If you’re familiar with how libraries work, you already know what “weeding” is when used to refer to a book collection.
(Before going forward, I want to apologize for any errors; again, I’m posting from my phone, and I still can’t get used to a touch screen.)
If you don’t know what weeding is, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Libraries are, generally speaking, limited in physical space, and if it’s a public library at least, there’s a duty to keep the actual collection up-to-date. If you keep all the books you bought in the first place 1970’s, there’s a real possibility that you will not have the room for purchases in the 2020’s. In order to keep a collection relevant, librarians frequently weed books–discarding ones that are out of date or ones that have seen better days or ones that are not seeing circulation.
I was a library page once, and a lot of my books (at least pre-college) were discards. Not a bad thing when they’re free and you have no cash, but there needs to be a limit to everything, I guess.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to reduce the amount of stuff I own. it’s hard, but rewarding. As trite as it might sound, I do think people (and Americans in particular) are more prone towards accumulating things, and my biggest vice has been by far books. At my last count, I had more than 1000 books. Don’t get me wrong, I love books, but at a certain point I think even if you love something, you need to realize when it’s too much. I had nine bookshelves, and when that’s the majority of your furniture, you can’t really have anything else. If you don’t have a home library, chances are likely that 1000 books is at least 500 books too many.
I’ve cut down to around 250 (rough estimate) and am still weeding my collection, and some of my friends have remarked, “Wow! That must be killing you!” or something else along those lines. If it were me several years ago, maybe; books were the first thing I could have for myself and, like many other people who have a reluctance to discard items, I had a lot of anxiety about keeping them. Now?
It doesn’t hurt that bad. I don’t know if it hurts at all.
Here are some of the “rules” I’ve been observing while weeding–maybe they might help you, too.
1. Get rid of any doubles (and keep the version you find more attractive).
We forget what we have and get multiple copies of books sometimes. Or, we’ll get a collection of poems or short stories and only later get a larger collection that allows you to free up the shelf space that multiple volumes take up. My criterion has been about judging books by their covers if I have two of them, but if one has critical commentary you like, that might be the one you keep.
2. Get rid of books you didn’t like.
I bought “Vampires in the Lemon Grove.” I loved the jacket design. I don’t own the book anymore because, as I mentioned in my review of it, I wasn’t in love with the stories. Even if you bought something, if you wind up hating it, get rid of it.
3. Think about the last time you read that book.
You might have really loved a novel when you read it your sophomore year of high school, but that you and the current you are probably different people. There are a lot of other books out there, and if you haven’t read a single “Magic Treehouse” book since sixth grade, I can tell you that there are kids who might be in better need of it, and there are new books that want that shelf space.
4. Ask whether or not you’re pulling a Gatsby and keeping certain books for the impression people will have of you if they think you read them.
There are some books that impress people when they find out you’ve read them. If you have read them, and you loved them, great! Keep the book! But if you’re keeping the book to maintain appearances, it might be time to rethink whether or not you really need it.
I’m lucky enough to live near a library, and to be in a part of the country where people do care about libraries. I can be picky about the books I keep on my shelves since if I don’t necessarily love the cover design or if I don’t know if I’ll love the book, I can just get it from the library. If you’re fortunate enough too, be willing to get discerning about your book collection. It’s something you care about and something you’re an actuve curator of–don’t let yourself be tied to books that don’t cut it for you if you don’t have to.