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The Book Glutton

I am often asked how I organize my books and how I maintain my library. Because I am a book reviewer I receive new books nearly every day and this has forced me to discover a few principles I might otherwise have missed. I have found that the key to organizing and maintaining a library is releasing the irrational hold books have on so many of us. Here are a few tips.

There are some people with impressively large libraries and they may be among the few who can actually make use of thousands or even tens of thousands of books. But most of us simply do not need nearly that many. There is no necessary correlation between the size of a library and the excellence of a library. Quantity does not equal quality. The person with 100 excellent books may have a much better library than the person with 1,000 mediocre books. Do not merely collect books; collect good books.

When your bookcases have reached their capacity, practice the add-a-book, remove-a-book principle. Every time you add a book to your library, remove another book, either by throwing it away, selling it, or giving it to someone else. This will continually prune your library, ensuring it gets better, even without getting bigger.

An unread book does no good to anyone. It is far better to have someone else read a book and benefit from it than to have it remain unread on your bookcase. If it is a worthwhile book and you know you will never read it again, pass it to someone who will.

It is not sinful to throw away a book. When I receive books I usually take them to the church office and sort through them there. The ones that are not worth keeping I throw in the trash. It is amusing to me how often I find people removing these books from the trash as if books have intrinsic worth or value and should not be thrown away. Free yourself to throw away bad books. And when I say to throw them away, I mean it. Do not sell them at a used book store or garage sale. If they are harmful to you, they are harmful to others. Do the world a favor and toss them.

It is not sinful to throw away a book, but it may be sinful to keep one. Gluttony can manifest itself in books as much as in donuts. Loan your books freely and expect to experience some attrition. If someone else will get more benefit from the book than you will, give it to them as a gift. Practice generosity rather than gluttony by holding to your books with open hands rather than closed hands.

Finally, realize that many of our paradigms are already changing as we move to digital libraries. At least for now, digital books cannot be thrown away, given away, or sold. There is a sense in which they cannot even really be owned; we gain the rights to them even without fully owning them. Therefore, all of this will change and we will face new challenges as time goes on.

Note: As it happens, Redeemed Reader has an article that provides a similar view on home library management.