How to Build Your Personal Library


You’ve been kind of collecting books. They’re everywhere. You have shelves that will no longer hold books. So you have stacks—in the bedroom, in the living room, in the spare bedroom, in the dining room (which in our home I turned into our library). Books even grace the bathroom and a couple of closets.

Your spouse or roommate has given you an ultimatum: “You need to organize, get a plan, or get rid of all these books!”

Instead, how about building your own library . . . with intent. You CAN do it! Be like the great men and women in history who actually planned a personal library and collected books according to a modus operandi (a plan of operation)? It will be hard for even the most book-hostile person to oppose your noble plan—the plan of a personal library.

Some of you have never considered planning or arranging a library. Maybe you’ve been too busy. Or you’re not interested in the work involved. Plans don’t interest you. Then you need read no further. BUT . . . some of you love the idea of being more intentional, more organized. Perhaps like me, you’ve wondered: Well how would I go about a more intentional collection of significant books? If that’s you too, then you’re the person this post was meant for.

I’ve organized and arranged two libraries—my ministry library and my personal library. In the process, I made some mistakes and made some observations that might benefit you. Perhaps this post can be used to make your life a little easier.

RECOMMENDATIONS TO CONSIDER

Here are some recommendations to consider:

Read a good book on the subject. Many such exist. But don’t get overwhelmed. If no definitive list exists. Create your own.

Define and Prepare a Space – Decide on a size, Big or Small? This depends upon the physical space available to you. And the patience of your spouse. Determine where and how you will store your library. Do you have a free wall? Or spare room that you don’t use very often? What about creating a room just as a library room. That’s what I did in our dining room. We eat instead in the Kitchen/Great room.

Make sure that it’s comfortably appointed as well. Big stuffed chairs, a library table, warm lighting, favorite photos, paintings, or sculptures all make it your special place of beauty and peace.

Build Upon the Core of your Library (of what you already have). How? Answer a couple of questions:

  • What am I passionate about? The answer will give you a prime section in your collection. That’s probably what your core already consists of.
  • What would I love to learn or know more about? You’ve got your second section.
  • What has always fascinated me? You’ll need a section of good books on the subject.
  • What might give me some insight into . . . ? (people, places, ideas, occupations)
  • If you are like me, you’ll want a section just for leisure reading as well. I have a full fantasy section of hardbacks in our library room and of softcovers in my Cave (guy room). Since Marcy and I are both readers, we don’t argue much about a house full of books. We both love fantasy too so we hang out with C. S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, L’Engle, Charles Williams, and Lin Carter (his anthology and special collections of essays on fantasy are awesome—and impossible to find.

Begin modestly. You don’t need a ton of books of all kinds unless you’re a hoarder vs. a collector.  Locate and purchase the very best three to five books in each field of interest or passion. You might like to begin with an anthology or bibliography. This will lead you to recommended reading which comes from a variety of authors who have all weighed in on that subject. I read an autobiography of The Beach Boys’, Brain Wilson. In the back was a bibliography. From there I collected several more books including their discography (I wanted a history of their recording career along with the background history of their recordings).  Bibliographies and Recommended Readings in the back or appendices of a book often provide you with exactly what you need to build your core.

Hardback or Paperback? What is the goal for your library? How much do you have to spend? Will you read your books more than once? If not, you don’t need a library. You can borrow from the public free library. But if you plan on the long term to read them and refer to them frequently, or to dialog in the margins (write in them) then you may want to consider hardbound for the majority of your books.

Look for bargains. Most libraries cull their stacks often. You can usually find hardcovers for $1. And paperbacks for .25-.50 each. It doesn’t take long to build a library at these prices. But be selective by sticking close to your plan. Otherwise you precious space will fill up with junk that doesn’t further your goals and overall plan.

Stick to your Core plan. Once you’ve decided on a plan of collecting, stick with it! Enough said.
Adopt your own set of “Simple Rules.” Mine are below as an illustration of the point.

 

MY SIMPLE RULES

The “Simple Rules” I’ve operated under for over forty years:

Love beauty (which will include the truth and creation). Certainly a person who does not love beauty can build a library. I suppose one who values ugliness, falsehood, destruction, and banality could collect books, but who but the base and lifeless would want to read them? Or write them?

Love of beauty forms character and generosity of spirit. These will therefore affect the character of what you will collect and share. Once character is in place my other two rules apply.

Collect what you enjoy. You must allow your library to evolve according to your interests and passions. Your interests have probably guided you this far. Your passions will form the core of your collection. I chose the very best three to five books in each field of interest or passion.

I have two main collections. One is my spiritual library and the other is my general library. Each library is made up of a core of several categories which are important to me. For example: I am passionate about my ministry and my walk with Jesus. Naturally the core of my ministry library is made up of several related categories: biblical studies (old and new testaments); church history; theology; and, language study. My walk with Jesus is covered under spiritual autobiography and biography along with devotional literature. These broad categories form the core of my spiritual library.

The categories of my general library are: Classic literature (poetry, novels & short stories), Biography/Memoir, Contemporary Literature (poetry, novels & short stories); Maritime topics; Writing, Faerie, History (WWII & New England); travel; western writings; and, the largest collection–Books about books–reading, bibliophilia, book collecting and selling; and, publishing.

Choose carefully only the books you KNOW you care enough about to read.

Read what you collect. No matter how long it takes, read your books. They will teach you and speak to you. They will inform and expand your thinking and experience.

Share what you read. Let others enjoy what you have enjoyed. Share your library. First, by blogging or journaling. Then be a lender to the people in your life who you know share your love of books or your core passion. Of course, make sure that those who borrow appreciate some understanding of the care and collecting of books. For example, I usually explain to someone who borrows a book of mine that I NEVER lay the book open. I ask them to likewise use a bookmark. I then explain that the spine can be broken or the glue be cracked by laying a book open, faced down. My watchword is “generosity” in all things. And lose a book before a friend. After all . . . a book is not more important than the people in my life.

QUESTION: What is the core of your personal library? Are you working a “plan”?

Photo: Our library room by David C Alves

©2011, David C Alves

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