Recently, I spent awhile browsing the Walter Kerr collection of books in the library of the college that employs me. Kerr and his wife Jean were writers in New York in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s; he was best known as a theater critic and she as a playwright and essayist. His family donated his books to the school, and it occurred to me during my perusal that this section of the stacks seems more personal than the collection as a whole. Here are Kerr’s quirky book choices, his favored influences, his academic interests with a place among the trendier tomes on movies and Broadway.

A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self:

Through the ongoing process of organizing content and media elements which create personal profiles for specific audiences, social media users inadvertently curate versions of themselves. Social media turns users into curators as they create distinct incarnations that are separate, yet become the objectified digital presentation of one’s physical self. [definition from socialcurators at weebly]

“Curating” seems to be a trending concept these days, so I naturally checked the etymology:

derives from cure: c. 1300, “care, heed,” from Latin cura “care, concern, trouble,” with many figurative extensions, such as “study; administration; a mistress,” and also “means of healing, remedy,” from Old Latin coira, a noun of unknown origin. Meaning “medical care” is late 14c. (

Among those “many figurative extensions” is the curator in the sense of library science or museum administration. Now we can add social media users to the extension metaphors.

Perhaps curating oneself is more natural than I initially thought. My library probably offers a means of knowing who I am, or at any rate what I choose to value given what I have learned in my past; what we leave behind–as in Mr. Kerr’s library collection–becomes who we may be to others.

If they study, if they speculate, if they care.

While I was at the library, I borrowed a few books (of course). I will write about Arthur Frank’s classic book The Wounded Storyteller soon, I hope, in conjunction with some poems I’ve been working on. I also borrowed poetry collections by Matthea Harvey, Rachel Hadas, and Larry Levis.

Am I curating my life?




13 comments on “Curation

  1. That etymology is a revelation!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Isn’t it, though? Derives from the same idea as a curate, who “looks after the flock” (in theory), and is closer to words of caring and healing than to those that suggest choosing, culling, organizing, and archiving.
      But my friends who are librarians all seem more devoted to the caring-for aspect of library curating–oh, they do love books!–and I suspect that the museum curators out there also consider themselves protectors (restoring and caring for art).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On a Facebook post, I suggested that in Freudian terms, perhaps the curated self is ego and the non-curated self is id. Or, perhaps what we call “consciousness” is the curated self, or the process of curating. We choose, protect, and care for what each of us has decided the individual self is.
    That sounds like more of a dichotomy than I really believe it is, however.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. God I love etymology for those kinds of revelations. And I LOVE personal collections. This made me all excited about organizing my books on this snowy day stuck in the house.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lou Faber says:

    And, of course, every poet and story writer acts as her or his own curator when assembling a collection for possible publication. The task of curation, of organization is always fascinating, and every time I consider it I recall the (for me) classic scene in the film “High Fidelity” where John Cusack’s character is asked how he is reorganization his extensive vinyl record collection, and simply responds, “autobiographically.”

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ren Powell says:

    I sometimes wonder if my kids with eventually go through my library – nodding and then stop and say, “what is this doing here?”. I’d like to surprise them with say, Molly Flanders or something. Nah. Chicken Soup for the Soul.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ren Powell says:

    Argh. Moll Flanders.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. […] A personal library acts as a unit, books that are kept together rather than disbursed upon the death (or before-death donation) of the book collector. It therefore parallels–and predates, of course–the social media concept of the curated self[.] Ann E. Michael, Curation […]

    Liked by 1 person

  8. […] be de Chirico): to live as in a museum; for a museum’s purpose–behind its collection, curation, and presentation–is simply to offer up items for the community to […]

    Liked by 1 person


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