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.

Ten Things You Can Throw Away Right Now

Life during NaNoWriMo is a little messy. The whole house slowly builds up to disaster levels, making it very difficult to get work done. When the mess gets to me, I wander around (looking for ways to procrastinate) and find ways to feel like I’m making a dent without spending tons of time cleaning. So if you need a small way to make a little order in your life, here are ten things you can quickly clear away.

  • Pens that don’t work.

There is nothing more frustrating than reaching for a pen only to have it not work when you’re trying to jot down some inspiration or take notes on a phone call. But it’s even worse when you forget the pen is dead, put it back in the pen drawer, and then do it to yourself all over again (just me?). Maybe not everyone has a pen stash like I do, but chances are you can clear a few pens away. I threw away seven. And I got to doodle instead of write for fifteen minutes. Bonus.

  • Empty bottles/recyclables in the bathroom

I don’t know if your house gets this way too, but for us the room I’m least likely to take a recyclable out of is the bathroom. So an empty toilet paper roll, an empty bottle of vitamins, whatever–will just sit there until I do a deep bathroom clean every week. And it drives me nuts. Stop looking at it. Toss it.

  • Old cosmetics/lotions or ones you just don’t like

While you’re in the bathroom, go through all the weird bottles and things that have accumulated over time. I’m really obsessed with using things up before buying new things, but if you have stuff you don’t like and/or things are over two years old, chances are you’re better off buying something new you actually like (and things like lotion can get pretty gross over time…)

  • Ticket stubs/receipts you don’t need

I know it’s time to clean out my purse when I go into the bag for lip balm and come up with handfuls of receipts.

  • Wrappers in the bottom of your purse/around your bed

If you like to snack on candies or chew gum, there’s probably a nice accumulation of wrappers somewhere that you haven’t dealt with yet.

  • Expired coupons

This always happens to me. I have a pocket in my wallet where I keep coupons and more often than not I don’t use them and they just stay around until I finally go through them a month or two later.

  • Socks with holes or lonely socks

I’m of the opinion that the home for holey socks is not in my drawers (or my fiancé’s), so when I find them, they get thrown out. And unless you like to mix and match your socks, it’s probably time to throw the lonely socks out as well.

  • Old spices

Depending on the spice, it’s probably only good (potent) about 6-12 months. If you blindfold yourself and open up containers, can you identify the spice by smell alone? If not, you probably need new spices. I like to buy mine in bulk so I can buy exactly what I need.

  • Expired condiments or alien fridge dwellers

Growing up, my family was very good at opening food items and less good at finishing them. As an adult, I’ve gotten better about this, but there are still random things that have to be thrown away at the back of the fridge. It is not the most fun job in the world to go through the fridge, but if you do it every week you won’t find moldy surprises.

  • “Project” items

I like saving things “just in case” I need them for an art project (because who wants to buy something again?). Or I save something because someone else “might” have a use for it. But this is bad for storage and bad for my sanity. If you can’t throw it all out, maybe you can take a realistic look and downsize your collection? If you’ve had it for a year and you haven’t done the project (or even thought about it), chances are you’re not going to do it.


Have you been inspired to de-clutter your house a little? Are there any items that you could throw away right this second that I missed? Let me know in the comments.