Organizing Books

We’ve discussed cataloguing systems in the past. But of course there are different ways of organizing books.

One of Flann O’Brien’s works – perhaps The Dalkey Archive – talks about a book collector who only buys green books – that is books bound in green or with green dust-covers.

Eighteen months ago, the Adobe Bookshop in San Francisco was the site of an installation by Chris Cobb, in which he reorganized the entire shop by colour. A slide show of his effort exists on Flickr and an interview on McSweeney’s

Q: So you are going to actually be doing this, you’re going to be rearranging every book on the shelves in this bookstore.
A: Yeah, I had originally thought that I could do it by myself. A friend of mine owns a bookstore and after a year of negotiating back and forth he finally allowed me to take over his store for a week, and to allow me to bring in my whole team of like 15 people, which is what I estimate it’ll take, maybe 20, and in one night—I’ve planned it out—if we stick to the guidelines, we can completely change the store. With Andrew [McKinley, the owner of Adobe Bookshop], it took a year of me being around and gaining his trust before I could get to this point, where he would allow this to happen.

Q: Which is pretty crazy, when you think about it.
A: Or inspired. One person’s crazy is another person’s inspiration.

Q: So you think you can do this all in one night? How are you going to do it?
A: I’m really grateful for the fact that when the bookstore was organized, all of the shelves along the walls are exactly the same. I think there’s seven shelves in every unit. So you can estimate the number of books pretty accurately. It’s around 20,000 books. Because of how they’re positioned, I can map them out and give coordinates for every book. It’ll be, like, shelf 3, row 1. Each book will be given its own designation, so that after they’re all taken out and rearranged by color, when it comes time to put them back I can just go back to shelf 3, row 1, or whatever, and I’ll know exactly where they go.

Adobe Bookshop


  1. Okay, it’s not the organizing them into colour I would be worried about. It is getting them back into the original order that is going to be the challenge!!

  2. A color index, such as the one used at the New England School of Law, would have been a less labour-intensive solution (physically, at least). I love the URL…