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The BIG question: Why do you have a personal library?

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1timspalding
Edited: Feb 21, 2015, 11:00am Top

This question has arisen on Twitter recently, which means it couldn't really go far enough. 140 characters is not conversation, it's declaration.

So I ask you. Leaving LibraryThing to the side, do you have some books around, or do you think of yourself as having a collection or personal library? What does that mean to you? What is your personal library for? Does it have books you haven't read? May not read? What does it cover and why?

My goal is to hold specific books I love and will re-read, or expect I may read soon, of course. But beyond that, I want a "well-rounded" personal library. I want to be able to say "I think I want to read about Australian history tonight" or "What do we know about asteroids?" or "I think I'd like to read Flaubert" (whom I've never read), and have that desire satisfied in my own home.(1)

This desire for roundness is also fractal, extending to roundness in subjects I'm interested in. I have a strong interest in Greek and Latin literature, and obviously have copies of my favorites (Herodotus, Sallust, Longus…). But I've also spent many years rounding it out. I'm not planning to read Lucian or Vitruvius, but I've got them, if I want them. (Doing this without spending too much requires constant used-book browsing.)

This attitude has been shaken a bit by instant availability. Twenty years ago, a personal library was important to settling a debate at dinner—my family kept a dictionary near the table for just that reason. Now we Google it. But it's still my goal.

So that's me. I know other people don't collect, or collect for very different reasons. How about you?


1. This is, I admit, a privileged attitude. I can afford books. For what it's worth, however, this was how I worked when I was a poor student. (See Erasmus "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.") I don't have a lot of money vices.

2MarthaJeanne
Feb 21, 2015, 11:06am Top

As my husband and mother noticed the other night, My first reaction is still to look for a book when a question comes up that I want to research. Only when that fails do I grab my iPad.

I have spent a lot of my life living in a non-English environment, so a lot of my library is to be able to read, reread, research .. on topics that are hard to get English language books on. Also, just to have books to read. I am reading an increasing amount of German, but it is a lot more work.

3bmljenny
Feb 21, 2015, 12:20pm Top

I think I have the ultimate privilege because I work at a big research library. If there's a classic I need to consult, I have access to it every day. I don't need to fill my home with debate-settling books.
My personal library is made of books I keep because they bring me some kind of joy:
- Art/design books I just simply want to own and would roll around in if I could.
- Books that stretched my brains. These are mostly books that I could easily get from the library if I wanted to re-read them, but I keep them around because I want to be reminded.
- Nostalgic books I've been carrying around for decades and can't part with, and boy howdy is there some dreck in this bunch, but I don't care.

4aulsmith
Feb 21, 2015, 12:39pm Top

Both aul and smith have had problems in our younger days with books disappearing from libraries/book stores that we planned to read. We now hoard books that we might want to read that look likely to disappear. For the most part, we've dumped the classics that the public library keeps (though this recently backfired on us -- we had to re-buy Bleak House because it was too long to read on the library's check out period).

So our personal libraries are our fiction collections (mostly science fiction), smith's linguistic books, aul's wide ranging research interests (mostly queer/gender/women's studies), and an eclectic mix of books that look really interesting, or did when we bought them.

We have research libraries nearby, but can only mostly access them through cranky reference librarians at the public library (my latest request for an Interlibrary Loan was met with "Why don't you buy it on Amazon. It's only 79 cents." They did finally order it for me.)

But I have to say that 6000 books is too many for people in their sixties to own, especially if they are planning on moving to smaller quarters, and we've also started dumping books we're unlikely to re-read no matter how rare and reading more online.

5MarthaJeanne
Feb 21, 2015, 12:56pm Top

Jerry and I are in our sixties and down to about 5,000 after 4 moves in the past 20 years. And I really miss some of those I gave away.

6ScarletBea
Feb 21, 2015, 1:05pm Top

I don't know if I call my books a 'library'. I assume they are.

My books are my most valued possessions, and I want them to be a mirror to my self. I want people to discover who I am by looking at my shelves, so not that interested in having a 'well-rounded' library. The books I have are the ones that make me happy, as well as a reflection of my past life, when books in english were really hard to get hold of.

I'd like my books to be the starting point of discovery... to be honest, the easiest way for me to go on a date would be to show them my books, and get them asking questions :) Easiest way to discover compatibility hehe

I have nothing like the numbers mentioned in previous posts, none are rare or valuable, but I take enormous pride in my books :)

7southernbooklady
Feb 21, 2015, 1:14pm Top

>1 timspalding: do you think of yourself as having a collection or personal library? What does that mean to you? What is your personal library for? Does it have books you haven't read? May not read? What does it cover and why?

I have a personal library, most definitely. It's something that has been years in the making, and you could say my choice of career was driven by my love of books and reading, so that I've always to some extent gravitated towards a state of existence that includes rooms full of books.

As such, my library serves several purposes -- it allows me to indulge my curiosity about things (I like to learn stuff) and it allows me to indulge in the pleasure I feel at the well-expressed thought or beautiful phrase (I love language). Every book is to some extent an open door to a wider world. It's sort of TARDIS-like in that sense.

And yes, there are books in it I haven't read, although very few I haven't at least perused or paged through. The books I won't read (I do get sent a fair number of these) I now pass along to the neighbors in my Little Free Library. But mostly, the books I have represent me -- my life, my thoughts, my ongoing evolution from then until now. So they are a kind of portrait, or the book-version of a photo album documenting who I am. And in that way my library is a series of touchstones that remind me what it is to be me.

Plus, if armegeddon happens, all the knowledge in the world will not be lost as long as my living room stays relatively intact.

8hailelib
Feb 21, 2015, 2:04pm Top

While we do make extensive use of the public library, our personal library is one of the last things we will give up. It's a reminder of where we started and who we are now and a lot of my reading at the moment is from our shelves. Out of the last eight books I started six were from our collection and only two were borrowed from the public library. We don't buy books as often as we used to but we probably will continue adding them occasionally.

9klarusu
Feb 21, 2015, 2:40pm Top

I tried hard to use libraries but I always forget to take the books back. I think of my books as a library. There are so many I haven't read but that's the great thing because I can usually find something on most subjects at the drop of a hat. That's not why I choose them though - I buy what I'm interested in and there's not a lot that I'm not interested in. Having spent a number of years living in Eastern Europe in the early 90s when it was so hard to get hold of English language books and when there was not a lot of choice in foreign titles translated into Polish (it's very different now!), having a 'savings account' of unread books saved me. In recent years, I've been trying to exchange classic & much-loved books for fine press editions because they give me pleasure.

Not a day goes by that I'm not grateful for being privileged enough to own this many books. Someone once described me as fundamentally incredibly contented, as long as I had my books. With the obvious addition of health of family and friends, that pretty much sums me up.

10nemoman
Feb 21, 2015, 2:54pm Top

I must have a lot of reasons for wanting a personal library, and they have evolved throughout the years. My college education was science and engineering oriented, so I had to embark on my own private liberal arts curriculum. I began my library by buying Geat Books of the Western World, and embarked on the great ideas reading program. To fill my literature gaps, I subscribed to Franklin Library' Greatest Book series. I loved the physical beauty, the leather, the illustrations, etc. I also had in my mind that I wanted to surround my children with books, music, and art. I later, developed a large nonfiction collection in areas of interest. They tend to cross-fertilse each other. If I am reading a new book on Tuscany, a particular topic may prompt me to take down other books that discuss the same subject. They also are wonderful resources for travel planning. Being surrounded by books also makes me simply feel good, like the companionship of old friends. I also have troubles getting rid of books that no longer serve their purpose, and which I have not touched in years. Maybe a touch of OCD or simply keeping a roadmap of where I have bee.

11lquilter
Feb 21, 2015, 3:05pm Top

I love and use my local public library and the library I work at. But I also maintain a personal library. I want to be able to pull books off the shelf and browse them, or show them to someone else. Sometimes I want to pull off a small set of books I've previously read and flip through them to find references or quotes or discussions I remember, so I can write something. The format is better to do that with books than computers. I also keep a lot of fiction, and poetry, and art, and graphic novels, which are nice to look at and not as nice electronic. And reference books of various sorts on hand. All of this is because of format preference -- there are just situations in which it's preferable to me to have a print copy on hand.

I use my computer -- books.google.com, electronic copies, amazon's "look inside" feature, straight-up google, library databases -- all the time to figure out information, and I'm delighted to have those electronic resources.

I am increasingly using electronic book lending for certain categories of books: Quick fiction that I read and don't expect to re-read, or to pass along. Ideally this would, once read, be indexed in a comprehensive full-text database -- so that when I am plagued by some memory of a passage I can figure it out. But it wouldn't be the same thing as the books that I want to "own".

I will still buy from thrift stores, for example, extra copies of books that are out of print but that I highly recommend and want to be able to pass along to people. I buy these copies solely to give away!

12casvelyn
Feb 21, 2015, 3:09pm Top

Asking me why I own books is like asking me why I breathe: I can't help it.

Actually, in my mind, I don't "own books." I "have a library."

I'm not trying to replace the public library, which tries to be all things to all people. (This is both a fact and a criticism.) My library tries to be all things to me. If I had more money and more space, it would be more than what it is now. Because of the whole money thing, I usually borrow books from the library, and then buy my own copy if I like it well enough to want to reread it.

Some of what I do is collecting: I'm trying to get a full run of Agatha Christie without paying more than $1 for any individual book. I collect first editions of authors who were part of the Golden Age of Indiana Literature. It's an obscure enough interest that the first editions are cheap, particularly since I'm not picky about condition.

Otherwise, I have the books I have because I like them. For the most part, anyway; some I haven't read yet and others are holdovers from college classes that I'll probably never reread, but don't want to get rid of yet. Most of the books I have yet to read are ones I've heard good things about and found at the library book sale on half price day. For $0.25, I can afford not to like something. Sometimes I can take it down to the Half Price Books and sell it for more than I paid for it.

And then the public library has a nasty habit of selling off the books I'm interested in so they can put in more computers. (Or inferior books: I went into the philosophy section of my library branch looking for Plato, and all they had was Oprah and some "inspirational" book by some football player.) I think the city should just open some public computer labs and leave the libraries for the books. Where else can you get access to the best and brightest minds in the world for just a few dollars in taxes each year?

13TheoClarke
Feb 21, 2015, 4:01pm Top

My books are a library to me. Sadly I do not follow any consistent or rational acquisition policy although my spouse has made the reasonable request that I stick to a more appropriate retention policy (baldy: start clearing the rubbish). We have about 8000 books in the house; of which some 40% are catalogued here.

14Lyndatrue
Feb 21, 2015, 4:20pm Top

I've been reading the responses to this all morning. I've tried to decide the answer to *why*, but as is true with other things, it's complicated. Before I retired, my personal library probably numbered in the several thousand. Even now, less than one fourth the books I own are cataloged here on LT. I really have (and had) several distinct libraries.

There are those technical books I still find useful. In some cases, I know that I could not replace them (the full series on X Windows is a good example). I left many technical books behind, or gave them away, or even tossed them out. Some technical books remain useful forever (or nearly so); others are outdated in a year or two. I'd say I've cataloged about 20% of that part of my library. I do those as I think about it.

There are children's books that my daughter loved when she was small. Some of those were my books when I was small. They're nearly all packed away. Some of them (the most precious) are in my cedar chest. I've given a lot of children's books away (to libraries, and to relatives).

When I first showed up here on LT (November 2013), I'd already pruned my very large paperback collection of science fiction. I believe 90% of what I still have has been cataloged here; perhaps more. I got rid of nearly all of what I'd kept over time, keeping only those that I couldn't bear to part with, or that I knew I'd read over again (those are often the same thing, though).

Then there are those books that I buy because they're rare, or beautiful, or both. Many times I buy those books not because I intend to read them, but out of a certain responsibility to keep them from the hands of those that would cut out pictures to frame them (I've seen this often enough that I now automatically rescue books that are candidates for this). Could I let a copy of The Bible Gallery be destroyed?

I love books. I know that, all too often, things simply fall out of fashion, and disappear. I know what most modern libraries have become, and how little space they have for most things. Digital books are too ephemeral, and every time a book I like is published only in that format, I die a little inside.

I have books in nearly every room in the house (and it's not a small house), except the bedroom. There's a stack I'm currently reading in the living room, cookbooks in the kitchen, music books and a few rarities in the room in the music/writing desk room. There's a room which is nearly all books (including those that are packed away). There are sewing and needlework books in the sewing room, and most of the very old books live in a room that has a book case made of glass. Books are wonderful.

Libraries saved me when I was younger. I got to read side by side copies of translations of Voltaire, and Tolstoy (and a hundred others), because people had willed their collections to the libraries. Libraries no longer have room to keep such things, which is quite sad.

Books really are wonderful.

15Lyndatrue
Edited: Feb 21, 2015, 4:20pm Top

This message has been deleted by its author.

16Bookmarque
Feb 21, 2015, 4:20pm Top

Interesting question, Tim. I’ve always had books around me and so it’s just my natural habitat. My books are just that though; books. Not a library in the sense that there’s anything to be accomplished with it. I’m not trying to amass any specific type of book or collection, aside from some authors whose work I do follow and thus buy. And some of my interest areas such as the flora of New England, mostly as a complement to my photography work - I like to know what I’ve shot and so have a lot of books for ID. Other than that, things wax and wane as my interests do. Mostly books remain with me because I hope they’ll entertain me someday; either again or for the first time.

Lately I’ve been feeling less sentimentally attached to my books and I purge or prune them often. Not just because of lack of space, but because I am changing. Hanging onto books just because I was once interested in them isn’t something I need to do anymore.

17morningwalker
Feb 21, 2015, 4:39pm Top

The small answer: Because when I need a book, I need it at my fingertips, now. I've never been bookless, and I'm not going to start now!

18tardis
Edited: Feb 21, 2015, 8:00pm Top

I have a personal library, and I always will.

In theory I keep what I love and know I will re-read or need to refer to. In practice there's a lot that I'll never read or use again and occasionally I admit this to myself and have a little purge. Or I actually do re-read something and discover that the suck fairy has got at it, so out it goes.

I am less likely to buy books these days, due to space limitations and trying to be a bit more realistic about what I'm likely to re-read. I'm a big library user and almost always have a pile of library books to hand. However, sometimes I just want to be able to re-read something I already know I love - for comfort or because something has reminded me of it and that sparks the desire to re-read.

Oh, and a room lined with full bookshelves is my definition of a cozy, happy place :)

19MrsLee
Feb 22, 2015, 12:52am Top

>6 ScarletBea: said, "I don't know if I call my books a 'library'. I assume they are."

I think that is intriguing. What is a library? Does the meaning of it go beyond a personal collection of books? I don't know.

Books have always been a part of my life, but I never started saving them until I was in my twenties, apart from a few of my beloved children's books. I have photos of a lovely and large oak bookshelf I bought at a yard sale before I was married and it only has about twenty books on it. Now I have rooms full of bookshelves which are full of books. 32 years of purchasing, reading and collecting.

I have books which I love, can't bear to part with and know I will read again. I have books which I have read, enjoyed, they were excellent and although I may never get around to reading them again, I save them on the chance one of my friends or children will want to read them, or I will want to refer to them.

I have lots of books I have not read. Bookshelves full of them. Some inherited, some picked up here and there at a bargain price because they either looked interesting or came highly recommended.

I have many reference types of books which we used when my children were home and being home-schooled. Yes, they had the internet for a reference, but we all found that digging into books together and pouring over them was more satisfactory in the group learning mode. And the pictures. We love the pictures. Also, it's easier to flip back and forth to check things in a book.

Will I keep all of these? Certainly not. However, there are some I will never part with because they are a part of me. I can't imagine living in a place without books. It wouldn't be a home for me.

20kgriffith
Edited: Feb 22, 2015, 3:00am Top

I moved from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, to San Francisco, California, on January 4, 2007. It was my first cross-country move, and my first permanent move 1) that crossed county lines, and 2) for which I was entirely responsible, my previous moves being either temporary or as a dependent (of my parents). I did so with 3 checked pieces of luggage, one rolling carry-on, and one under-the-seat-in-front-of-me carry-on. I shipped my desktop computer and a couple of boxes of belongings I couldn't be without, books included.
Then I discovered San Francisco's independent bookstores and thrift stores with incredible book departments.
And I got a job with a pretty hefty salary.
I went crazy.
I bought armloads and stacks and bags and boxes of books. Community thrift had a special where you could get as many books (as much of anything really but who cared about anything but the books) as you could fit in a paper bag for $2 and I went religiously, heading straight for the "new arrivals" shelves because you never knew when a first edition or a signed copy or just your favorite book would land there before one of the volunteers saw it for what it was.
When I decided to move back to Maine for several reasons, I refused to part with any of the books I had collected. I would bring them all, dammit, because I had worked hard to amass these 1,000-ish works, and I would have them to show for my time in SF, at least.
I'm glad I did that. I truly am. Because when I got here, and got settled, and got to the point where I could really think about the books I owned - I could let them go on purpose, and not because I felt like I had to.
So now, finally, yes, I do feel like I have a personal library. Am I shitty at culling the stacks? Absolutely. But I know that none of the titles I give away or swap or turn into art or otherwise remove from my library will come back into my collection, because I have consciously decided that I do not want or need them. I track them in my LT catalog because I feel like, if they DO make it back into the collection, there's a reason, and I should look at that.

21alco261
Edited: Feb 22, 2015, 12:01pm Top

I have a passion for re-purposed trees.

22Cheryl50
Feb 22, 2015, 12:04pm Top

My library started before I knew it. Bugged Nana to buy as many Scholastic Books. From there it just grew. All or most free too. At the college I found a few, but the best event is my Internship at Cony High School Library. They were building a new school and our esteemed Superintendent told Mr. Small to get rid of all old and ugly. I picked up a lot there and I do mean a lot. Plus a buddy from school was doing her Internship at a small elementary school that had a public library. She weeded out all inappropriate books for Grades K-8. I WILL positively not buy a brand new book. By the time I read what I have I'll have acquired it most likely will be in there. Thanks Tim you ol' Maniac!

23thorold
Edited: Feb 23, 2015, 7:56am Top

Why have a personal library?
- Tradition & upbringing: I grew up in a house full of books and was made to look things up whenever I had a question
- Providing for the mythical rainy day: living in a foreign country makes you want to gather English books
- Image: I want to imagine myself as an 18th century gentleman in his library, I probably also want my friends to look at my shelves and see how sophisticated I must be
- Because I can: I can afford to buy books and make space in my home for them. There is nothing forcing me to prune.

Why not?
- At least half the books I read these days are ebooks of various kinds
- Any reasonably obvious book I need is obtainable either on paper or in digital form within a few days
- Most casual research enquiries can be resolved by googling
- My employer provides access to more databases than I could possibly need for my work
- I have a national library, at least two large university libraries and a very good municipal library within a few km of where I live
- You can't take it with you: one day someone will have the job of dispersing my library

What would I keep if I were serious about turning the accretions of years into a proper library?
- Things I'm likely to take off the shelf to consult or dip into, things I want to re-read, things that look nice on the shelf.
- In the first category poetry, some reference books, history, literary/musical biography and some critical works.
- In the second category a few treasured novelists (P.G. Wodehouse, Barbara Pym, ...)
- In the third category Folio Society editions, a few modern firsts, and some pre-1914 science and engineering books

I think I could throw out 90% of my novels and without a serious qualm.

24Crypto-Willobie
Edited: Feb 26, 2015, 12:09pm Top

>1 timspalding:
Do you have some books around, or do you think of yourself as having a collection or personal library? What does that mean to you?

How did I get to have 'too many books'? What does it mean?

My dad was a born-again reader. He was raised reasonably poor in depression-era Pittsburgh, was kicked out of Catholic high school for threatening a priest, and when he returned from WWII he ran numbers for a bit when he couldn’t find work. But then there was the GI Bill, which changed so many lives. Not well-educated, but smart, he earned a degree in psychology at Pitt, inspired by the psychiatrist who treated him for his WWII nightmares (not yet called PTSD). He started a family and became a True Believer in Education – bigots and criminals were not ‘evil’, they were ‘ignorant’, and if we could only educate them… Eventually he earned two more degrees (in epidemiology) and my sisters and I were raised to value books and reading. Our rec-room had a wall of bookshelves, filled with his college English texts, book of the month club selections, airport paperbacks, and the Airmont Classics we bought at Toys R Us. “Hi honey, I’m home!”

When I was four years old I asked my mother how to write “My” and I went and wrote that one word in all my storybooks -- and I still have a few of them, so I guess it worked. I was fortunate to have a great reading teacher in 1st grade (thanks, Mrs Gonano!). I spent as much time as I could in the school library and the neighborhood library. Libraries were at the same time safe, ordered places, and sites of boundless, even dangerous, potential. When I was eleven I took all of my books (several dozen!) and taped labels on their spines to create the “Gruenther Library,” named after the street where I lived. Needless to say, I was this particular library’s only patron. English classes (and English teachers -- Hi Miss Baker! Hi Miss Breault!) were my favorites in junior high and high school.

At one time I thought I was going to be an actor, and then I was going to be a poet. I studied Speech & Drama at Catholic U. and English at UMCP and got my B.A. and about a third of an M.A. But somehow I ended up in retail. I managed record stores for ten years, but all along, even when I was peddling Led Zep platters, I was accumulating books, and spending most of my time reading or studying (not necessarily the same thing). I developed a strong interest in Shakespeare and English Renaissance theatre, and since I no longer had easy access to university libraries I began to put together a ‘working library’ to support my studies. (Today my working library of medieval, renaissance, and restoration drama is about 4000 volumes on LT; this does not count related poetry, prose, and history, and drama of other eras.) Eventually I switched to managing bookstores, then became a Buyer for one of the best indies around -- Olsson's Books & Records in the Washington DC area. I stayed there for twenty years, mostly at the Bethesda MD store, until in 2008 Olsson’s bit the dust after 36 years. Before and after Olsson’s I worked at a couple other bookstores.

Being at Olsson’s created a kind of imperfect storm which fed my already ingrained tendency to surround myself with books. As a buyer I was barraged with ARCS (advance reading copies) – I have about 1000 of these in my LT library, and probably another thousand or so in storage. This may seem excessive, but if you figure that’s only 2 arcs a week every week for 20 years you see it’s a very modest selection of what was thrown at me. Then there are “strips”: at some point (at least by the 1980s) the book industry decided it was cheaper to destroy and write off ‘mass-market’ paperbacks than restock them from returns, so every new-book store is constantly tearing the covers off unsold mass-markets (to submit for credit) and tossing the books themselves into the dumpster. When I first began working at bookstores this horrified me and I scooped up as many as I could. Pretty soon I had a basement full of boxes of coverless paperbacks I didn’t really want to read, so I bit my lip and became pickier about what I saved. I have close to 1000 strips (25+ years, remember) in my LT collection, many of them mysteries or other ‘genre’ paperbacks, though not a few classics and misc as well. Finally there was the bookstore employee discount, combined with being surrounded by books at work, and the occasional opportunity to trade books I’d been given for books I wanted: my walls of books just kept expanding.

In addition to the arcs, strips and the working library and its annexes, I began to treat my other interests in a similar fashion, accumulating a critical mass in the area so that I could have the right books at my fingertips when I was pursuing a thread – hence the quantities of books on poetry, language, Arthuriana, baseball, music, history, religion (though I’m at best a vaguely spiritual agnostic), etc. There are also some areas that at different times I began Collecting with a capitol C -- prominent among them certain fantasy authors (James Branch Cabell, JRR Tolkien, Arthur Machen).

So. Is my library a library? Mos’ def. It more than fills the finished basement, the unfinished basement, and one of the extra bedrooms; it’s more or less organized; and I inhabit it, use it like a library. I pull books I need, stack them by my desk, I have piles to re-shelve. I have it catalogued (thanks, Tim!). And is it a collection? Yes, that too. I Collect books with signatures (& bookplates, etc) of Shakespeareans and theatre scholars; signed and/or firsts of a few contemporary authors who, working in the bookstores, I grew to love; the above-mentioned SFF writers, and etc.-- especially etc. Back in the early '70s, when I was in college, instead of getting high and going to a concert I would get high and roam the library stacks, browsing. I still hang out in the stacks but now they’re mine, and I’m too old to get high.

Do I have too many books? OK, yeah… but (getting defensive) I mean, No! I don’t have too many books, I don’t, I don’t, I don’t hate the South! (oops, slipped into my audiobook there…). Will I read them all, even if I live another 30 years? (I’m 62.) Of course not. But I’ll certainly read a heck of a lot from this library. I read constantly, and am finally retired. I read some stuff on the web but I can’t adapt my habits to e-readers. This library is where I feel comfortable, comforted, at home -- it's where i live. OK, too dramatic, yeah? I do get out and see real people, love my forbearing wife, and family; but to quote Samuel Butler: Lord Macaulay has a passage in which he contrasts the pleasures which a man may derive from books with the inconveniences to which he may be put by his acquaintances. "Plato," he says, "is never sullen. Cervantes is never petulant. Demosthenes never comes unseasonably. Dante never stays too long. No difference of political opinion can alienate Cicero. No heresy can excite the horror of Bossuet." I dare say I might differ from Lord Macaulay in my estimate of some of the writers he has named, but there can be no disputing his main proposition, namely, that we need have no more trouble from any of them than we have a mind to, whereas our friends are not always so easily disposed of.

But that’s a little raw. If Dante were to approach the Gate of my Book Hell, the inscriptions he would see above the portal would be:

I have made a heap of all that I could find...
-- pseudo-Nennius

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
-- T.S.Eliot

25reading_fox
Feb 23, 2015, 10:19am Top

I would say I have a collection of books I've enjoyed. I have a read pretty much all of the fiction, and as much of the non-fiction as I'm inclined to. (although there's a lot of books I wish to read that I haven't yet owned). I re-read frequently, and hate the thought of not having favourites to hand, which is sufficient reason for me to own a 'library'. These days my collection is maybe 50/50 ebooks vs pbooks. Either are bought depending on what I can find, but ebooks for preference in fiction and pbooks for reference.

26Cecrow
Edited: Feb 23, 2015, 11:33am Top

My library is probably 90% fiction, not a lot of reference value to be had. Although a huge chunk of it is classics and well reviewed modern stuff, I don't want to mount a defence along those lines. I've read about 4/5ths of my collection, so I don't have much to stand on there either.

It's an identity thing; like a singer identifies with songs and his/her voice, as someone who is first/foremost a reader I identify with what I've read.

It's also a memory room. Like the George Martin character says, you only live once unless you read. I feel like I've lived all of these additional other lives, and I rarely want to part with a token of those experiences.

The smaller portion I haven't read is there to build anticipation, a quality that should not be underrated.

Neither of these reasons gives my library much value beyond my own mortality, so I don't much care what happens after I'm gone. So long as I'm here though, I'll treasure it.

27Helcura
Feb 23, 2015, 2:14pm Top

I'm hoarding knowledge in preparation for the zombie apocalypse. Also, if I can't sleep I want to read the exact book I want to read, and not have to wait until the public library is open.

If the zombies don't arrive, I hope the people who come to my estate sale after I die get the thrill and excitement of finding treasures they didn't know they wanted.

28TLCrawford
Feb 23, 2015, 2:20pm Top

For many years I was nothing more than a hoarder of books. I kept what I bought or received as gifts. When my first wife decided that some had to go it was no big loss. Years later I became focused on collecting first editions of mystery writers first books. I called it my retirement fund only half in jest. Since about 2007 I have really focused on US history. My fiction has gradually gone to Half Price Books and the history has gotten to the point that I have to be very careful about titles I buy, chances are I already have them. Now I consider that I have a library.

29trav
Feb 23, 2015, 10:18pm Top

Amassing a personal library is the closest thing I have to a hobby. I’m not nostalgic, so all the books from my childhood are gone (will I regret that one day?). Also, I’m not a re-reader, so what I keep must have some value to me. I want my personal library to mainly be a working library. And it sure is fun acquiring books for it.

Thanks to LibraryThing I can tell you that I buy one fiction book for every 11 non-fiction. This doesn’t really reflect how I read (I read more fiction than that), but it does give you an idea of what I’m building at home.

The first questions I ask before buying a book is: Does the public library have this? How hard would this book be to find again? Is it a fair price? On my phone I have home-screen shortcuts to LibraryThing, my local public library’s catalog search, and abebooks. I can arrive at an answer pretty quickly.

That being said I am targeting my home library. I am collecting books about books. I am lucky enough to work for a small book publisher. I started a few years before ‘ebooks happened’. So I was buying every book and essay about the shifting publishing industry, etc. that I could find. That’s what got me started. At work, I make ebooks, apps and online resources. It’s great fun. You can add lots of value to books, research and content this way. But it is not the same. I make ebooks all day, but there is no inspiration in them. Due to my work, I am fortunate to get to think about the future of publishing and reading. My personal library helps me organize my thoughts and plans in a way that digital resources can’t. Ebooks are certainly useful, but they could never motivate me the way my shelves at home can.

Also, I have two kids now. Filling the house with books was a must when they came into the world. There is no doubt in my mind that they will be better off for having grown up in a house surrounded by books. Books hit them in a way, during those formative moments, that not even the most award-winning education app can.

30AndreasJ
Feb 24, 2015, 2:33am Top

I guess I've never seriously considered not having a pile of books. As a kid I was given books, as a teen and adult I've kept buying books that weren't available from the local library or Gutenberg (which, given my interests, are most books I want to read). I occasionally give away or otherwise get rid of books, especially in the last few years, but mostly they just accumulate with little thought as to whether they'll ever get opened again. Many of the history books do get used again for reference, but hardly any of the fiction.

I've got no ambitions to have a well-rounded library, or one representative of anything. Some subjects I've read a fair bit of are absent simply because the local library is well-stocked therewith. In this sense it's more of an accumulation than a deliberate collection.

An increasing proportion of what I read is e-books, which last year I took to cataloguing next to the dead tree books on LT, but the prevalence of DRM on non-fiction has as yet kept it to a minority.

31AsYouKnow_Bob
Feb 24, 2015, 8:08pm Top

"Why do you have a personal library?"

Why, to impress potential partners, of course.

(Why does anybody do anything?)

32thorold
Feb 25, 2015, 5:12am Top

>31 AsYouKnow_Bob:
Any tips you can share? :-)

Apart from putting your collection of suitably battered Lonely Planets, cookbooks, and car maintenance manuals somewhere prominent and hiding the Harlequin/M&B collection and the science-fiction paperbacks, of course...

33sturlington
Feb 25, 2015, 7:13am Top

I have been weeding my personal library, so this is a good question for me to think about now. Since I read so much on my Kindle, I like to own physical books that are both meaningful to me and beautiful to look at, that spark joy in my heart when I hold them. I'd also like to have a well-rounded library so that when my son is bored and looking for something to read, he'll have a great chance of stumbling onto something terrific. I've been trying to acquire really nice editions of classics, not just the traditional classics, but also in the genres of science fiction, crime, horror and some fantasy. The caveat being that they are classics I really enjoyed reading and are not just for show. Harper Perennial Modern Classics has been putting out some beautiful trade paperback editions that I can't help buying when I see them in the store. I've become very picky about what I keep in my library, but I also have limited shelf space.

34DavLL56
Mar 6, 2015, 10:02am Top

I do consider my book collection as a library. If I want to read a certain book at 3AM I can because I have it. The only problem I have not knowing where the book is located. Also I don't know what I own. Thanks to LibraryThing, I can catalogue my books. I love the many features. I have use other database software but end up losing the information somehow. I find I don't use the public library system as I am not sure if the book I want will be there in the future. I buy a lot of my books at book sales(many run by libraries themselves!). I have purchased many discarded books from libraries. I collect some authors and most likely the library my not have the book in their collection.

35Amberfly
Mar 6, 2015, 5:25pm Top

I consider my books a collection more than a personal library. It's mostly fiction, too specialized in genre and too haphazardly collected for the title of library. I don't particularly care about being well-rounded or thorough, or whether the books are "important" to anyone but me. I only keep books I've liked and may want to revisit, and unread ones that I think I'll like at some point in the near future. I'm lucky in that I have access to several public libraries, two branches of the (huge) county system and one independent run by the next town over, and yet I haven't utilized them much in several years. I find it hard to enjoy a book when there's a limited timeline to finish it, and if I really enjoy a book I want the option to keep it--both of these things are obstacles to regular library use. I balance the expense of owning everything I want to read by buying cheap, and buying used whenever I can.

As to why I have this drive to collect books, I don't think I can answer that in any concrete way. I love books. Collecting books, surrounding myself with them, makes me happy. I love the way they feel and smell and sound when I turn the pages, the way they look lined up on my shelves. I grew up in a home with a lot of books and wouldn't want to live in a house that didn't have any, or had only a few.

36anglemark
Mar 7, 2015, 6:00am Top

Collecting books, surrounding myself with them, makes me happy. -- That's almost verbatim how I phrase it when people ask.

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