On the uniqueness of (personal) libraries

Photo showing part of a narrow bookcase with three shelves, containing a variety of reference works

Some of my books

What’s the minimum number of books required to positively identify someone by their personal collection? For me, at least, I’m willing to bet that it’s two: if anyone else has both the late Dick Golembiewski’s Milwaukee Television History and Eugene Holman’s 1984 Handbook of Finnish Verbs, seen at opposite ends of the center shelf in the photo at left, I would be very surprised. Of course, some people own no books at all, and a great many people own only books a great many other people also own. But it occurred to me the other day that this bookcase (you’re looking at the top 3/5 of my reference library) is about as close as anything to summarizing the sort of things I’m interested in — although computer networks, my nominal day job, are notably missing (as indeed that subject is from the rest of my non-fiction collection as well). I generally don’t care to buy technical non-fiction as it tends to be obsolete before it even makes it into the distributor’s warehouse.

Prof. Holman (then and I believe still today at the University of Helsinki) shared with me his program FINNMORF, a BASIC program which implemented all of the morphology of Standard Finnish, nouns and adjectives as well as verbs, which was an outgrowth of his work on the verb book. I made a desultory effort at rewriting it in C, but never got as far as a working example; today you’d probably use a more sensible language. I was in Finland as an exchange student in 1988–89, which made the matter of Finnish morphology rather more than an academic question for me.

Writing this caused me to spend a rather unproductive hour playing with Google Street View trying to see if I could recognize any of the places I had been 25 years ago. Helsinki railroad station I thought I recognized, but the YFU offices are long gone from Vironkatu 6, not that I would necessarily have recognized the building anyway. (YFU, the Youth For Understanding exchange agency, was located on the second floor, stairway “A”, room 11.) I couldn’t recognize either of the schools I had been in, and I’m pretty sure that there were no Subway sandwich shops overlooking the market square in Turku back in the summer of 1988. I was able to find the place I lived for most of my time in Finland, but as it’s at the end of a long wooded driveway I wasn’t able to see the building itself. Finland has more freeway now than it did back then, and the European “E routes” have all been renumbered. (The highway from Helsinki to Turku was the E3 back in the 1980s, but is now the E18; similarly, national highway 5 was the E80 and is now E63.)

This entry was posted in Books, Language, Transportation and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.