The Semiotics of Organizing

Librarian confessions time: we like to organize things.

When you’re in the biz, occasionally a colleague will sidle up to you and whisper, “This weekend I alphabetized my spice cabinet.”  Then you’ll both sort of sigh contentedly at the idea of such domestic order.  It’s not just spices either. You might hear, “Last night I organized my spoons by degree of roundness” or  “My towels are now in thread count order.” It seems to run in the family too.  The proudest moment in the life of a librarian parent might be the day they walk in on their child pulling books off the shelf…and then putting them back, in subject groupings.

Although I was a messy child, I grew to love a well-ordered house.  I think it’s because my husband and I have spent most of our life together in tiny spaces, from our first two years sharing a single room, followed by five years in a studio apartment, then six in a one bedroom.  When you have very little space, order is a necessity.  This is where my love of organization was born, from the need to fit in comfortably.

Somewhere in the last six months though, I stopped feeling the need to have my spray cleaners lined up by height.  My books aren’t even in any particular order (other than the basic non-fiction/fiction separation of course).  Nowadays, I only organize things for money.

In my mind I draw parallel between the work my sister does, as a professional actor, and the work I do. When you start out in acting, you work for free all the time.  You’re building your skills and your reputation, your “chops.”  Then you start to get recognition, and courtesy money.  You get paid for acting – not enough to live on surely, but enough to call yourself a professional.  You get paid a little more, and then a little more, and maybe you find a side job teaching acting, and then finally it’s your living, and you only do it for free if it’s a really good cause.

It’s such silly conversation to have with yourself, but it’s a common one:  Am I a librarian now?  Does reluctance toward amateur organizing mean I am finally a professional?  Or is it merely the fact that we moved, and have a bit more space, and oh yeah, I’m working a lot and busy. Maybe that’s the true sign of a professional librarian.

organized neatly

PS Librarians, have you seen Things Organized Neatly?  I know many who find it very soothing.