How Do You Manage Your Personal Library?

too-many-books-too-little-time-to-readNo matter how many times I downsize my library, it still seems I have an abundance of books to read.

Not that I mind at all, of course, but space is an issue.

I spent a good chunk of Sunday sorting through all my books, yet again, because I really needed to finish unpacking (moved at the end of Aug and still had boxes upon boxes).

There were boxes of books in my new placet and also in a large outdoor storage unit that I’ve downsized to a small indoor one. It’s crazy.

If I still had my home, my library would be at least 2 of the 3 bedrooms, with piles of books in every other room, too. As it is now, I share space with a roommate, so have very limited shelf space.

In sorting, I discovered a few categories of books:

  • To read and review
  • To read for pure pleasure
  • To read for personal development
  • To keep for reference / research
  • To keep because they are signed
  • To keep because I’m mentioned in the acknowledgements as editor
  • To keep because I want to read them again “some day”

I think it’s too many categories and still too many books, but I feel I’ve trimmed my personal library down to the minimum. Many books need to remain boxed and put away – but at least I know what’s in each box now!

I have my car’s trunk full (literally) of books to donate. As long as I know someone might read them, I don’t feel too bad, but, still, it’s difficult to part with books that have been on my shelves and TBR (to be read) pile for years. Do you have this problem too?

I used to keep an inventory of titles I had in an Excel sheet, but that got overwhelming. I’m on Shelfari and Goodreads, and even with those easy ways to track my ‘library’ it’s still overwhelming.

If you have limited space, how do you manage your personal library? Have you moved to an e-reader to reduce paper books? Do you have books packed away? Do you keep an inventory?Β 

I’m curious to know how you manage your personal library. Please share.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. JacksonΒ is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

42 thoughts on “How Do You Manage Your Personal Library?

  1. If I’d had a book on my to-read list for years and never read it, I’d be safe to assume I wasn’t going to read it, so those books would be under threat. But for any book lover, there’s angst in deciding to get rid of books. After one gargantuan effort in my twenties, I invited a second-hand book seller to the house to pick up a lot of books. He offered me a ridiculously low amount, which I accepted. I felt soiled by the process. I’d conspired to make joyful, infinite things almost worthless. Since then, I’ve always given books away.

    After another cull, I took a lot to work and invited colleagues to take as many as they wanted. Many of them found good homes and the rest went to a charity shop. I think out of all the options, that’s best if you work or socialise with people who love reading. Of course, unwanted books are less desirable to other people than the wanted ones, so you have to brace yourself for a few looks of ‘whyever would she think anyone would want this book?’ if your collection is anything like mine.

    • Yes, most books I had for years are now donated… but as you mention, it was an angst-filled process, as I love books. Inviting a book seller in was a big deal, wow! And letting friends take what they want is a great idea — I’d feel bad for books left behind, unwanted, for whatever reason — my collection is quite varied and I know I’d get some quizzical looks. Thanks for the reply!

  2. Just last night, since I couldn’t sleep, I started thinking how I needed to re-build an upstairs bookcase–that is make it BIGGER. I haven’t revealed this amazing idea to my wife yet…haw!

    Books! OMG! I don’t sort my books in any kind of sensible way. I know where they are, so to speak, and I also then have mental categories. For instance, just last night I ordered from ebay, Thomas Mann’s “Joseph in Egypt” in two volumes! Boxed! wdc! It was at an incredibly low price so I grabbed it up…eventhough I have pronounced a self-prohibition against ordering via ebay–it’s something I think like self-imposed drug re-hab–I still find myself slipping every now and then. I mean when in the hell am I–Paul in Alabama–going to read “Joseph in Egypt”? I don’t know, but I had to have it. So!

    Essentially I manage my books by their placement in a particular bookcase. For instance, all of my Asian novels, poetry, histories, research works are in the large bookcase here in our study. Plus my collections of Balzac, Conrad, Eliot, and
    R.L. Stephenson. Why? Because I don’t have room for them upstairs, yet. Upstairs where my little writing nook is located are more British novels, my cherished Trollope collection, lit theory, and Greek myth books. Also upstairs in another large bookcase, (the one I want to rebuild) are various and sundry novels, thrillers, modern, weird…I don’t know, and religious, spiritual stuff, more histories, and God knows what all.

    Then I have a few smaller bookcases that house just books…books that I don’t know what to do with but hope to read someday…like “Joseph in Egypt.” My other T. Mann novels are in one those bookcases…so maybe I’ll upgrade T. Mann to a larger bookcase! The one I intend to re-build.

    Thank you for this wonderful post!

    • Wow, Paul! That’s a lot of books! I placed a ban on myself a few years back – no purchasing books at all for a year, I could only rent them from the library. And I did well. But then my self-imposed restraint ended, and, of course, books, books, and more books were purchased and agreed to be reviewed, and thus I quickly became inundated, again. I think 2017 needs a rule about buying books – I’m accepting many for review, but we’ll see if I can limit purchases to business-related only! Thanks for sharing so much about your books and plans to make room for even more. πŸ™‚

  3. Funny you posted this- I spent a good portion of Sunday rearranging my shelves. Like you I’m just trying to sort them into managable groups and hope for the best. lol

  4. That is a very good question because the key point here is space. If we did not have that inconvenient issue, there would be no inclination to part with any texts, I think.
    I once read an article that had the question: Is your library smarter than you? It basically addressed the fact that many of us have books we have never or will never read but can’t part with. The knowledge contained within stays, well, contained. So, it seems that many of us have that “gentle madness” that makes us keep collecting.
    In managing my library, I do organize somewhat by theme (religion, folklore/fairytales, children’s books, Irish studies–my graduate focus–, Holocaust studies, etc.) and just “know” where they are (like Paul mentioned in his comment). I also have boxes of books that I know I never will read or return to, so, my two “solutions” are these: First, if seeing or holding the book brings back good memories like a time in my life or someone special, it serves as a talisman or memento and has value beyond the pages I may never turn again. It stays.
    Second, I try never to buy anything that is not first edition/first printing (or at least early printing like old children’s books with beautiful illustrations). The older ones are lovely to look at and both new and old works might have a resale value if I choose to part with them. If they might not accrue in value monetarily, they may have value as a gift to a dear friend or a student.

    • I think I went with the ‘feeling’ you mention above – if a book evoked a smile, I kept it – regardless of if I read it or not. I keep all signed books, as I only have them signed in person, so there’s a special connection to them. Thanks for sharing about your collection. πŸ™‚

  5. I go through my books every time I move (which seems often – every year or two), and I’ve MOSTLY switched to an eReader. Seriously, I love my Kindle, and the fact that it keeps my book hoarding private. I have 222 titles that I have yet to read, aND a few others that I’m holding onto because I may reference them again later… if I don’t bury them under another 200 books to read first.

    However… this move I’ve ended up with more physical books than I had before I got my Kindle, but a few are due to be donated once I get the chance. They’re sitting in 7 banana boxes in a storage unit until then…

  6. I’ve downsized each time I’ve moved, and donate every couple of years. It’s getting more difficult, as public and school libraries only have limited space and in foreign languages, they only want … classics! I have my really favourites here in the living room, my business-coaching-spiritual next to my desk and the ones that are still in limbo – what to do with them? – in my for the moment empty apartment. No boxes. Books die in boxes. I’m surprised though at all the unread books you and others mention. I never have more than about 5 or 6 “real” unread ones at a time. Plus kindle dowloads for unexpected downtime and airport reading πŸ™‚

    • Sounds like you have your books under control, Bea. I can’t remember the last time I *only* had 5 or 6 books on my nightstand. I think I’d feel naked if I only had a couple of books! I still have too many, yes, but I need to see stuffed shelves to feel comfortable — hadn’t realized it until thinking about only having a handful of books! Thanks!

  7. Wow is this a timely post for me. I truly was reading this while waiting for my tea kettle to boil, so I could go upstairs and finally get a list together of all the books stacked all over this house that I I want to read. I’m doing this mainly because I’m starting a low-res MFA program next month, and I’d like to create my own bibliography to work with. I also have a Little Free Library that my husband built. It gets a lot of action (more in the summertime), so I recycle a lot of reads through there. I force myself to let go of them and consider it good karma to let them free in the world. 😊 I also like to tell myself that it justifies the stupid amount of money I spend on an addiction I can’t see to get under control! I’m sure that I own more books than I could possibly read before I die, and I’m only in my mid-40s. So here I go to start sorting …

    • I love those Little Free Libraries! I didn’t know about them until I visited MN last year, and then discovered they are all over the place! That’s great that you do that. I just discovered a little library in the common center of the development I live in, so some of my books have found their way there. Isn’t it SOOOO easy to spend money on books? I could gobble up books in a used bookstore so quickly it’s scary. I think I’ve always owned more books than I’d ever be able to read, and still I’m always finding another and another and another that I want in my hands. thanks for sharing!

  8. Right now my limited book shelves are more packed than they have ever been. I’ve always tried to keep my shelves neat, but now I have books in stacks on top of my normal row of books. If I bought a book, I won’t give it away until I’ve read it. I tend to give away any book I’m not at least 90% sure I’ll want to read again. I do have a Nook, and I will buy books on there to try new authors if the physical books are $15-$30, and the ebook is cheaper. This lets me purchase physical books that I am more sure I will enjoy and want to see on my shelf. The down side is, I tend to not give those books away, and my shelf just grows… which is probably why it’s in the condition it’s in now.

  9. I’ve refined and pruned and given away boxes and boxes and boxes of books over the years. I have downsized to the minimum 3 shelves. My astrology books are top shelf and I’ll never part with them, because some of them cost me a small fortune to get posted from Amazon in the United States, and rightly or wrongly, they stay! πŸ˜‰

  10. I have boxes of books, waiting to be unpacked, but it had not occurred to me to call them “my personal library”, probably because I don’t consider myself a reader. Yet, I have boxes of books. They are predominantly reference, which is odd in this internet age, with only a smattering of fiction.

    I manage the process by banning myself from bookshops. I will buy a novel when I want to read a novel. It will then be a story for that time, for that day. There is no stockpiling of interesting possibilities.

    In Australia, LifeLine has a charity event a few times each year to sell books donated by those who no longer want them. I’m very grateful that they have taken many a book off my hands over the years.

  11. Over-run by books has been the story of my life for many years. Even was left a lot of books from a dear friend – most of these I have not yet gone through. Through necessity we downsized and most in our house was sent away. Books I believe went to many and various places. Some indeed were accepted by LifeLine (above). Would you believe I think I have almost as many two years later. Internet age or not I love books, I love the feel I love the peace of being curled up with a good book. Being a historical fiction writer – although that was not what I thought I would be I find now all fiction and all history has a real pull. Internet info is good but I major on the feeling and thoughts of flesh and blood people. Thanks for blog. I reckon you will have to be ruthless and box up some. If you don’t look in the box for three months…take them all way ‘to a better place’. Cheers!

    • Great stuff, Faye. I don’t think I can do the 3-month limit. I do still need to thin my books, but for now, I have many many in storage, and quite a few on shelves. I’m determined to see how many I can read and donate ‘to a better place’ in 2017. πŸ™‚

  12. I was pondering this very subject over the weekend. My family’s book collection is ever-growing, but I’m now realizing the excuse of “being a writer” no longer outweighs the need for usable living space when it comes to book collecting. I am now treating it the same way I did my movie collection, and making hard choices about what to keep and what to sell or donate. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the house who truly embraces my eReader, so my plan is to get things down to a manageable volume of books we truly love or have great sentimental value, and create a small “study” out of my current office that will be a comfortable place to spend time devoted to both reading and writing.

  13. For me, most of my books remain in boxes because of space as well. At my parents house, my closet is full of boxes….of books. I have a kindle and that’s helped, instant books and no clutter! But for books I really love, or really want to sink into, I need a physical copy. My problem is that I keep buying books. I’ve tried giving books to friends and family members, to encourage them to read more, but when you know the book isn’t going to be read, it’s like abandoning them. I used to visit the library often so that kept my collection down to a minimum because I could just check out the book, however, where I live now, the library is out of the way, so I went back to my hoarding habits.
    I’ve seen pictures of outdoor lending libraries, where people pick a book and leave one in return. They get to return the other book whenever. I feel like we should have some of those around to encourage more reading. Maybe that could be a solution?

  14. Pingback: Can We (as writers) Have Too Many Journals or Notepads? | Live to Write – Write to Live

  15. This rings so true. I have so many books. I keep them because I love them and want to read them again, because they’re signed, self help book, research books, the list goes on and on. I’m really funny about my books. I can’t get my head around e-readers, it just feels wrong. The joy of books comes not only from the words but from the smell, the feel of them in your hands. One day I’m hope to have my own personal library so in can feed my book habit to my hearts content 😊

  16. I’ve been trying to clear out my library and I’m finding some really fantastic books and also discovery that some are worth a couple of hundred dollars. I hate to let them all go but it’s the age think and time to move into smaller accommodations. I won’t have the room anymore to keep all these books.

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