ted" Celk, introduced me to the Dewey Decimal Classification System in 1980 (he could roll his Rs) and, importantly, politics. In 1982 (age 12), after scoring 100% on the politics test he put us through, I attended the inaugural sitting of the new Cairns City Council

The immaculate Mr Celk went on to become a champion for gay rights in Cairns after he retired, much to the consternation of the School's cleaning ladies at the time (how could he be gay, he was such a gentleman!). Regrettably, I can find no trace of him or his infamous letters to the editor of The Cairns Post on the net.

Keeping a library is now somewhat of a hobby. Having a well-ordered library is something I have always wished for, but could never begin until now. 

I use two main sources to help me catalogue the books: OCLC Classify and the Dewey Decimal Classification System table provided by Bob Peck. The former is great, and the latter helps me when I need to classify an obscure book (like Beatrice Burton's The Flapper Wife and Mrs Humphry Ward's Lady Rose's Daughter).

I also learnt from my local librarian that one can buy book covering material from Queensland Library Supplies. It is of high quality and much better than any retail contact one can buy. Their service is exceptional but you will need to call them to sort out the postage if ordering one roll like I do.

Before covering the books, I print my name, with the Dewey call number and the first three letters of the author's surname, on Austab's WP-21 labels using this template. These I place with the call number over the spine, and the name across the front.

So that is how I came to keep my book notes on my blog and to begin cataloguing my books. 

We happy few - the beginnings of my book nerd's paradise. They are not in order yet!