Never Enough Space, Or Too Many Books!

 

Joe Roop Brickey

It began innocently enough. I attended the NGS Diamond Jubilee and bought a copy of Val Greenwood’s Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Six thousand books and an addition of a room to the house later, there are too many books in my collection. I have intruded into the dining room, now known as the library annex.

The question is how do I thin the collection? What do I chose to remove? How do I part with a book that was a “must have” when I bought it? Faced with books two deep on some shelves and piled on the floor, it is well past time to address the overcrowding.

The rules for new books don’t work like the rules for new clothes (if not worn in two years let it go) because you might work on a line for some time, then find that you need the books when you tackle that family again. So how to decide?

To begin, ask yourself questions about the books you are considering for removal.

  • When did you use this book last? 
  • Have you ever used this book? Is the book an old edition? 
  •  Is it falling apart?
  • Is the content of the book still valid or has the material become outdated? 
  •  How does this book contribute to the research you are doing? 
  •  Can you copy a few pages from the book and have everything that is needed from it?
  • Is the book still in print, or is it old or rare? 
  •  Is this source available on CD? On line? 
  •  Why did you buy it in the first place? Was it because it was a good deal, the title was intriguing, or do you really think that you can use it in your research? We who love books don’t always have to have a logical reason for acquiring a book. To keep the book when space has become scarce requires evaluating those impulse purchases.

Save six, set one aside, I go through my shelves slowly. Some books are in use fairly often, others have not been opened since they were first purchased. Have I ever really used this book? But I might need it some day! Choices are both easy and hard. The third edition of a book now in its eighth edition is fairly easy to say goodbye to, but the county history for a neighboring county to the one my ancestors lived in is harder. Slowly the pile of discards grows larger.

One way to make this process easier is to insure that the books you remove will have a good home. Donating books to your local library or genealogical society collection is a less painful way to say goodbye. If you should need them again – even though you haven’t for the past eight years – they are nearby. If the library or society is a nonprofit, you should be able to take a tax deduction.

You might have a used bookstore in your community that will buy history or genealogy books. While you usually do not recover what you paid for a book, at least it is money to put towards attending a conference where you can buy new books!

Some people advertise on genealogy blogs that they will give books to anyone willing to pay the postage and handling. Others share with members of their local genealogical society. Does the retirement home in your community have a genealogy club and a place to house a genealogy collection?

It does not hurt to check to see if a book is still in print, or how rare it might be, before letting it go. The Genealogical Publishing Company identifies both the books that are in print as well as those that are temporarily out-of-print on its website, http://www.genealogical.com/. Other book publishers have similar formats. There are a number of sites, such as http://www.bookfinder.com/, that give prices for out-of-print books. You might be surprised how little, or how much, an out-of-print book might be worth.

Whatever you decide, it is never easy, at least for me, to say goodbye to a book. Once I have decided, I try to get the books out of the house and to their new destination fairly quickly. That way I do not go through them again and decide to keep one for just a bit longer.

Done thoughtfully and deliberately, sorting through your books, whether you have 100 or 6,000, it is a way of reconnecting with your collection. You will discover books you forgot that you had, find a second copy of a book, remember an old favorite, and hopefully clear some space for future additions to the collection.

Weeding the collection is a bit painful (the sore muscles from shifting all those tomes), somewhat bittersweet (the expensive book that never helped you), and a bit nostalgic (remembering all the great finds the book holds). Whatever you decide to let go of, the newly gained space is sure to fill up again. Such is the joy of the bibliophile – there are always new ones to tempt us!

Joe Roop Brickey is a familiar face in the Genealogical Publishing Company’s booth at national conferences. She is a former board member of the Federation of Genealogical Societies [FGS] and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries Scotland. She resides in Charlotte, North Carolina. This article is her second for GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com (see archived article for March 21, 2008).

 

1 Comment


  1. Thank you for this article. You are right, we need to share with others our books that we have treasured for years but no longer open or need. I love the criteria for deciding which ones you find other homes for or which ones you save.

    Quote | Posted September 23, 2008, 8:34 am

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