The Sorted Library is not quite like any other library you have been to. First, it’s hidden in the back of the IFP Made in NY Media Center, a co-working space in Dumbo, Brooklyn developed by the City of New York and the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP). Second, you can’t just walk in – you have to make an appointment first or go to a monthly open house. Third, you can’t take anything from the non-circulating library’s collection of 3,000 books. So what is the Sorted Library exactly?

The tiny, single-room library is the brainchild of Dev Aujla, a Canadian writer and author. The Sorted Library’s current incarnation is really a prototype for a larger idea. “The overall vision is to have a large space,” Aujla tells us, “with about 12 or 13 rooms that are this size, and to showcase the personal collections of famous creatives.” He would like to have copies of every book that someone such as writer Kurt Vonnegut, for example, would have in his personal collection. “That way you can actually search within the context of somebody else.” He and his team have visited the libraries of Vonnegut, artist Donald Judd, architect Alvar Alto, poet Fernando Pessoa, and others and incorporated a portion of each person’s collections into The Sorted Library.

Equally important to the source of the books is the sorting that is done by people who visit. From the existing books, visitors create their own “collection” that is personal to them. Themes can be anything under the sun, and collections have been academic, humorous, and everything in between. Some real collections have been titled, “Opposition: Books That Would Hate Each Other,” “Breakfast-Themed Covers,” “Syllabus @ 14 Years Old” (with books a mother felt her daughter should read at age 14), “how to escape from reality,” “fearless women,” and many more. We made our own collection about urban exploration when we visited! For ease of searching, however, the books are organized by subject matter in the library. Each book, if it is part of a collection, gets an insert with the visitor’s own notes.

Untapped Cities’ collection, described as “”This collection is a reflection of how I see the city, as a writer and professor of urbanism + architecture. The city is made up of each individual’s personal experiences, interactions with a greater community, and forces beyond each individual’s control. Each book addresses one of the above for me personally.” – A collection on The ‘Untapped’ City by Michelle Young. Photo by the Sorted Library.

Personal library collections either usually get passed down within a family or are given to an academic institution where you can only use the materials with white gloves. The Sorted Library, Aujla says, is a more “fun way of browsing,” a way to rethink how a library can serve and function. According to the vision statement of the Sorted Library, the methodology “forces you to browse across genres, and make nonlinear connections between disparate materials.” The utopian vision is rooted in Aujla’s belief that creative thinking is becoming more imperative today, and the Sorted Library applies an approach that is rigorous but also “leaves room for discovery and chance.”

Aujla got started when he bought a large collection of books from The Community Bookstore in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, a local landmark known for its cramped organization, unusual organizational logic, and was packed floor to ceiling with books. He bought over a thousand books and kept them in his one-bedroom apartment until the floor began sinking. Fortuitously, he met the director of the Made in NY Media Center, who said they had a library space, but no budget for books. A natural partnership was formed. The Sorted Library is funded through grants and a few wealthy individuals, as well as Aujla’s own funds.

Now, Aujla continues to travel all around the world to estates and private libraries, creating sub-collections of the books available. He purchases copies of them and adds them to the Sorted Library. Make an appointment to visit The Sorted Library by contacting [email protected].

Next, discover the 10 of NYC’s oldest libraries and the hidden histories of 10 of NYC’s independent bookstores.