The library is unusual in that it uses a custom system of organization designed by Megan [Prelinger] that intends to facilitate and emphasize browsing. For example, the section on “Suburbia” is next to the section on “Domestic Environments”, then “Architecture”, which becomes “Graphic Design”, which in turn leads to “Typography” and “Fine Arts”, and then “Advertising” and “Sales”. There is no Dewey Decimal Classification system or card catalog.
The library was inspired in part by the Warburg Institute Library in London, founded by German art historian Aby Warburg. His disciple Fritz Saxl wrote: “The overriding idea was that the books together — each containing its larger or smaller bit of information and being supplemented by its neighbors — should by their titles guide the student to perceive the essential forces of the human mind and its history.” Warburg built his library to find connections and relationships between antiquity and the Renaissance. Likewise, the Prelingers’ library in part addresses the relationships among intellectual property, the evolution of media and cultural production.
Prelinger is a “serendipity” library, a library that emphasizes the experience of browsing and discovering things that were formerly unknown. The library can also be seen as a counterbalance to modern public libraries, which, as part of digital-library initiatives, emphasize computers and databases and are no longer a “mere warehouse for books”.
c.f. my post two years ago, when I learned about the Warburg Library