Over the weekend, my wife’s mom, Emily, set aside this awesome article from the New York Review of Books. Go Emily!

Written by Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger, it is titled “Save the Warburg Library!”. In it, they explain the crisis the Warburg is in financially (hence the title). But more importantly, they describe what makes this Art History library so unique—the cataloging scheme. The stacks are open, and the juxtaposition of books “will bring the reader not only to the books he or she is looking for, but also to their unexpected ‘good neighbours’.”


From the Warburg Institute Library’s web site:

The 350,000 or so volumes are classified in four sections: socia and political history (fourth floor); religion, history of science and philosophy (third and fourth floors); literature, books, libraries and education (second floor and basement); history of art (first floor, with classical art and archaeology in the basement). There are c. 2,500 runs of periodicals, about half of them current (mobile stacks in the basement). Readers have free access to the Library Holdings.

Needless to say, this is very different from how the Library of Congress organizes things. But who’s to say that the LC system is better? Different researchers have different needs, so this begs the question: Can we make Harvard’s collection “look” like the Warburg’s?

I’ve been looking into visualizations book collections, so what if we rendered a shelf of virtual books based on the Warburg logic? Or Princeton Univerity’s Richardson system which groups all the books by each author together?

What are the benefits to our library singing Karaoke?