Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Essentials for a Home Library

Note: This is the first in a series of posts on home libraries.

What do you think is essential for a home library?

I posed this question on Twitter on Sunday and now I'd like to know what you think. The responses that came in included everything from dictionaries ("multiple," "unabridged"), to "loads of reference books," selections of short stories, poetry, essays, "classics through NY Times bestsellers," and more. One fellow Twitter friend confessed to trying to assemble a reference collection of such quality and depth that he could answer any question without using the computer- and to succeeding! Suggestions about cookbooks, childrens' classics (Harry Potter in particular) and more pored in all evening.

What do you think?

Lately I've been doing some serious weeding of my book collection; a couple of week ago, my husband and I sold six bags of books to local used bookstores, and I have more ready to go. I spent some credit, but there's more left, and I've been thinking that rather than buy a bunch of books I may never get around to reading, I should treat at least some of my bookstore credit as an opportunity to improve the overall quality of my home library with some essentials.

To start, I want to buy some Everyman's Library editions of some of my favorite classic fiction; beyond that, I think I need to take a hard look at what I have, and what I don't, and try to fill in some gaps.

I like this idea a lot. I like the idea of upgrading some of my classics and creating space in the collection for nice books. But then I starting thinking about what it actually would take to build a home library I could be proud of- not just a bunch of random flotsam that happened to find its way into my house, but a really nice collection.

Maybe it comes from being a librarian; when I ran a library, I couldn't just buy whatever crossed my path. I had to have a mission and a strategy, and buy according to how I wanted to shape the library's collection. Children's services was important, as was supporting the religious mission of the temple, so I had to buy with that in mind. I also wanted to build a good leisure-reading collection for the adults who used the library, so I made sure to pick good-quality fiction. Other libraries have different priorities but the point is that they buy selectively and with an end in mind.

What end do you have in mind? This issue is important to keep in mind when building a home library, too. If you're not just picking up whatever crosses your path, it makes a difference to think about it. What books are essential for a home library- what would you want to have if it was all you had? Reference books? Poetry? Do you need the complete works of Shakespeare or a set of A la recherche du temps perdu?

If you have children, your needs and collection are likely to change and grow over time. Maybe right now it's important to collect classic picture books or that hot middle-reader series but in just a couple of years you might want to think about young-adult classics or seminal adult books that are YA friendly. You might consider the library or cheap editions for those trendy, flavor-of-the-month books but maybe it might make a difference to invest in a good-quality set of Harry Potter books or The Wizard of Oz or something else that's going to last a long time.

Do you ever think about creating a literary legacy? If you're thinking about leaving your books to someone else, what you select is going to say something about what's important to you. How do your books reflect what you value, what your beliefs are? I'm just at the beginning of this process, trying to figure it out as I go, but I want to have some big picture in mind so that when I do go to the bookstore, credit slip in hand, I make choices that are going to make me happy for a long time and add up to something special. Books are special; our collections deserve to be something special, too.

Come back next Tuesday for my views on what's essential in a home library and my library mission statement. Keep track of the series with the Home Libraries tag and comment and link to your own posts on the subject!