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How large is your personal library?

2014 March 31
by Libby Gorman
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My family is getting ready for an interstate move and putting our house up for sale. As a result, lots of our possessions, including most of our books, are currently residing in our garage so that our house is ready to “show” to potential buyers. It’s a little sad to see all the books sitting out there, some of them not even yet packed for the actual move:

books in garage

All this shifting and (some) boxing has made me wonder about how people manage the size of their book collections. In the spirit of Julie Bartel’s What Your Bookshelves Say About You post, I asked Hub bloggers to share, and here are some of their responses:

Sarah Debraski: Our personal library is immense-overwhelmingly so. I’ve never counted but I can confidently say between all of my books I’ve collected over the years, my husband’s books, and our kids books it’s definitely over a 1000 books. It’s actually the biggest consumer of our household space and something that I’ve been finding kind of troubling.  In my professional life I’m a great weeder-at home, not so much! Our books are on bookshelves throughout the house, stacks on dressers, all along a full wall of shelves in a basement room,and in towering stacks on the floor of that room. Some books I’ve found hard to get rid of because I thought they’d be nice to have someday for my kids, or some future rainy day. I also do love being surrounded by books-I find them comforting and filled with memories!  And once we had kids and started buying books for them it just added to the collection.  That said, this spring we’re having a yard sale, which will include a large book sale. I’m going to weed our collection and truly only keep the books that are extra special to me or that I know I will refer to and reread over the years.

Carla Land: I’m such a librarian…I have four large book cases full of books, plus shelves on other book cases that I use for “special collections” (like all of my Disney related books in one place, all of our tech manuals in one place…) Everything is in Library of Congress order…where it fits. In some cases I have so many books that I have to have them double stacked, one row behind another (this would be the case with my manga!) and I keep the kids/YA/Adult all separated. While I have no problem weeding the library collection, I can’t seem to ever let anything go from my own- I still have all of my college texts, more copies of the Lord of the Rings trilogy than I need, and it seems the only time I can get rid of anything is when I accidentally buy something I already own!

Sadly, I did this sort of thing before I became a librarian, too, so I can’t blame it on the profession!

Becky O’Neil: My personal library is actually quite small (most would say shockingly small, for a librarian!). I have winnowed it down several times over the years, and I would say the main reason is moving so many times. There’s no selection criteria quite like “do I love this book enough to move it AGAIN?!” As I’ve grown more accustomed to (read: spoiled by) access to books at work, I’ve become more particular about what I’ll spend my own money on and what I’ll allow to take up space in my house. Is it an heirloom book — a book I like so much, it’s a piece of me I’d want to bequeath to someone else? Is it an art object book — a book that is too big or too beautiful to ever be appreciated in an e-book form? If the design, craft, texture, or “thingness” of a book really impresses me, that book has a decent chance of ending up in my personal library. Now I just need to buy an actual coffee table…and hope that I always work in a library! :)

Jennifer Rummel: My personal library is an estimated 500 books: many from childhood/teen years, many I bought to read or to support my favorite authors, and several from conferences. I also have quite a few signed books, which I greatly treasure. My books explode in all directions from my library/craft room. Occasionally, I work on taking out the books that aren’t needed, but I confess I have a hard time parting with books.

Brandi Smits: I keep my private library somewhat on the smaller side.  I know that I would go absolutely crazy if I didn’t regulate it…I’m talking about sleeping on books, eating with books, swimming with books…you get the picture.  I only purchase books that I truly love.  If I would read the book a second, third, or tenth time, then I will buy the book.

Allison Tran: My personal library is pretty tiny, considering I’m a librarian. People expect that I’d have a house lined with bookshelves, but we just don’t have enough space in our house! I’ve curated my personal collection to include only books that I know I’ll read over and over (like my Betsy-Tacy books- the ultimate comfort) and autographed copies, particularly ones that are rather rare items. I’ll never part with my signed ARC of Libba Bray’s The Diviners, for example (a 2013 Best Fiction for Young Adults Top Ten selection).

As for me, my family book collection runs from huge to gigantic. My husband enjoys having a large collection, and as a doctoral student, he finds that he uses a wide variety of our collection, sometimes at unexpected points in his writing. I, like Sarah, have no trouble weeding other people’s (or library’s) books, but have difficulty parting from my own books–especially once they’ve been there for awhile. In addition, I’ve had at least two instances when I weeded a book only to realize I wanted to reread it later and then buy the book again. This has made me especially weeding-shy. Between the two of us and our three kids, we have 5 tall bookshelves and 4 short bookshelves packed full of books. I’m hoping that the move will allow for some weeding, but I don’t think I’ll ever get down to a collection that could be considered “small.”

Hub readers, do you have a book collection that’s enormous, or a well-weeded smaller collection? Let us know, especially those of you with tips for managing collections!

-Libby Gorman, currently reading Relic by Heather Terrell

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6 Responses
  1. March 31, 2014

    I’ll just add that since writing my bit for this post I began the weeding process and we’ve removed at least 300 books (probably more) from our collection. It’s still pretty big and it became clear that my husband and I had different criteria, but I’m feeling much better about it. For one thing, having it pared down has let me rediscover the books I love, that have been in hiding in my basement! Did we need 3 copies of Atlas Shrugged and 3 copies of Catcher in the Rye? No, we did not.

  2. Mickie permalink
    March 31, 2014

    My library is very small…I only keep reference books or books that I can’t readily find at my library or books that have sentimental or collectible value. I sneeze less and moving is a breeze.

  3. Lucie permalink
    March 31, 2014

    As a person who shares a teeny apartment with a tidy boyfriend, I am forced to constantly weed to fit on our one shared bookshelf… things that remain perpetually are my Betsy-Tacys (which seems to be true for more than just me!), J.D. Salinger and a complete collection of Edmund Crispin paperbacks. They will probably disintegrate eventually, which will solve the problem.

    I don’t often buy things, but there is a free book place near me where I always end up, and I often find surprise treasures, like old Betsy-Tacys or once a signed copy of a personal favorite, The City & The City by China Mieville. When those come up I have to re-evaluate and get rid of something… but then again, that is the fun of it! Sentimental value tends to trump anything else.

    My main problem is when people give me books that I don’t really want to keep – how do other people remain polite while conserving shelf space?

  4. Elaine Fultz permalink
    March 31, 2014

    My family’s library exceeds 1,000, possibly even 5,000. These posts have shocked me because I figured I wasn’t alone. I once told a group of kindergarten students that we had bookshelves in every room and they looked puzzled. I sent their teacher photos. The bookshelves are neat (no random piles on top of rows), and the books are categorized (manga in the teenager’s room, beginning readers and Lego titles on the little guy’s shelves, cookbooks and library books in the kitchen, and poetry in the master, for example). And teen books sprinkled a little bit of everywhere, of course.

  5. April 1, 2014

    Last summer I made the decision to downsize. It was easy when I was going through my clothes closets and the shelves in my storage room. If I haven’t used it or worn it for a year, it was gone. Needless to say, when I came to my books, the decision was not as cut and dried. I had many boxes of books packed away due to lack of shelf space. I realized they weren’t doing any good in a box, so 95% of those were in the “to go” pile. Then I had to tackle my picture books. As I have grandchildren that consider my home their personal library, I kept most of those and the young adult books that I have collected, because those little ones will grow up and need good books. For my adult literature, I picked out my favorite, the ones that I am constantly recommending and lending to friends and family. The others, went on the “to go” pile. I ended up donating 750 books to the local library for either their collection or their book store. it was a long difficult journey, but I felt great when it was done.

  6. Erin permalink
    April 1, 2014

    I have a huge library… on my Kindle! Several years ago I got rid of 99% of my physical books and acquired copies of them in digital format. Needless to say moving is much easier now :)

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