Even the loo at home needs a librarian, says William Poole

I have too many books. I moved to a bigger college room some years ago because of this problem, but I am running out of space again.

There are piles of books on the floors and behind the couches; they go up and along, around and over; unprocessed acquisitions huddle up on my table, taunting me with my sloth.

Some people think that libraries reflect the learning of their owner, but I can tell you this is bosh.

What they do is reflect the kind of learning their owner wishes to have, but hasn’t really yet had the time to acquire.

Books shame me: even the ones I know quite well are right now decaying in my memory, and owning them is at best a reminder of what I am always losing than a trophy of what I retain.

On the one hand I like how they look – people will never give up owning actual books, because they are form of jewellery, a way of telling yourself and others what you are like, or like to be like. (My books: ‘facty and bling’.) Electronic texts just can’t do that.

But on the other hand do I, do we, need so many?

I get sent more and more to review these days, and the seven-word question I always have for a new book is: ‘Is it better you exist than not?’ I am looking now at the latest three: Not, Not, Not.

No use shunting them to the flat either: even the loo needs its own librarian.

Exactly 156 Dr Who novels in their correct order adorn one wall; another groans under the grammars of the various languages I should like to learn, but know in my heart I will not.

Sometimes I think it would be nice to be a scientist, what with all those turbines and chemicals and whatnot.

They do rather look down on us humanities types.

“Look!”, said one of the fellows in engineering to a guest of his, “This is the guy I mentioned to you, the one who actually gets paid for reading poems”.

Nice work if you can get it, I snarled back at them.

Or, as my dear colleague in mathematics observed: “The problem is that I could easily do your job, but could you do mine?” Killer.

And if you had to do a humanity? I asked him. “Classics. The only one with any teeth.”

Ah well. I am preparing myself to start selling books.

It’s a riskier pursuit than one might think in Oxford.

I do recall being in the Blackwell’s second hand department many years ago working my way down a distressing line of recent acquisitions, all marked with authorial inscriptions of the form: “To XYZ my dear doctoral supervisor – I really couldn’t have written this book without you, and I hope you will accept this unworthy offering as a small token of my ever-enduring etc. etc.”

With a grim grin I read again and again the name of my own doctoral supervisor.

Oh! There’s a copy of my first book … “To XYZ my dear doctoral supervisor … I really couldn’t have written …”