Color coded bookshelves

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When we moved to the bay area, my partner Megan and I decided to organize our books by the color of their spines.  Each shelf on our bookcase is reserved for a particular color, and the books themselves are organized by gradience of color, with the bolder shades on one end, and the paler shades on the other, in a descending (or ascending) gradience.  This may at first seem like a potentially arbitrary, strange and counterproductive way to organize books, but there are several reasons why we thought it was a good idea.

Aesthetics were our primary motivation.  Subject-oriented shelving systems appear mottled and are visually uninteresting because the organizer has no control (and usually, no concern) over the books' appearance.  On the other hand, a color coordinated bookcase is immediately eye-catching, and livens up an entire room.  But there's an obvious tradeoff here: while a color coordinated bookcase might look nicer, it's not really a useful retrieval system. 

We've been willing to accept that limitation for a few reasons.  The lack of subject-specific classification hasn't been quite as limiting as it might seem.  Our collection is relatively small, and since we've read most of the materials, we're well acquainted with their visual appearance.  I can recall a specific title based on my memory of what it looks like, which makes it just as easy to find as if it were sorted by the author's name, or genre type. 

Not only that, I don't retrieve books from our shelves all that frequently.  Books take a long time to get through, and they only need to be extracted from the organizing system when the book is first started.  If I'm in the middle of a book, it's much more sensible to keep it in my backpack or upon the bedside table when it's not being actively read, until I'm completely finished.

Also, there's a closer correlation to book type and book appearance than one might think.  A lot of publishers will release subject-specific series (such as Shakespeare plays or 'classic' texts) that all have the same general layout, so their spines essentially look identical.  For example, while my copy of Ovid's Metamorphoses is off on its own, all of the historical Roman books like Lives of the Caesars and Conquest of Gaul were published by Penguin classics, and sit right next to each other.  This makes it relatively easy to find the more obvious stuff.

Our system wouldn't be very sensible for an institutional library because most users aren't familiar with the visual appearance of their search target.  Even if they are, the higher volume of material would make it nearly impossible to find anything.  Not only that, aesthetic value would be a nonexistent priority for institutions, because their space is entirely functional, and doesn't double as living quarters.  But for us, it's been a successful experiment!