We recently planned, designed and built our own, small, house. Once the builders had gone, I finished off the interior, laying the finished floors, decorating and tiling. I also put up book shelves that went up one side of the back door, over it and then down the other side, so that when you walk through the door, you walk under our books. There’s about 500 or so, I guess.
Why am I writing about this? Well, those books, accumulated by my wife and I over many years, look good against the wall there, and when people visit, they often stand looking across the shelves at the range of books we’ve bought and sometimes even read. Personally, I buy books on a whim and there are many that I’ve yet to read. I rarely read books cover-to-cover and rarely read fiction. When you look across the shelves, tilting your head to read the spines, you’ll come across the fiction I started reading in my late teens, the books on Buddhism, philosophy and Japanese, that I bought as a student; you’ll see the books I bought while a post-graduate student, studying film archiving. Then there are all the books I bought in-between, while teaching myself about computers, not to mention all my wife’s books. I don’t know about you, but those books say a lot about me and about the last 20 years of my life. Many of them reflect my interests and ambitions before I sent my first email, before I first used the World Wide Web and before I knew 70% of the people I now call ‘friends’ (such an abused word these days).
The thing is, I haven’t opened many of those books since I first looked at them. I’ll never read them again and most of the people I know at work and online, will never scan my bookshelves. We can chat over Twitter, subscribe to each other’s FriendFeed and read each other’s blogs, but I’ll tell you now, that’s not even half of me.
I signed up to LibraryThing a couple of years ago, added a couple of Cormac McCarthy books and then left the account alone. I thought my wife would enjoy it more than me. She reads books cover-to-cover all the time. I don’t. I use books to learn about things that I don’t know. With the exception of a few authors, I rarely read books for relaxation. I relax in my own time online and have done for years. It suits my wandering mind.
It occurred to me a few days ago that LibraryThing could enrich my digital identity in a way that no other social networking site could. By importing my book collection into LibraryThing, I could go back over my book collection, dust off the covers and gradually enrich my online identity, and at the same time people would get to know me better, if they cared to look. Never mind Twitter, where I’ve read that we’ll get to know one-another through a glimpse of the small details of our lives. I don’t buy it. You’ll learn more about me by perusing my LibraryThing collection, I can assure you.
As I write this, I’ve added 110 books that I own, about a third of the total, I reckon.
This also got me thinking about e-portfolios and how the books I accumulated as a student reveal a lot more than my CV about my depth of study and research interests during and shortly after those periods of learning. To build a book collection over time is an achievement in itself. We tend to think of a portfolio as an accumulated, curated presentation of work that we have undertaken. It’s a product – something to show; but until recently we couldn’t include a book collection in our portfolio.
As a student, I spent more time reading than writing and I read wider than my term papers and exams reflected. Despite a good degree, my undergraduate essays aren’t worth your time today, even if I could still find them, but I still have the books I collected and they are worth your time. If I was employing me, I’d take an interest in my book collection. It’s a background check I can recommend.
Of course, I could have added books I don’t own to give a false impression of myself (I haven’t). And I could exclude books from LibraryThing that I do own, because they might give a false impression of who I think I am (I have – the exceptions are trivial). But this is my point about Identity and LibraryThing: I’ve got a collection of physical books that I’m now curating online to develop a ‘portfolio’ that better represents me.
I guess that’s what a lot of LibraryThing members do. Have you?