An antilibrary! I started one at the age of fifteen, when I began collecting music. At least a third of my LPs, CDs and tape collection comprised of stuff I hadn’t yet listened to, music I was looking forward to tapping into one day; a prospect that provided me with an immense satisfaction, a sense of anticipation and excitement as to what lay in store for me among the growing stacks on the shelves.
Everyone I knew found the practise strange. If you buy something you have to use it, they said. You can’t have it sitting there, gathering dust, waiting to be unwrapped at some vague point in the future. Either listen to what you own, then buy more, or quit buying stuff altogether. Quit wasting money.
It was a mantra I heard from everyone except my folks, who, after an initial intervention, decided to leave me be, bless them. Everyone else found it outrageously weird that I would be so flippant with my money, space and resources.
A library is a resource, I would respond, something to access both now, in the present, and later, when the time is right. It’s a source of both data and excitement, which you access either methodically, looking for something specific, or spontaneously, playing pot luck. You never know what you’ll need when, or when you’ll need what, so when you come across something you want — a great book, a kick-ass rock album, a poetry collection by someone about whom other people speak highly, even if you have no fucking clue who he is or what he’s done — you get your hands on it. Grab it there and then, and stash it in your library, and wait for the right time to access it. You’ll know when.
They were intelligent people, those whom I was addressing, some of them extremely intelligent, yet no matter how I put it to them, the argument went over their heads.
‘You’re crazy. Stop wasting your money, pace yourself, save space etc.’
Twenty five plus years later my library is still a third full of books, music and films I haven’t yet watched, read or listened to, and I have no idea when I will do so. Time will tell. As for those I have already used, many of them were purchased a number of years ago. Had they not been there, at my disposal, I would not be aware of them. I would have forgotten them like all the things people tend to forget over the course of the years; things we think we’ll always remember, even if we don’t write them down. We think they’ll always be at the forefront of our minds, or in some prominent place in the back, always accessible, and then the days pass, the weeks, the years, and pouf, they’re gone forever.
Unless you have an antilibrary. Then they’re always there, waiting for you to pick them out of the stacks and dig into them.
I have an awesome antilibrary, which I dig into every now and then, making sure to replenish what I use with fresh material regularly. Whenever something interesting comes up, through a reference, a cite, or a tangent thought, I grab it and save it for later. My storage space is running out, no question about it, so I’ve become a fan of digital media and the magnificent cloud, that special place in the technological ether where all those bits and bytes go to bunk up, making data storage practical. I buy a lot of digital items, and my antilibrary grows steadily alongside my library, extending my reach into what makes life interesting.
I’m glad to have stuck with it. There were times when I was almost convinced that was I was doing was unnatural, useless, that I was engaged in something sick and harmful to myself. I was tempted many times to simply give a large portion of my catalog away and refrain from acquiring more items. Happily, I didn’t. I kept adding to it, and here I am, typing this piece away after having read this wonderful article on Umberto Eco and his views on the antilibrary. It’s great to see that there’s at least another person out there with a similar outlook. A little validation every now and then goes a long way, especially when it comes with a side plate of vindication.
Because Umberto Eco!