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I’ve been talking about talking about this for a couple of weeks now, and am finally getting round to it.

There are lots of labels in the shop. Category labels, price labels, description labels. I like labels. They can be pretty AND practical at the same time. They help with organisation, and information, and accessibility (when they stay stuck, anyway). Also finding stuff.

It has left me with a bit of a predicament on occasion though. For the most part, I have only one, maybe two copies of any given title at any given time. So presented with something like, say, Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, I have a dilemma. Does it go in Mythology? In with Northern Tradition? Or in Fiction alongside his other titles?

Big Metaphorical Labels
It may seem a bit frivolous in terms of physical labels on physical things, but I think there’s good reason that we apply the same principles and terminology when we talk about labelling people, which has come to be seen as A Bad Thing. And in broad terms I don’t really understand why (which admittedly could be mostly to do with my own mindset, but I don’t think I’m alone here). It’s natural to want to classify things, to find a way to understand, to relate, to remember. Any given characteristic, interest, experience or fact will, for me, automatically generate a label that, yes, I will apply to that person. It’s a reference point for me. Let’s me determine what might be suitable conversation, reminds me of things to ask about, let’s me see if we have any labels in common, or any I might want to find out more about. Ultimately, it’s just codified information.

But I think the mistake has been (or is, or was, or can be) to ignore the plurality. Like with the books, it’s ridiculous to assume that only one label can and should apply. It’s why I still get a slight tick at being referred to as ‘the witch shop’ – firstly, I feel it’s far too narrow and specific a definition, and secondly (and much more personally), I strongly suspect that if I was a) male, or b) a bit more distinguished in years I would have far less people asking if I was a witch, or simply assuming I am one. I’m not insulted, or offended, and I wouldn’t even go so far as to say they’re entirely wrong, but what I dislike is the idea that a decision has been made about me based on, well, nothing. There are easily half a dozen other paths I could be on, and an entire multitude of other aspects and attributes I can be very merrily labelled with, but I would rather it was based on something real. It should be a well-founded starting point, subject to change and reassessment, not a convenient means of sidelining, trivialising or dismissing something.

As an individual, I would rather have lots and lots of labels than none at all. I will always love labels, I will always find them useful and therefore will probably always use them but like any tool it’s how you use them that counts. Accept or disavow them as you please – or consider how many more you could be acquiring…

(And if you do find anything mis-classified either on the physical or digital shelves please do let me know, it’s not always easy to keep on top of by myself!)