My Personal Library 1

My refuge at home is my library, which occupies the master bedroom. I do not sleep in this room, however since I also placed my computer desk there, I alternately call the room my library or the computer room, just not the master bedroom. After every vacation I bring back a suitcase and backpack full of books, which means that in order to file them all into their proper places, I am faced with the daunting task of undertaking the Great Book Shift. All too often I procrastinate this task, as I know it will take hours to reorganize my bookcases. So months go by where I tiptoe around piles of new books lying all over the floor. After Mark and I got back from our trip to Europe last summer, I unloaded a book haul from five countries: Iceland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Norway. Two weeks after arriving home from that trip, I was off travelling again, to South Africa and Tristan da Cunha. I knew that I would never have the time to reorganize my European books in that brief period between trips, so my new books sat on the library floor until I got back from South Africa in mid-October. The piles multiplied with all the books I brought back about Tristan, Africa, and the many different languages of southern Africa.

And on the floor they all stayed until this past weekend. I used my time during the long Easter weekend to reorganize my bookcases, finally. I thought it would be an interesting post to share what my bookcases look like and how I organize them. There is indeed a method to my system of order, yet the more I try to devise rules of codification, the more I have to admit exceptions to the rules. There are however two underlying conditions that govern the order of my bookcases: the main condition is that of space. Whether the space is one of length or height, I am limited by how long a shelf is or how high I am able to adjust it. Thus I cannot always place books that conform to a single subject area neatly on the same shelf. Oversize books often cannot be filed among their peers. The second condition that governs how I organize my bookshelves is that of my own life experience. There is no science to this method, yet an example of the life experience filing method is that I organize my travel books by the order in which I travel to each place. Thus a travel book on Finland precedes a travel book on Switzerland, which both precede my travel books on PR China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. We then jump back to Europe for travel books on Iceland and Luxembourg, and then finally to South Africa and Tristan da Cunha. So any new travel destination will immediately follow Tristan; thus if I buy a book on Switzerland’s neighbour Austria, it will be filed after Tristan da Cunha, and not next to Switzerland. I own plenty of travel books for destinations I have never visited, yet these are all organized by geography. Should I ever visit one of these places, as most recently occurred with Tristan da Cunha, then I shift them to the end of my visited places travel books.

So in order to try to accommodate these conditions when I add new books to my collection, I have to think of doing a lot more than merely shifting books over in order to fit in the new ones. I have to keep the space limitations in mind as well as my life experiences, and all the exceptions that pop up in between.

Let’s tour the stacks by looking at the language-learning books first. Within an individual language, dictionaries are always filed first, followed by grammars, other language books and phrasebooks are last. As a student of language, I am well familiar with language families and with which languages are members of those families. I am blessed that I work in a library and that I know the Dewey Decimal Classification system rather well, so I know how and why my own public library organizes its languages collection. These formal rules of language codification do not always apply to the Rowland book stacks.


My life experience calls the shots in that I organize all my Finnish materials first, since I studied Finnish formally in 2000 and still use the dictionaries often. So often in fact that I have not removed the protective wrappers I put over them when I took them to Finland that year. Underneath the wrappers the dictionaries look like this:




The other wrapped books are Finnish grammars I used while over there. The Finnish books are followed by other Finnic languages including the Sami or Lapp idioms of Tunturi Sami, Inari Sami and Skolt Sami, followed by Estonian, Votic and Livonian. Interfiled with these language books are works of literature, such as classic Finnish novels and the national epic, Kalevala. However, exceptions are the rule in these cases as “literature” is purely a matter of opinion; children’s storybooks in each of the three Sami idioms cannot legitimately be counted as literature yet I file them with the Sami language books because to exclude them and put them elsewhere would seem unreasonably out of place.


Although I studied Romansch after Finnish, I file the books for the language I studied after Romansch, Breton, next because of space limitations, mostly that of height. I cannot alter the height of the middle shelf of my bookcases as it is fixed, so I have to organize the books around this restriction. Unlike the case with my Finnish books, where I separate all books about Finnish culture and history and place them elsewhere in my collection, I interfile my books about Breton culture and history with the works of Breton language and literature. This is one of many Rowland filing exceptions, and I can’t seem to come up with a good enough reason why I do this since I could just as easily interfile all my books about Finland (be they written in English or Finnish) with the language books. I like to think of Breton, and with Romansch that follows, as more severely endangered languages than Finnish, and thus it is a political statement for me to interfile all works written in these languages with the grammars, as a printed work written in a severely endangered language (or a book about its culture, even if it is written in a different language, as in this case either French or English) is itself a statement about the state of that language. Thus a book written in Breton about Breton history, such as Istor Breizh or books about the state of the language such as Parler breton au XXIe siècle, or a classic Breton memoir translated into English such as my autographed edition of The Horse of Pride: Life in a Breton Village by Pierre-Jakez Hélias merit inclusion with the books about the Breton language.

Breton is one of six Celtic languages which are split into two families, and I do separate them accordingly. The Brittonic family of Breton, Cornish and Welsh is filed before the Goidelic family of Manx, Irish and Scottish Gaelic. I decided to file my one and only book on Norn, an extinct Germanic language of Orkney and Shetland, with the Celtic books mainly because of geography versus linguistic family, since these languages are mostly (but not all) found on the islands of or around Great Britain and Ireland.


I studied Sursilvan Romansch over four summers and this specific idiom of Romansch, the most widely spoken, is filed first, followed by books in the standardized written form of the language known as Rumantsch Grischun. These are followed by books in the most severely endangered idiom, Sutsilvan. Following these dictionaries and grammars I have filed every other book I own written in or about Romansch, for the same reasons as Breton. After the Romansch idioms I have a few books about other Rhaeto-Romance languages, namely Friulian and Dolomitic Ladin. I spent a good time deciding where to file Etruscan; I decided to put it after Rhaeto-Romance in keeping with the current theory that Etruscan and Raetic, both extinct languages, are related.


Romansch is, as evidenced by its name, a Romance language, yet I don’t file other Romance languages after Romansch. Since Romansch is spoken in Switzerland–and taking into account the short gap you’ll have to jump over the few books in Friulian, Ladin and Etruscan–I have chosen to file books in the majority Swiss language, German, next. German is also a language that I have studied, so it takes its place based on personal experience. The German I have studied is High German, the German spoken in Germany. Following the books on the formal idiom of the language are many books on regional German dialects, such as Swiss German, Obersaxen German (a dialect of Swiss German spoken in the heart of Romansch country), the German that was spoken in the German Democratic Republic, Berlin German and Cologne German. From there the shelf order conforms to linguistic family, as the following books are all Germanic languages: Flemish from Belgium, then Dutch, then the Scandinavian languages Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Bornholm Danish, Faroese, Icelandic and Old Norse. Shelf height limits where I file my books on Luxembourgish; the large size of the grammars and exercise books keeps them apart from the books more closely related in the High German family.

While not related to Luxembourgish or any other language at all, I had to file Basque somewhere, and available shelf space after Luxembourgish gave me the opportunity. After Basque is Galician, another minority language of Spain, then Polish and Romanian. The latter two are only filed side by side because of geography. Romanian, while a Romance language, can be the unofficial grand marshal of the love parade that follows.


French takes top honours and it is followed by the idioms spoken in Quebec, Jersey Norman French of the Channel Islands, Walloon, and Belgian French. Then come regional languages of France such as Gallo and Corsican. Italian follows Corsican, since the two are part of the same language family. Maltese, in that it is highly influenced by Italian, is filed next.

Geography rules the classification of this next group of languages, but even so, there are exceptions to my organization of books about the languages of the Soviet Union. The languages of the Caucasus are so diverse: Georgian, Armenian and Azerbaijani are all from different language families and each has its own alphabet. I find it fascinating that there are likely people in this area who can probably speak all three, as well as Russian, which itself has its own alphabet. Whether these polyglots are actually literate in all four is another matter; one would find a vastly smaller number than those who could speak these languages. Next to the languages of the Soviet Caucasus are Turkmen and finally Russian. I have excluded the Finnic languages of the Soviet Union, filing Estonian, Votic and Livonian after Finnish and the Sami idioms.

It is plain to see that my main interest is in the languages of Europe, with a special focus on minority or regional languages. Other continents are totally off the map; I have no books on any of the languages of South America or Australia. Asia, though, is represented by a couple books about Thai, which I first acquired in an attempt to converse with the Thai players at the World Scrabble Championship in Las Vegas in 2001. Scrabble plays a role in the next Asian language books I have, as thanks to Canadian Scrabble player Ron Hoekstra, he brought me two books on Malay when he attended the World Scrabble Championship in Kuala Lumpur in 2003. Ainu, a severely endangered language of Japan, comes next. I have more books about Korean than any other Asian language. Many of these books are in fact propaganda phrasebooks from the DPRK. I like language isolates, and one of the most famous Asian isolates is Burushaski, for which I have two books. I only have two books about Pacific languages, and both are about Tuvaluan. The final two books are for Inuit languages. I have a phrasebook in Greenlandic and a juvenile Inuktitut translation of Where’s Spot? entitled Spâtte Nǎnêtôk?


I picked up many books about southern African languages during my most recent trip, and came home with more dictionaries, grammars and audio CDs for Xhosa than of any other South African language. I have a couple books about Sesotho and Xitsonga, plus one each about Setswana and Tshivenḓa. I picked up two small dictionaries in Sotho (also known as South Sotho). I was happy to find an introduction to the !Xũ language, which is spoken in the Kalahari. I file Afrikaans with these books instead of with other Germanic languages, because I associate Afrikaans more with its geography than with its language family.

Finally are my books about English. I do not interfile any books on English regional dialects, however. Perhaps I take my native language for granted by leaving its regional variants, such as Tristanian English and Newfoundland English, filed separately (the former filed among all books on Tristan da Cunha, the latter among all books about Newfoundland). The books I have about English are about translation, linguistics and nonsexist word choices. I also have a couple books in English about minority languages (Mother Tongues: Travels Through Tribal Europe and Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages) plus two polyglot books about minority languages that I bought in Switzerland. Incidentally, all my translations of Le Petit Prince are grouped together in one separate area.

My next bookcase instalments will focus on the rest of my library, which will include my travel guides, country studies and general history books, Scrabble books, works that I read in my French and German literature university courses, all my oversize books regardless of subject matter, all the books I bought in the DPRK, Le Petit Prince in translation, Canada and Toronto history, and books about budgies. That takes care of the library, west side. Eventually I will get around to the east side, plus the bookcase outside the computer room which houses Beatles, Beatles and more Beatles.

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