Reading Through the Stacks: How Poetry is Classified in Libraries

Reading through the Oakland Public Library main branch’s poetry collection, book by book.

The way poetry is organized in a library is quite different from fiction. Fiction is often just organized by author’s last name. Some libraries separate (either physically with shelving or using a sticker or some other indicator) different genres, but most of the time you can find the book you’re looking for by looking up the author’s last name (unless it’s considered literature or is a new book….).

Poetry is different. It’s classified under literature and therefore falls under the purview of the Dewey Decimal system.

DDC (the c for classification) has several different areas for poetry:

  • 808.1 reading/writing poetry (also known as poetics) I’m reading books out of this section, but not writing about them individually. I can do a round up or best of at some point
  • 808.81 poetry anthologies
  • 811 American poetry
  • 811.6 American poetry in the 21st century
  • 821 British poetry
  • 831 German poetry
  • 841 French poetry
  • 851 Italian poetry
  • 861 Spanish poetry
  • 871 Latin poetry
  • 881 Classical Greek poetry
  • 890 – Every other world literature is stuffed into these ten numbers so…. browse carefully for poetry

Some of the Dewey Decimal Classification systems problems are easy to see from this list–by giving American and European literature so much space, the western and colonial viewpoint is pretty clear. There is not so much more poetry in these languages than any other–this is about giving space to the literature that was considered literature and was being actively collected and prioritized in the 1800s by white people.

The problem for me is pretty clear–poetry is everywhere! I started with 811, and I’m quickly working through towards the much larger 811.6 category. But this is clearly going to take a lot longer to comb through than I initially thought. And it’s going to get a lot less contemporary at some point. I’m tempted to stick to 20th and 21st century collections for the sake of this blog even though I’m interested in older poetry and have read quite a bit of it. Let me know what you think in the comments if you have an opinion.

But the next book I’m talking about doesn’t use any of these classifications (well it does, technically it’s 811.6). We’re talking about the books in the “NEW” section. This is one of my favorite places to browse.

Poetry doesn’t normally have the same waiting list/hold problem as new books. So you can often keep new books for more than one checkout period. And this is a great place to find contemporary poetry that’s been recently chosen to add to the collection, which means more diverse authors in more diverse styles. If you’re new to reading poetry, it’s a much smaller and easier section to browse and do some sample reading than going up against 811.6 to find something you like.

But I encourage browsing all around the nonfiction stacks. You never know what’ll jump out at you!

Do you have opinions on DDC? Have a favorite call number? How do you think libraries should be organized? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Ancient Libraries

Library of Alexandria. 19th Century rendering by O. Von Corven. image from

Libraries in the ancient world are not like the libraries we know today. Often they were privately owned, and very few people would have had access to the material inside. Partially, this was because literacy was not widespread and therefore confined to the elite. Even in Greece, which prized literacy pretty highly, literacy rates were about 10% and in other cultures, much lower. However, they were still extraordinary achievements that brought together records of human thought, production, and faith.

Today I wanted to talk about 3 pretty extraordinary early libraries, starting with the one that is probably the most familiar to you:

Library of Alexandria

There’s a story that one of the gifts given to Cleopatra by her lover Marc Antony was an addition of 200,000 scrolls to the library. The library contained somewhere in the neighborhood of 500,000 scrolls, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 full sized books as we know them today. These numbers are not verifiable, but ancient visitors all agreed that the size of the collection was massive. Conceived of by Alexander the Great as he conquered his way through the known world as a way to share and glorify the Greek culture that valued literacy. While he didn’t live to see the library constructed, his Ptolemy successors built the library in around 300 BC with the amazing goal: to collect the sum total of all human knowledge and organize it.

The Alexandrian library was also the birthplace of many important pieces of ancient scholarship including Euclid’s geometry and Archimedes’ principles of physics. The center of human thinking was postulated to be held in the brain rather than the heart, which was previously believed to be one of the most important organs. Erastosthenes calculated, with pretty astonishing precision, the circumference of the Earth.

The myth of the library is that it tragically burned down. But while it suffered from a fire or two, it was rebuilt. The real destruction of the library came from a much more mundane source–a lack of funding and support. Unfortunately the library would be totally demolished by 391 AD.


Around 650 BC Ashurbanipal was a King who ruled in Mesopotamia, more specifically in Nineveh, which is now called Mosul (in Iraq), and he built an extraordinary library. This library consisted of about 30,000 tablets or more, which were divided into rooms for the different subjects: geography, treaties, history, myths and legends, and taxes.

Writings were carved into clay tablets in a script called cuneiform (named for the wedge shape of the markings), which were then placed in containers and shelved and cataloged. Because this was a private library owned by the King, there was nothing in the library that he did not expressly approve of, which the early librarian alludes to. Censorship goes hand in hand with the earliest libraries. If you were caught stealing from the library or you didn’t return a set of tablets, you were warned that a curse would be put upon you.

The library was destroyed about 25 years Ashurbanipal’s death. There was a fire that destroyed much of the library, but it hardened the clay tablets, preserving them for thousands of years ready to be rediscovered in the 1800s. Much of the contents were transported to the British Museum, but perhaps one day these objects will come back and this great ancient library will be rebuilt near its original location.

Ulpian Library

Romans had a thriving book culture, but they viewed books a little differently than other ancient counterparts. Books were very much seen as status objects, and they had them everywhere including in their bath houses (which must have been terrible for those poor papyrus scrolls…). Roman emperors would come back from a successful campaign and bring back with them books, librarians (as slaves, generally) and build libraries to commemorate their victories. These were public in that they were available for use of the aristocracy, but they were not public in the sense of public libraries today–that is, open to everyone. Romans had a much narrower definition of public.

29 of these libraries would eventually be built, and the Ulpian Library, built by the emperor Trajan is the most famous. This was something like a gentleman’s club in the 19th century tradition. There was a temple, lecture hall, archive, a library stocked with classic and current books in both Latin and Greek, places to eat, and plenty of reading space.

3 Great Digital Resources from Your Local Library

It has been four months since I’ve been able to visit my local library. This feels like something close to an eternity. I have a huge pile of finished books stacked next to my reading chair…

Even though many libraries aren’t physically open right, there are still plenty of ways to access your library online. All of these do require a library card for access (except for the Harry Potter themed escape room!). Many libraries are allowing patrons to get a temporary elibrary card in order to use their digital services if you don’t already have a card. You can check your local library’s website, or email/call to see what services you can access remotely.

Not all libraries may have access to all of these resources, so be sure to check with your individual library to see what they offer.

Libby from Overdrive

If listening to an audiobook with headphones on so you don’t have to hear your noisy upstairs neighbor play his guitar poorly sounds heavenly…. you should definitely access Libby. Libby is the user friendly app from Overdrive, which if you tried to use before this app might have been the cause of much pain and confusion. This app however is easy to use, and lets you check out audiobooks and ebooks from the comfort of your home. Plus there are no fees because at the end of the rental period the books are returned automatically. You can also use Libby to read on your Kindle, if that’s more your thing. Need help with Libby? Check out this tutorial:


If you’re interested in checking out music, ebooks, audiobooks, and movies, as well as magazines, you should try Hoopla. Different formats have different loan periods (at my library it’s 3 days for movies and 21 days for books), but there’s a lot available to look at and try out. Before I had subscribed to Spotify, Hoopla was my go to for music–like playing the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat.


If you need a dose of culture in your life, you’ll be interested in Kanopy which has a decent selection of Criterion selection films (important classics), independent films, documentaries, and international cinema. It also has a selection of the Great Courses, which are lectures given by university faculty on subjects ranging from history to science, from cooking to art. I’m currently watching one on the history of King Arthur.

Other Services

Check with your local library to see what else they may be offering! Some libraries are hosting Zoom hangouts for various teen clubs and other activities, others are offering curbside pickup. Find out what you can still do with your library card. No matter which library you call your own, you can access this Harry Potter themed escape room, developed by librarian Sydney Krawiec at Peters Township Public Library.

Have you been using your library’s digital resources while the library is closed? Has your library opened up again? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I’ve Read Recently that I Wasn’t Looking For But Glad I Found


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I think that you find books at the right times to read them…or you don’t and you miss out on that book. Sometimes the book is the right one for you, and you can read it over and over again without it ever feeling stale. Sometimes you try to read it again, and the magic is gone. The books you find at the right time just by chance stick with you. Did someone in the know recommend it? Did you find it on a bookshelf while looking for something else? Where do you find books that you aren’t looking for?

These are some of my favorite books, even if they aren’t that great, even though they don’t do anything to help my TBR list. Sometimes it’s the right time to find a book that you weren’t looking for.

In addition, this list of books also only includes those that have fewer than 15,000 ratings on Goodreads.

In the “New Books” Section of the Library

Even when I tell myself that there should be a limit to the number of books I should be checking out, I always look over at the “new” section–just to see what’s there.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

About: A sort of Arabian Nights meets the digital world. Alif is the equivalent of a code   name, one he uses online where he protects anyone’s presence on the internet from the eyes of the Hand for a price. When weird things start to happen, Alif is shown an entirely new world that he never could have believed to exist, one that is far from virtual.

Verdict: This was a really fun read that I probably never would have come across if I had stuck to my reading schedule. It had really interesting things to say about technology, magic, and censorship–not to mention religion and government.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

About: This book is about Truman Capote through the eyes of the society women he captivated and later betrayed. The story is told through the women’s perspective and paints an interesting portrait of both society in question and of the writer.

Verdict: I read this book before In Cold Blood, and it actually gave me the determination I needed to start what I thought would be a pretty daunting venture (it really wasn’t, but I’m glad I was able to get into the book and see that). If you don’t like to read about wealthy women, you probably won’t enjoy this, but the characters, for all their privilege, are extremely vulnerable and interesting.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

About: An eccentric young boy with a reclusive authoress as his mother and a nanny who’s been sent by the publisher to give his mother time to write. The book follows the nanny’s perspective (who in her regular job isn’t a nanny at all), her frustrations and trials as she deals with a child who dresses like he’s 30 years old in the 1930’s, knows everything there is to know about his favorite old movies, and doesn’t like his things being touched.

Verdict: This book is all about personalities, the most captivating one being Frank’s. This woman loves this family that doesn’t really accept her into it, at least not right away. I found this book to be charming. The plot moves slowly, but plot isn’t really the point here.

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

About: The last living descendant of the Bronte sisters enters a venerable old British institution. She’s told everyone that there’s no mystery fortune that’s been passed down from the Brontes, though the press refuses to believe it. But when she starts to receive copies of the Bronte’s books–books that should have been burnt in her father’s library years ago when it caught fire–she thinks maybe someone is trying to tell her something different.

Verdict: A modern, and only slightly gothic, romance/mystery that fits into the Bronte tradition. For anyone who likes Austen or the Bronte sisters.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

About: A classic trying-to-have-it-all story about a mother who thinks she can make everything balance until life starts getting crazy.

Verdict: This is a great beach/vacation/cozy time read. It’s not all that serious or difficult, and you could be finished with it in a couple sittings.


Found Wandering the Library

There are times when I’ll just wander through the shelves and see what strikes me. Some of these were found in specific sections (graphic novels are great for browsing, since there’s usually a limited number of them).

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

About: The book moves backward in time and follows the lives of two ex-pat families living in the Mediterranean. It’s sort of a Romeo and Juliet story with an olive grove twist.

Verdict: I’d seen this book many times at one of the bookstores I frequented in college. It always caught my eye, but I never bought it (mainly because I don’t usually buy books randomly). When I saw it on the shelf, I knew it was time. It wasn’t one of my favorites. I liked the time flow and loved the setting, but on the whole I found the characters difficult to either root for or summon much dislike for (with some exceptions). I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but it was really a 3.5 I rounded up.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

About: The story/alternative history of the first computer.

Verdict: As I’ve mentioned before, this was one of my favorite books of the year, and I only found it by browsing the shelves.

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

About: One woman’s journey with her favorite book throughout her life. It’s part memoir and part literary criticism.

Verdict: Since I read Middlemarch the year before, it was definitely the right time to read this book, which turned out to be interesting and well-written and researched. Reading books like this is a holdover from my college days, and I always enjoy bringing new perspectives to a text.


Staff Picks at the Library

I gave this it’s own section because it’s more like getting a book recommendation rather than just strolling along a shelf.

James Joyce: Portrait of a Dubliner by Alfonso Zapico

About: The life of James Joyce in graphic novel form.

Verdict: A really great biography of a complicated man. Translated from Spanish.


Mom’s Recommendation

There actually would be more books in this section if I had been more dedicated to reading at the end of the year. My mom and I share books back and forth a lot, and she is really good at picking things out for me and vice versa.

Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones

About: An archaeologist hires a translator in China to help him in his quest for dig approval. (There’s no connection to the Bill Murray film just in case you were wondering)

Verdict: This book was so good! If you like archaeology and romance and a little history thrown in I think you should give this book a try. The characters are really interesting and the writing is atmospheric and sensual.


Reading is all about discovery. What have you “discovered” lately?




Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books that Have Been on my TBR Since I First Set Up a Goodreads Account


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

In college I took a required class that I hated–a library studies class that taught you how to use the databases. Useful, but mind numbingly boring. The best thing to come out of that class was the discovery of Goodreads, which combined my love of making lists with my love of books. What could be better than that?

It’s a love affair that’s continued all the way to the present. Currently, I have 523 books on my TBR list because that’s just how I roll. It doesn’t even include all the books I want to read (I have other lists of books in notebooks), but it’s plenty. There are dozens of books that are still on the list from the first year that I made it. Here’s ten, in no particular order.

  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The first time I watched the film (with Reese Witherspoon) I understood exactly none of it. But I think I was twelve, so I’m giving myself a pass. After college, when it came on Netflix and with a wealth more reading about/from the time period, I enjoyed it so much. I just bought it recently, but I haven’t picked it up yet.

  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

This book must have been on a recommended list on Goodreads back then. Since I’ve seen the film (with Helena Bonham Carter), and I’m a little leery of the book and it’s almost certain lack of happy things.

  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not much to say about this one. Haven’t read it. Still want to read it.

  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

I love the Tudors. They are such a great, dysfunctional family. This book caught my eye at Costco and I didn’t pick it up. But one day it will be mine! Or I’ll check it out at the library.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Oh the great book club read with the crazy title. My mom said she couldn’t really get into it, so I snatched it from the donation pile.

  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I wasn’t ever really that into the movie, but I’m obsessed with fantasy and maybe I’d like the movie more now if I saw it again.

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My fiance has told me the book is better than the film but it’s still not that great. So it might actually come off this list. I’m not sure. Anyone have an opinion on this book?

  • The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

There’s really no reason this novel hasn’t been read yet. I’ve even picked it up from the library several times.

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

All for one and one for all! Love the movies (like the one with Tim Curry), need to read the book.

  • Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

I used to eye this book at Barnes & Noble as a kid–the cover was hypnotic but there was always some other more urgent book to buy.


Want to scroll through my never-ending TBR? Here’s the link.


So over to you now. Have you read any of these books? Avoided them on purpose? Had a book that you’ve encountered over and over during the years and never gotten to?

Or have you, like me, seen a bunch of adaptations without reading the source material? Do you always read the book first? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Picked Up on a Whim from the Library Sale


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by the Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is books that you picked up on a whim. I’m no stranger to buying books just-because. In fact that might be the only time I buy books. I don’t usually go looking for particular books, even if it turns out I find ones I’m looking for, and I don’t usually set out to buy them. I was trying to think how to narrow this post down (books I’ve bought on a whim at Costco? B&N? a bookstore closing? used bookstores?), when I realized I hadn’t shared my latest used book haul with you.

A couple weeks ago, I dropped my fiance off to hang out with his friend. They played a day’s worth of video games and had a great time, but fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you want to look at it) for me, his friend lives basically across the street from the local library. That’s basically a dream come true for me–within walking distance of both a post office AND the library!

Anyway, the Friends of the Library (I’m not sure this is their official designation, but this is what it’s called in my hometown) were putting on a book sale. And I figured I’d be safe with a $10 limit. But I ended up walking out of there with a box of books and spending twice my budget. That’s right, 24 books for $20. I wasn’t complaining. They had a pretty great selection of classics along with some fun older books and a good choice (at least a table worth) of every other genre.


Here’s what I got:

  • An anthology of Great Short Novels–just because.
  • One With Others by CD Wright–She just passed away not too long ago, and I’ve been wanting to pick up another one of her books.
  • Shadow of the Night by Deborah Harkness–I’ll have a post on this series up soon, but I bought the second one in the series for my mom. I bought her the first and third books as a mother’s day present.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides–I’ve heard a lot of great things about this book
  • Shakespeare’s Sonnets–I sort of have a weak spot for old collections of the sonnets; I buy them whenever I see them for a good price.
  • Selected Poems of T.S. Eliotyou can never have too many books of poetry.
  • Ethan Frome by George Eliot–I read Middlemarch and The Lifted Veil last year and really enjoyed them, so I figured more Eliot never hurt anyone.
  • A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft–early feminist writing deserves a place on everyone’s bookshelf.
  • The Standard Book of British and American Verse–I also collect poetry anthologies, as long as I recognize the name of at least one of the included poets.
  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes–I loved this book when I read it in high school, and I thought it might be something I’d actually reread or force on others.
  • Elements of ElectricityThis one was for my fiance. I something buy him old electrical engineering textbooks for kicks. I don’t think he thinks they’re as cool as I do, but he appreciates the thought.
  • Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut. Jr.–For my brother. My mom wants to get a bunch of Vonnegut books for him (I have all the old ones from my grandmother’s collection, but she’s worried they wouldn’t be returned in great shape).
  • The Book of Lights by Chaim Potok–I’ve read his most famous work, so I thought I’d try another.
  • Arabian Jazz by Diana Abu-Jaber—I checked this book out over a year ago when I was still living in Corvallis and I never got a chance to read it.
  • Ragnarok by AS Byatt—I loved Possession, which I read last year, so I figured why not?
  • The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory—This is what my book club is reading this month. I won’t make it to the meeting, but I’m still reading the book.
  • Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden—I absolutely loved this book (and I really enjoyed the film), and I’ve been wanting to return to it for a while.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw—I actually was surprised I didn’t already own a copy of this play (I think I had a copy of his entire works at one point). I actually wrote an essay on it in college comparing it to Ovid’s myth of the same name.
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Wrede and Stevermer—Another old love—this book reminds me of my childhood. I couldn’t wait to crack it open again (I’m actually rereading it right now)
  • Emma by Jane Austen—I don’t know what happened to my old copy.
  • Night by Elie Wiesel—Another book I want to own because I think it’s important and because I like to push literature on people.
  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray—I’ve only seen the movie (which I really like).
  • Silas Marner by George Eliot—more Eliot.
  • Adam Bede by George Eliot—ditto.


When was the last time you bought a book or books on a whim? Let me know in the comments.

My Literature Blind Date from the Library


I think it goes without saying that I love books and any place with books, or talks about books, or sells books… All leading me to say that I love my library. Libraries of all kinds are amazing wonderful creatures that deserve to be preserved. In Corvallis, we’re lucky to have an awesome library. The building itself is very nice and fairly new, they have lots of nice well-lit places to read, the librarians are helpful and well-informed, and they have lots of great library programs and little things they do.

Yesterday when I walked through the library, Paul pointed out a small display of books to me. These books, labeled Blind Dates with Literature, were covered in butcher paper and had a small “dating profile” on top. The idea was you could choose one as a blind date for Valentine’s Day. Maybe it would be love and maybe it wouldn’t be.

I absolutely fell in love with this idea (and talk about a great gift idea for a Valentine’s exchange–especially for a girl’s night or a hopeless romantic). Of course, I had to get one. The problem was, I knew I wouldn’t be able to read the book if it wasn’t written by a woman. I don’t really think you could tell from the blurb if something was written by either sex, and I just chose one that I wanted to cuddle up with. I figured if nothing else, I’d have a book to add to my to-read list for next year.


But as you can see, I lucked out. This book wasn’t written by one female author, it was written by two. I’m very excited to read my book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows (Shaffer is Barrows’ aunt). I love books with long titles (and poems and movies…just about anything really).

You’ll see it on an upcoming post very soon, well two, I peeked inside and already I know it’ll be featured on Baking for Bookworms!

Ever had a blind date with literature (you know–your friends set you up and dove in no questions asked)? How did it turn out?