Weeding My Personal Book Collection

Way back when I started library school, I was completely unfamiliar with the concept of weeding a collection. It seemed unnatural and wrong to get rid of books. Back in my days as a community college student, I’d never understood the free books truck occasionally left in the library foyer.  Free books? But why? And yes, please.  My introductory collection development unit helped me to make sense of the concept that, in order to keep a collection current, the old, outdated, and underused materials sometimes had to go. I discovered the Awful Library Books blog, and seeing some of the books posted there really helped to solidify the idea that, yes, some things just need to go. And those rejected donations that wound up on the free truck? Not every book belongs in every collection. For some reason, I could apply these concepts to libraries, but not to my personal collection. I had, at some point, wanted these things. And what kind of person gets rid of books?

I’ve always been the type of person to keep every book I ever get.  Sure, I got rid of my Babysitters Club books when I outgrew those, and did the same with R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. But from high school on, if I got a book, I kept it.  My collection outgrew the amount of shelf space I had for it and yet it continued to grow.  When I started my Library Assistant position, I was thrilled to get to look through the discards before they went out on the free truck for the students.  I still have a shelf of those in my office that I’ve been meaning to get around to reading.  Those ones don’t count, you see, since they never even made it home to fight for shelf space.

It wasn’t really until I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, though, that it even occurred to me that I could simply weed my own collection.  I develop sentimental attachments to books because they were gifts, or I used them for a certain class that I liked, or I bought them at a certain time in my life, or I delusionally believe that I’m still going to read that book I’ve had for 8 years, the topic of which no longer particularly interests me.  What if I could have a collection that’s actually relevant to my current interests? One that’s filled with books that bring me joy, books I’m going to reread or actually read for the first time.

Thus began my adventure in downsizing the collection.  I didn’t opt to get rid of everything that didn’t “spark joy,” but I’ve made a  heavy dent in what was once an entirely unwieldy collection. I kept my books from library school in case I ever need to reference them.  I kept my favorite novels, nonfiction, and anything I still intend to read if I haven’t yet.

But I’ve gotten rid of many, many books including:

  • textbooks from film school and books on screenwriting
  • biographies of people who no longer interest me
  • books on astrology, UFOs, and poltergeists
  • epic fantasies I’m never going to read
  • my once-beloved Doctor Who novels featuring the 9th and 10th Doctors with Rose
  • several science fiction novels gifted to me that I didn’t think I’d read

I’ve dispensed with these unwanted books in a variety of ways. I donated boxes of books to both the library where I work and to Goodwill. I traded books in at my local used bookstore for credit I still need to use. I’ve also sold books to Powell’s, Amazon, Ecampus, Decluttr, and on eBay. I continue to purchase books, but I’ve started acquiring more books in ebook format and selling the ones I’ve just read if I don’t think I’ll reread them.

The weeding is still a work in progress.  I’m still uncertain if I can part with my many X-Files books, my Quantum Leap, Psych and Monk tie-in novels, or the directories of haunted places that once enthralled me.  These are not things I’m likely to read again, even though those are some of my all-time favorite shows and I am likely to rewatch them. I’m not entirely following the KonMari method and I’m not entirely weeding as I would a library collection, but I’m getting down to a manageable number of books. That, in and of itself, brings me joy.  The fact that I am getting close to being able to shelve all of my books brings me joy.  Owning things I may actually want to read someday is so much better than having boxes of books simply because I once saw fit to acquire them for one reason or another.

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