Amassing an impressive personal library was an outward mark of professional achievement and intellectual pursuit during the era when I left school for work. A book was considered a treasure; a room full of them was a treasury of (potential) knowledge.
When entering someone’s office or study, I glance at their books which often reveal something about the person who owns them.
My own collection has grown slowly over the years with spurts of deliberate attention. There is something comforting and gratifying about being surrounded by shelves chocked full of good books.
After entering journalism as a second career, I discovered that publishers eagerly give books to editors in hopes of getting publicity. Most of them are lousy; anybody can publish a book these days.
However, I have added many excellent volumes in recent years — mostly without cost — and have become more selective about what to buy or keep.
But my shelves had filled to overflowing. It was time to do some something about it.
So earlier this week I decided to trim down my library — seriously this time. Earlier attempts had few results. It was just too hard to let go of but a handful of them.
To achieve my goal, I came up with some solid criteria to guide my shelf-by-shelf determination of which books to keep and which ones to … let, let, let … let go into the boxes that will be donated to the local library.
My criteria for tossing a book are:
1. Have I opened it ever — or within the last year?
2. Does it have significant sentimental value? (Written by a beloved person or came out of some respected person’s library?)
3. Was it written by a local author AND has my name in the front? (If so, I don’t want such persons knowing I tossed their book; will dispose of it out of town later.)
4. Is the book rare — first edition, famous author, a classic in its field?
5. Am I likely to go looking for this particular book?
6. Has the book been personally inscribed to me as a thoughtful gift? (The nice inscriptions in the front — from my wife, ex-sister-in-law, former professor, good friends — give these books their value.)
There were a couple of close calls with the last one. So I began checking the front flap more closely.
Two types of books that I once displayed proudly were surprisingly the easiest to give away: some reference books and heavy works of theology.
Reference books that once drew me to them have been replaced by Internet searches that offer more and more-current information. Dropping a two-handed book into the give-away box was an admission of changing ways.
I also asked myself if there was any chance that one day I would pickup Jurgen Moltmann’s The Church in Power of the Holy Spirit for a casual refresher course. Nah. In the box, with others of that genre.
While few of my volumes were textbooks — because I usually borrowed them or sold them for cash — I did find a syllabus from Dr. Gonzalez’ New Testament intro at Berry College in 1977. I kept the mimeographed sheet and tossed the outdated textbook.
Paring down my Books-A-Bunches to a more manageable size will help me find a book more easily when searching in the future. And the new criteria will be applied to every book that comes into my hands along with the decision to keep or give away.
Now, how to get these boxes to the library without injury?
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.