Saturday, July 26, 2008

Undocumented Documents

I have been working on my childrens' books inventory.

Over the last year or two, roughly 200 picture books, elementary chapter books, intermediate-level books, non-fiction reference books, and, especially, angsty adolescent novels have miraculously meandered into my home.

I reached my tipping point a few months ago when I bought a used Great Illustrated Classics version of David Copperfield on sale for 50 cents only to discover I already had three copies at home. Obviously it was time for a massive update.

(My thanks to Carolyn, who, two summers ago, helped me to do my last big inventory.)

So far, I have input over 100 books into my spreadsheet, and I have several bins of books still to process. After which I have two more bookcases still to cull for undocumented immigrants.

After this is over, I need to take a stuffed-animal census. It's been a long time since I've counted all the plush animals in the house, and longer since I've sorted them into categories: ownership (Mine, Eric's Danny's--even Jon has a few that I've given him); named vs. unnamed; tame vs. wild; etc.

My rule of thumb is that there should be a 4:1 ratio of childrens books to stuffed animals. Assuming I have 125-150 stuffed animals, I should have 500-600 volumes in the kids' library. (I am not counting the young adult section in this estimate: pre-k and elementary selections
(board books, picture books, simple chapter books, and Eric-appropriate non-fiction) go in the play room; angsty adolescent novels have their own bookcase downstairs. (They get moody and depressed and want their own space, naturally.))

At last count, I have 703 books registered. I expect the total census will show 750-800, of which approximately 500 will be "play room" material, and 200-300 will be shelved in the sequestered young-adult section. (Wish I could just perform statistical interpolations, like the U.S. Census wanted to do last time. The U.S. Supreme Court said "no." Ironically, that issue, too, involved a lot of undocumented aliens.)

The boys have been helping. I have paid them money to help sort, carry, read titles, and run errands for me.

They have also been helping by walking past a bin of books, impulsively grabbing one, wandering off, and putting it down elsewhere, thus ruining my sorting system.

Still, there are worse sins than liking books. Even if this shortcoming provides havens for the migratory immigrant book population.

Speaking of books and boys...

It seems like every year, Wake County asks me to fill out a form about Eric that includes questions like this:

1. Q: What languages are spoken in your home?
(My answer: English, some basic ASL, plus smatterings of French, German, and Lao(tian). Except ASL isn't "spoken," it's signed.)

2. Q: Is the primary language at home English?

3. Q: How often do you read to your child?

A. Almost never
B. Once a week
C. Two or three times a week
D. Three to five times a week
E. Every day
(A. Almost never. I used to read to him almost every day, but he has been reading independently for several years now. I offer to read to his little brother almost every day, but these offers are spurned in favor of imaginative, interactive play, so I make up stories instead.)

4. Q: How many books does your child have?

A. 0-1
B. 1-3
C. 3-5
D. 5-10
E. 10 or more
(My old answer: You are off by a factor of forty. My library contains approximately 400 age-appropriate childrens' books.)
(Next year's projected answer: You are off by a factor of fifty. My library contains approximately 500 age-appropriate childrens' books.)

Fortunately, "factor of fifty" and "five hundred" are still alliterative.

I still debate with myself: Is question #4 more sad, or more funny, or equally balanced? I'm voting for sad. If I were structuring the question, the scale would be different:

Q. How many books does your child have?

A. 0-10
B. 10-25
C. 25-50
D. 50-100
E. 100 or more

I doubt that there would be many families with more than 100 childrens' books. But please, I beg you, tell me that most families have more than 10?

I will likely have at least ten stragglers after I have "finished" my current survey. (Some, but not all, due to Eric's and Danny's efforts at resisting registration of their reading materials.)

Are there really a statistically significant number of households where there are no books at all? It would make me feel like a rich banqueter gorging herself before a crowd of beggars who desperately wish to catch the crumbs that fall from the table.


Jon said...

I don't think the beggar analogy is exactly correct here. Except in cases of extreme poverty, just about anybody can afford to buy at least 10 cheap used board books at Edward McKay. I think the problem is that many people just don't feel that books are important enough to be worth keeping in their house. Even worse, many of these same people also don't feel they're important enough to go to the library and check out. As you described them, they are poor beggars and you are gorging yourself, but they have convinced themselves that they like living off muddy water and bits of shoe leather and you couldn't force them to eat with you if you tried.

Carolyn said...

I wonder how confused the poor survey people get with your added notes...particuarly on the "I don't read to my child...he reads to himself. constantly" line.

I hope you're having fun cataloging!