I’m very, very close to writing the Dewey Decimal number on all the books in my office. Before anyone gets worried about incipient OCD (cue my wife saying: “Incipient?”), hear me out.

There are about 10% of my books that I never know how to categorize. My office shelves have sections: worship resources like meditation collections. Scriptures of various religions. Philosophy. Religious education, preaching, fundraising, and other practical arts of ministry; fine. But then pastoral care shades into spiritual memoirs, books on healing through writing and art, others on aging, etc. And do books about our spiritual relationships with money go with fundraising or spiritual something-or-other?

Not the bookshelves in my office, except in my dreams. Photo by Emil Widlund on Unsplash

And which books are history, which philosophy, which theology . . . ? I often find myself holding a book, trying to decide what shelf to put it on, and wondering what Dewey would have to say about it. (That’s Melvil Dewey, creator of Dewey Decimal Classification [DDC]. Not John Dewey, who maybe goes with Philosophy or maybe Humanism or maybe Unitarian Universalist History . . . )

Usually, I go with my gut. I figure, wherever I classify it in my own mind, that’s where I’ll look for it. That worked for a while, but it’s gotten harder as my library has grown. Plus, some of my most interesting books seem to cross categories.

Someone has already done all this work: Dewey and those who have further refined his categories over the years. So I’m leaning toward hitching a ride on their labors by putting books where the DDC would. Generally, this number is listed on the same page as the publication information. But to actually categorize them all means not only looking at those (at least for that non-obvious 10% or so), but remembering them. Making little piles, maybe, of the 210s and 220s and so on. And how will I remember which pile is which as I sit on my office floor, surrounded by books?

You see where this is headed. If I’m going to make a lot of little piles, it’s just as easy–and a lot clearer–to simply put the DDC number onto a label and stick it where I’ll see it, such as, oh, say, the spine of the book. Then, putting them all in order, and keeping them in order, will be easy and not depend on my memory at all.

The only catch is, when it’s all done, I will have an office that looks like a library, and people might look at me strangely. I don’t suppose that’s much of a change.