Downsizing a Book Collection


“Downsizing” seems to have become a catchword in libraries lately. Physical books are seen less as repositories of knowledge–with a seemingly-endless amount of “knowledge”, both accurate and worthless, being available through the Internet–and more as space-eaters. If books are not being used, or if similar ones are available in electronic format, or if a library simply doesn’t have the space for them because of growth in other areas of the collection (or because of less collection space in general), then it seems to make perfect sense to get rid of them. And the criteria, while varying based on a particular library’s needs and the types of materials being weeded, are usually relatively straightforward. But, what about downsizing one’s own book collection?

As the linked article below (from Inside Higher Ed) mentions, the dynamics of downsizing one’s personal collection have shifted, as books are no longer a scarcity. Furthermore, it is harder to view a physical book as a tangible item having an inherent worth, if that same book is available in electronic format, or if another copy can easily be found on Amazon in the event that one has “donator’s remorse”. What makes it harder to give up a book, however–especially a particular copy of one–is the experience one had when reading it for the first time. Keeping a favorite childhood book can provide a trip down memory lane and serve as a reminder of how a lifelong passion developed, even if the content is no longer captivating. Flipping through a book that sparked a new interest can bring back the thrill of discovery, even if one has moved on to other pursuits. Re-reading a book that one took on a vacation can remind one that reading is often part of an experience larger than just viewing words on a page.

Also, in the case of those books that we do give away, do we consider what happens to them once they have left our hands? One of the reasons we part with books–or with any personal item that once had value to us–is that we assume they will find a good home, whether that be in someone else’s personal collection, in a used bookstore, or in an online marketplace. But, is that always the case? And, even if the new owner does value the book, does that necessarily mean the person will actually value it for content (i.e., will bother reading it)? What if the individual simply wants the book so that a set is complete, and then the set sits, unread, on a shelf? Or, what if someone desires a copy of a book merely so that one has a particular edition? Or, what if one doesn’t even value the text, but simply finds the illustrations interesting? What about the book that is simply tossed into the trash can because it is considered beyond repair, or that, in the interest of protecting the environment, is recycled?

What criteria do you use for downsizing your personal collection? And, do you have any “horror stories”–real or imagined–regarding the fate of once-treasured books that have been sent to a new home?


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