Episode 121 of The Informed Life podcast features a conversation with my friend Chiara Ogan. Chiara is a former UX designer and information architect. She recently left that career to become a mental health therapist. Chiara’s background is in library science, and in this conversation, we discussed how she organizes her personal book collection — which she just did in preparation for this major life change.

This isn’t the first time Chiara has reorganized her book collection. Often, the motivation has been a major life event: marriage, moving to a new house, starting studies toward a new career. While she experimented in some cases (e.g., by spine color!), her latest organization follows a few criteria:

  1. Broadly based on the Dewey Decimal system (while acknowledging its problematic history)
  2. Place books where they’ll be needed (e.g., cook books in the kitchen)
  3. Consider space constraints (e.g., is there room for this?)
  4. Spatial mapping to a previous, familiar library
  5. Alpha order on shelves — not strictly by title or author, but considering the book’s subject

Which is to say, there is a system at work, but it’s somewhat idiosyncratic — which is ok, since the audience for this organization scheme is just Chiara and her husband, Eric.

Chiara also explained the distinction between pre- and post-coordinate systems in organizing books — and how it maps to the organization of digital information:

A pre-coordinate system is where we say this has one place where it needs to live, and we are going to decide ahead of time what all our little spots are, and then we can put our books in that correct one place. A post-coordinate system is something like facets that we use in information architecture all the time now with our faceted navigation or faceted search where we allow a more matrixed approach.

This works really well for digital content because on the internet, one item can live in multiple places, right? Horses might live under animals, but it might also live under pets or it might be transportation history or children’s books or whatever. It has multiple places it can live. And so, a post-coordinate system says, “we’re going to figure out all the places it can go and basically tag or classify this as living in all of its homes.” It can show up in any of those places. So that’s the difference of like physical constraints versus digital. It can be anywhere.

Organizing my own personal library is an ongoing challenge. When thinking about who to ask about how to best do it, Chiara is the first that came to mind — it was a privilege to be able to ask her about how she manages her own library.

The Informed Life episode 121: Chiara Ogan on Personal Libraries