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!


Unknown said...

I think it's essential to know what the purpose of your library is. Mine is a reader's library. It has two purposes. First, hold the books I want to read, which are somewhat haphazard in nature. Second, I want to signal to visitors what kind of reader I am with the books I have of the ones I've read. For the most part, I don't keep books around to re-read them. I keep read books around to impress people. Of course, the way I want to impress people is somewhat contrary. I want people to know I read and like interesting stuff. So the boring, uninteresting, and commonplace are what gets tossed from the already read. You won't find the standard classics that everyone reads or was taught to read in high school here. If I read them, I get them from the library rather than add to my collection.

Although I do keep a few of my more embarrassing choices on the shelf as a testament to my folly.

Kristen M. said...

Recently I've found myself desiring more annotated editions of books. I have the beautiful Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit and am looking forward to getting The Wind in the Willows. I find that they bring something new to my reading every time and they satisfy two different reading desires.

ImageNations said...

My library holds different types of books. My text books from the university and literature books. With literary books I collect books that I love to read and which I would love my children to read. So I pick those that I believe would shape their thinking and make them whom I want them to be, enlightened. I also buy books in my 100 books to be read in 5 years.

Mystica said...

I am definitely following your ideas because my book habit is getting out of control. My problem is that I cant giveaway or sell my books once I have finished with them.

Marie Cloutier said...

Mystica, have you considered joining a group like Bookmooch that would allow you to swap books?

Care said...

A lovely idea and I wish you much success as you build your essential collection. But it's not for me - despite the 100 books stacked in the corner, I really am trying to not own any.
I was thinking, however, that the people I know (IRL, not bloggers?) )who desire a library are more interested in having cool shelves, a comfy chair, proper lighting and that nifty rolling ladder! I doubt the thought as to what is ON the shelf is given as much consideration as the decor.

Helen Ellis said...

I love this post, but we have limited space in our NYC apartment. Just last week, I took four bags of books to the library to donate.

Now we have one bookshelf in the living room of personally inscribed books and one bookshelf at the foot of the bed of books we haven't read. And, of course, a few piled up on the night stands.

But we always have a real live dictionary. To remind those more technically advanced than me how to use a dictionary, I made this little how-to vlog at www.diaryofaluddite.com: http://bit.ly/bhfFzE

Thanks so much for your continued love of books,

bermudaonion said...

Maybe if I had an actual library in my house, I might pursue the books I acquire differently, but so far, I'm sad to say, it's all random.

Zibilee said...

Right now, my library is pretty random as well, but when I begin to put together my perfect library, I think reference books and classics are a must. Also, some newer books that made a really strong impression and definitely a great children and YA section.

Your work and consideration of your library make me really thoughtful about doing the same thing for myself. At some point, my library has become mostly "flotsam" as you called it, but I'd really like to change that soon.

I also think that the guy who created his perfect reference library is pretty cool too!!

caite said...

In my humble opinion, there is only one essential characteristic to a personal library...That looking at the books, be they on beautiful shelves or stacked in boxes, gives you warm feelings, makes you smile and brings back happy memories when you look at them.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

My husband and I used to be fanatical collectors of reference books, because we saw them as essential. Unfortunately, or fortunately, this was before the web and Google came along! Now we hardly ever use them! And who knows in what other ways some books or all books will become a thing of the past? So I don't know - I am busy asking the same question about our library!

R. J. said...

I used to think any book I wanted to read belonged in my home library. Now that the house is overflowing, I don't or seldom, buy books. I request from the county libraries anything I could want to read. My tax dollars at work. My home library kind of evolved from college books to books I used in my career to my entertainment books to get away from my work. Sometime in the forty year future, I will have to downsize and the books will be a problem. I don't want to sell them for too little, or give them away. With e-books looming on the horizon, who knows what will happen to the paper world of books.That was my world, but not the world of the future.

Kathleen said...

I used to have a home library with over 4,000 books. I had a good mix of fiction, non-fiction, reference books, etc. I opted to donate most of my collection to my local library used bookstore to help fund the library at a time when they were cutting hours and struggling financially. I felt good about the decision at the time but have some grief over it since. I now have only a few hundred books that are comprised mostly of books that I have on my "to be read" stack. I do plan to rebuild my home library someday but will definitely devote more time and thought into the process of what goes into it. I look forward to your future posts on this.

Andi said...

I've actually given this some thought, and through the years my collection has taken on more of a shape. As a professor, of course I have a lot of literary, linguistic, and composition textbooks and references. I also only keep books I'll re-read or teach from, so that has helped up the quality of the fiction I keep on hand. I'm also building a decent collection of food and green living non-fiction. I guess I think of my home library as a specialty library. :)

Alexia561 said...

Great idea for a series! The most essential thing to me would be beautiful shelves to hold my books and a comfy chair for reading! I do have some gorgeous HC classics that I'm proud of and have displayed in my living room; Grimm's Fairy Tales and Pride & Prejudice are two of the prettiest.

Anonymous said...

My home library has two different purposes. One is strictly for Jewish-related books, such as Holocaust memoirs and Jewish history, holiday informational books, Jewish fiction, specific authors, anything related to Judaism, etc.

The other part of my library includes the classic books, certain modern authors I enjoy reading, non-fiction and inspirational books, children's classics, etc.

My Jewish-related books are a legacy for my children.

Marie Cloutier said...

King Rat, very interesting! library as fashion statement?

Kristen, I love annotated books, especially those gorgeous special-edition ones like Alice in Wonderland and so on. I've been so tempted to pick some of them up. I think if I had kids it would be a no-brainer!

Nana- very nice. i like the library-as-legacy idea a lot.

Care, to each his own. If your library plan is not to have one, that's cool too!

Helen, I think limited space really forces one to focus the priorities. If i had to get rid of all but a few small shelves, I'd want to know I had nice copies of my favorites to keep forever.

Kathy, if you have books you have a library! LOL

Zibilee :-) As always, :-)

Caite, AMEN :-)

Rhapsody, I think we're all trying to figure it out but we can vote with our wallets and our choice to keep printed books & keep believing they matter. The complete migration to digital only happens if we let it!

RJ, as I said to Rhapsody, YOU decide what your bookish future entails. You get to keep your books as long as you want to and no one can tell you you "have" to get rid of them or move completely to digital. i never will, LOL!

Kathleen, good luck with your rebuilding :-) I hope it's rewarding and fruitful!

Book Collecting 101 said...

I started collecting a few years ago when I started to "feel my age" a bit. I have always thought that success would be measured in the size and quality of books in your home library. Jorge Luis Borges expressed it well when he said, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." I started collecting and as time progressed, my collection began to show some focus. I love signed first editions of books I have enjoyed. I love finely bound books, limited editions, very old, very rare, both classics and modern. My signed collection ranges from Tennessee Williams and Truman Capote to Stephen King. I am running out of room but just purchased over 120 inches of floor to ceiling bookcases. I get a great deal of satisfaction from being surrounded by books - well loved books waiting to be re-read and unread books waiting to be enjoyed.

I understand the desire to have books to impress people but my books are for my own enjoyment. I have even started to collect art with a reading theme... I am just a nut about books...

CLM said...

My grandfather had a proper academic library with thousands of books he sold to BC before he died. As a child, I yearned for the beautiful mahogany staircase (not to mention the floor to ceiling bookcases in what had once been Horace Greeley's daughter's ballroom) and I still want one, although in many of my apartments it would have been a choice between the staircase and me!

Anonymous said...

Other than history, literary criticisms (mostly books from school), and fiction, my home library is lacking. I tend to read what I have bought, so I'm not ready to buy a bunch of books that I know I won't read just to impress visitors alone. I like your idea of acquiring Everyman classics for your favorites, because many of my copies of classics are very old and dog-eared. I would like to own complete oeuvre of favorite authors and a particular time period, such as Edwardian and 20th century literature.

Marie Cloutier said...

Andi, that's really great :) I love personal, thoughtful collections like that!

Lorri, that's wonderful :-) I'll bet you've saved up some real treasures :)

Alexia, at the end of the day, that's all you need!!

Scarlett, I don't collect to impress poeple; I collect for my own love of books.

CLM, that sounds wonderful!

Matt, it would be great to have a collection like that! And I think that having favorites in nice editions would make me more inclined to re-read them.

fibrowitch said...

My library is as much a living part of my home as the dog and cat. Well maybe more than the cat. Looking at my book shelf will give you all the information about me you need to know.

My book are organized in a Dewey / Dumas system. I organize books by subject, fiction by author. Some times I bend the rules, prolific writers on many subjects might be shelved together. I see no signs of slowing down, even though I gave away a few hundred books earlier this year. I always carry my want list, my authors to look out for list. My subject I want to know more about list.

This response is getting long, I'll finish it over on my blog.

wisteria said...

Organizing my library is a nagging desire of mine. You would think as a librarian, I would be the most organized person and my home library would be stellar. Unfortunately, when I get home, the time to spend on this would take away from the little time I have to do what I enjoy most..read. Sadly, my collection just grows and books are randomly put on either my books read shelves, or books not read. I used to try and keep my shelves classified with more order, but as all librarians know, moving stacks of books requires time. I have been weeding lately and I think this is my most important task right now. I have,so many books that mean nothing to me. I need to just donate these or sell them.

I have thought about what will happen to my books when I die. I don't know why that is so important to me, but I just hope they are not just thrown away or tossed aside. I know that's weird, but they seem to be so important to me.

I don't keep too many reference books either. The internet has replaced that need. I also have textbooks that I question why I keep them...but I do.

I guess overall, your post has made me think about my home library again...nudging me into action. LOL

Harvee said...

The idea of building a home library will definitely get me organized to weed out, donate, and categorize. i keep books just because I like having them, so may not limit myself to only a few types.