Library Logistics

I am tossed on the horns of a dilemma. Sitting here, at my desk, looking at two shelves full of books. Not just shelves – full bookshelf units. six foot by three foot, and full of volumes. To my left, my husband’s Louis L’Amour shelf (paperbacks, some of the leatherbounds, and maybe a shelf of other books). To my right is my art bookself, although admittedly the bottom two shelves are sketchbooks of mine, and camera kit.

This is just what’s in the bedroom/office suite. There’s a full bookshelf of cookbooks in the kitchen. The family area has, um, several bookshelves (I’m not walking in there to count shelf footage right now). There’s a bookshelf in the kid’s room, and one in the guest room.

The dilemma isn’t: do I need more shelves? No, it’s… do I purge the books now, or wait until it’s confirmed we’ll be moving? Because there are scenarios where we don’t move, we sit tight here until the kid has his degree and diploma (a simultaneous event) and has moved out. In those cases, I will be sad and sorry if I cut my library to the bone, again.

On the other hand, there are scenarios where I leave home, do not pass go, and the First Reader is OIC of packing and moving, before joining me. If I haven’t done something about the clutter, it’s liable to wind up all packed and brought to me with him. Anyone have any idea how much it costs to pack an entire house into a large truck and move it willy-nilly? Me neither, and I think more than I want to spend. Especially with these many books.

On the gripping hand, I probably do have a book or three here I don’t need. I’m looking at the art book shelf and thinking I should sell the Schlock box set (I have through book ten) since I stopped reading and buying that webcomic when the creator started arguing against basic human rights. I’ve got a stack on the armchair next to me that are duplicates we sorted out when putting the fiction back in order not long ago, and I have been meaning to offer to friends on social media (send me a couple of bucks for shipping, get a book you don’t have, sort of thing).

It’s a complex thing, and I don’t know yet what I’m going to do. Wait a week, probably. Maybe more than that. If things get into a hurry, well, I’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I don’t have any offers on the table just yet. Besides which, I also have other balls to keep in the air to carry on with this juggling act, in the three-ring circus that is my life.

Most of what I have, and want to keep, in paper are reference books. Reading fiction happens with ebooks. For that matter, a lot of non-fiction happens that way, too. Like the Jordan Peterson book I’m working through, Beyond Order. Which is good, by the way… but that’s a blog post for my personal blog.

I’ve weeded an entire library. Which, despite those not being my personal books, was still painful. Also, fascinating task. The criteria for weeds was fairly straightforward: popular books that had been loved to pieces were weeded, but replaced. Books which had not been checked out in ten years (a manual check, since the library did not have a full electronic system at the time) were discarded. Although I saved a few antiques to add to the historical book room we had. Weeding my personal library? Fraught with difficult decisions. That book on… hm, ok. Maybe I don’t need to keep A History of Aerial Photography and Archaeology. Or maybe I do, for research of some historical thriller involving an ancient haunted somethingorother and the daring fliers who found it… Ahem. See? This is hard!

I’ll leave you with this, then! I was a guest on a lovely podcast, which was a ton of fun. There were a few other authors who were on, too, so you may want to explore the Business Talk Sister Gawk site for their other episodes. If, like me, you use a podcatcher app, their podcast is available on all the major platforms. Also, if you don’t want to listen, there’s a full transcript of the interview here.

(header image: photo by Cedar Sanderson. Not my copy – this was taken in Peter Grant’s library)

30 comments

  1. Definitely weed before you’re forced to weed or you might accidentally weed something you didn’t want to let go of. (Like the tub of old SF paperbacks that should’ve come with us to MO but got given away in the mix of books I didn’t want to move from CO. So many Heinleins… gone… :whimper:)

    1. I lost several boxes of books when moving from NH – I’d stored them with my Dad, and they vanished (ok, I know exactly what happened to them, but it’s ugly) before I could retrieve them. I still miss them – it was a ton of my art reference books that are difficult and expensive to replace. Also, a lot of cookbooks. Sigh. Ah, the lost books…

  2. I have all the books for my dissertation and non-fiction writing. I do not intend to re-write my dissertation (edit, revise, and publish, yes, but not start from scratch!). They have my notes in them, so they have 0 resale value. Some are now out of print, rescued from overzealous library weeders. [The look on the librarian’s face when I pointed out that the book that had been tossed “because it was old and only one person per year checked it out at most” was worth $$$ even in library condition . . . They’d never, ever thought to glance at EBAY or the ‘Zon. They do now!] There are no libraries that want the books, to my knowledge. Do I keep, because so many classic western history books are disappearing? Do I weed, because of space needs?

    I don’t think there are ever easy answers when books are involved. [OK. There were those two. One got tossed into a bonfire because it was sooooooo badly written (and couldn’t be sold back), and one got tossed in the dumpster because the author completely screwed up the Six-Days War for political purposes. And it was badly written.]

    1. I have, perforce, started to get more ebooks than paper. But paper books make me feel happy, so it’s a hard decision to make. I’ve had to purge too many times not to get emotional about it!

  3. I’ve regretted such weedings, and learned to prioritize moving books and appliances. Furniture is much easier to replace. And while I have a zillion electrons worth of ebooks, I also consider that if Things Fall Apart, ebooks will become inaccessible.

    A lot of what libraries are now discarding is old adventure fiction, no longer read mostly because in the crush of demand for the very latest, it’s no longer noticed. I’ve read a few of these online, and found them wholesome and delightful, yet that electronic copy may be the last one in the world.

  4. The clock is ticking. Will I get around to reading that book in the next fifteen years? (Maybe only 10) Does anybody else in the family(s) have the slightest interest in the subject? Maybe? Maybe somebody will?
    Maybe is good enough, right?

    I just need to build bigger barns…

    1. I had a moment, last year. My son came wandering in: Hey, do you have any books on WWII? An armload later, he’s begging me to stop… LOL!

      So yes, on some things. All the medical history, no one but me is reading.

    1. Which is why I’ve moved toward handling the home library like an actual library, sorting by topic and subject. We’ve also found an app for the library ‘card catalog’ and just have to remember to update it from time to time.

  5. That book on aerial photography and archaeology might come in handy if you write anything about satellite reconnaissance and archaeology. Think of all the sites they’re finding in the South American jungle with satellites.

    1. Yes! I wrote a review of the City of the Monkey God where they found it with lidar. The afterword, dealing with nasty diseases contracted in the jungle, was almost more interesting than the exploration of the city.

  6. I’ve still got most of my personal library in my old bedroom at my parents (one of the reasons they want me to stop renting and buy a place of my own is that once I do they can get me to box up the rest of my stuff and take it with me…).

    The last few visits Mom has been suggesting I sort through it and get rid of some of the books. It’s not easy – most of them I look at the spine and remember that I enjoyed reading it the last time I opened it. It’s so tempting to keep a load of them even if I’m probably never going to read half of them again.

    I’m also from the pre-electronic era. I buy the vast majority of my fiction in e-book form nowadays, but I still think that paper is better. Mostly it’s just personal bias, but there are two areas where I think I’m being objective: for reference works where one might want to annotate/add marginalia, pencil on paper seems to be be far the best option; and for works where one might need to flip back to maps/diagrams on a semi-regular basis to keep track of where the characters are/what happened where, flipping through paper pages seems much easier.

  7. Having done a purge cycle, here’s my recommendations-
    1-Start with the stuff you have in eBook format, has no real “memories” for you, and/or people you are pissed off by. I purged my entire David Gerrold collection (he’s never going to finish the Chtorr series, no matter what he says and his last novel made me nope away from everything else he wrote…), all of my Atomic Robo comics (Book 8 had far too many “just happened” scenes to enjoy at all and the ending was an ass-pull), and quite a few other web-comic compilations (I’m holding onto my copies of Megatokyo, even if the creator has fully Klein-bottled his own head in his ass…).
    2-The next pile is the “Do I really need this?” category. Mostly old movies, RPG systems that nobody supports or even remembers anymore, that kind of thing. Or properties that have started down the mythical “wider audience” path and forgot what the MCU did-tell good stories in their genre and stay true to that and lure people in, rather than become cheap wallpaper paste.
    3-The final pile is “DO NOT GET RID OF.” I make sure those go in their own, very specific box, with labels and everything. Mostly reference materials, books that I know I’ll never find again, that kind of thing.

    There’s a lot in the middle. Hell, I did a run to Half Price Books last weekend and even with them not taking one container’s worth of stuff, I did get rid of four large containers of crap. With a little luck and run to the dumps, maybe I can even get rid of enough stuff to move into a smaller unit. (If I can get rid of my mattress, it becomes a lot easier…). I’m holding onto the space for a while longer because I think Mom may hit the “we need to renovate something” point with a few things in the house and I want to have the space for them to use rather than the alternatives.

    But, yea, there’s stuff that I will NEVER purge. I still have all of my Heinlein paperbacks, including “The Past Through Tomorrow” that I…borrowed from someone that would never appreciate it. There’s quite a few other books, reference materials and such that I know I’ll never quite find a book as good or little bits of trivia that are interesting. It’s a struggle. If I had massive amounts of cash, I’d go full-bore and get them scanned, OCRed, and have a database grognard build a program so I could keep track of all this stuff.

    (Obscene levels of cash would also include buying a small Victorian mansion that had secret passageways and a basement you could only get into via the secret passageways, and building a proper library there. Then, we start to get into the range of the really interesting erotica, so we’ll leave that to your imaginations…).

    I’ve had to move more times than I care to think about and the purge is real. At least the last move, I had a few months to just get rid of stuff, versus desperation sorting.

  8. Y’know… it would be nice if you could just move your excess books somewhere else. Maybe get together with some friends and acquire some storage space somewhere, put in some shelving, make a catalog and index… you could even allow other people to borrow some of your books if they paid a small fee. Then you’d still have access to your books, and you could share them with others too.

    Nah, it’d never work…

    1. It might…

      Private Libraries do exist – the London Library being one such (established in 1841 and still going strong). The largest potential issue is the required expenditure. If the income from subscriptions doesn’t equal or exceed this the Library will lose money. It can only keep going in such circumstances if it’s subsidised by one or more people – and that’s not a secure long-term strategy.

      1. An acquaintance of mine is actually developing a subscription library where she lives. I’ve been mailing her our duplicate and no-longer needed nonfiction. Media mail of course and I pay the postage to subsidize her.

    2. Andre Norton actually set that up at High Hallack Farm, and fiction writers and academics could arrange to come read and study all the books she had accumulated over the years. Alas, after her death her estate could no longer keep everything running (among other difficulties) and the facility was closed.

      1. I never understood why they didn’t just donate the facility to the county, or affiliate at least informally with a college, or why they made such a big deal about library access being only for working writers. There’s a big need for local libraries in Tennessee, sheesh. I can understand that you’d want to guard against books walking out the door, but it was pretty much the dumbest way to go about the whole project. Either you have a library at your house, or you have a library open to the public. If you go with a city style library in a place with low population, how the heck do you expect to get high usage?

        Of course, I also thought that it was dumb that the whole project was so “in group” that it was hard to find out anything about it, for most of the time of its existence.

        1. Sounds like something nice set up for a small group. Perhaps not meriting a non-profit qualification.

        2. Thanks for the information. I’d never heard of High Hallack library before. Considering the crying need for libraries in rural areas, those are great questions to ask. What happened to all those books?

          I think of dumpsters and cringe.

  9. Bill and I have purged books several times over the years. We’ve also bought many of them back when we realized we made mistakes getting rid of something. Thank God we’ll never move again (house paid for, self-employed, etc.).

    Junk pop fiction is the easiest to get rid off, followed closely by the diet of the month title.

    What are your long-term goals with writing? Don’t get rid of anything that can’t be easily replaced. Online sources can and do go away. Whereas if you’ve got the reference work on your shelf, you’ve got the book available along with your marginalia and self-added reference points. It remains, as long as you remember you’ve got it and can find it again in all those shelves.

    I am very reluctant to replace paper with electronics. eBooks only work within their infrastructure whereas a paper book can be read by flashlight when the power fails. Will the eBook format still exist fifty years from now? Probably?

    And do you really have control over an eBook? Does Amazon have the capability to vacuum an eBook back?

    There’s a lot of specialized, energy intensive mining and manufacturing needed to make them and their rechargeable batteries.

    1. “Does Amazon have the capability to vacuum an eBook back?”

      Yes. It does. So if you’re buying a book that might be controversial to certain persons, it would be best if you have it in more places than your Kindle or in the Kindle app.

      1. This is why I recommend regular backups of your library to an external drive (or multiple backups, really). There are ways to save in, ah, other formats if DRM is involved.

  10. Thinning the library? Yes, my heirs and assigns will be stuck doing that. ~:D I’ve carted all that stuff over North America through a zillion moves, it’s all mine and I’m not getting rid of any of it. I’ll just build some more shelves.

    Turns out you can make a very nice 6’x3′ bookshelf out of a single sheet of plywood. Iron-on edge veneer for the win!

  11. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that quit reading Schlock when the creator took a hard left turn into the wall.
    I ran into a similar problem some years back. I just ran out of room for paper books. Kindle format isn’t so bad. If I have my phone with me and some time to read, I’ve got my Kindle app. Though I agree that paper books are the only ones that are really safe from Amazon dbaggery.

  12. I diversify – some in hard copy (primarily reference books and graphics-heavy books), some in Kindle (still the most convenient, and some in Kobo/Nook/Smashwords formats.

  13. Well I had my collection trimmed when my basement flooded it took my westerns, Battletech, Star Trek novels, and most of my Agatha Christies. Of course that still leaves me approx. 7,000 some SF/F books. 🙂 When I was in the USAF every time I moved my games and various other items got disposed of. My SF stayed with me. I have a few 35 cent Sf paperbacks.

  14. For me — I know I plan to move in the next year or so, and have been planning it for several years.

    So I’ve been purging books for about that length of time — gotten rid of a few thousand, so far. And am still planning on getting rid of a few thousand more.

    For SF, I look at a shelf of books, and, for each one, I categorize it:
    (1) I want the physical copy. It’s inscribed to me, or even is just a signed copy, or some other reason for a physical copy (including wanting to be able to lend it to people who don’t like ebooks). In which case, keep the physical copy.
    (2) I don’t care about the physical copy, and never want to read it again — get rid of it. It’s harder to do now, since a number of the places that I’d normally donate it to aren’t taking donations now, because they’re overstocked at the moment — but I expect that to change.
    (3) I want, possibly, to reread it, and it’s not available in ebook form (or the ebook is priced absurdly high). Keep the book.
    (4) I may want to reread it, and it’s available as an ebook — buy the ebook, and dispose of the physical copy.

    Note that the ebook pricing makes a real difference in case (3). If I can replace a 1.5″ book for $5, or it costs $10, then I’ll replace the $5 book (which means the author and publisher get paid again for something I already own) rather than the $10 one. I already own the book — but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to replace it

    My constraint on where to move is dependent on being able to afford to rent someplace that will hold the (current) 40 bookcases. I really want to need fewer.

    It’s actually proving harder to find homes for my non-fiction. I have good places to get rid of SF which are good homes — but I have lots of non-fiction that I can’t find anyone who wants. A lot of it has now come out in ebook form, and it’s hard to find people who want the paper. Even pre-Covid, the NY Public Library wasn’t taking donations of books or magazines..

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