Um, yes…also known as “culling” or “weeding.” A painful subject for booklovers, but it is true that some books outlive their usefulness to you. The purpose of weeding is to cultivate the quality of your collection. I have found myself freed from obligation by giving myself “permission” to not own a book. (This also applies when considering a purchase.)
There are good reasons to weed and not to weed. Personal considerations to weigh: quality, shelf space, cost of maintenance, usefulness, value, etc. Libraries weed for good reason, and although you may have taken advantage of their castoffs, it might be time to improve the appearance and usability of your own collection.
My primary rules for evaluating a book to keep (or acquire) are:
My secondary question is: Why do I have this book?
If you are unsure, sort and evaluate. You do not need multiple collections of H. C. Andersen’s fairy tales unless they are either especially unique or you are an avowed collector of his works, which should be stated in your personal policy. If a book does not meet criteria, put it in the “donate or sell” pile.
In addition to the questions above, you might try the MUSTY model by Patricia Wagner (the comments are mine):
M- Misleading, inaccurate, out of date. Unless you’re an official depository for books containing scientific theories that have since been disproved, don’t feel guilty about discarding books about NASA from 1975.
U- Ugly. Books ought to be beautiful, if at all possible. Books that are attractive will appeal to readers.
S- Superseded. If a better book comes along, don’t feel obligated to keep a former edition or favorite unless you are sure it has lingering value.
T- Trivial. People know I like books, and with the best of intentions they sometimes give me volumes that I really have no use for. Remember their thoughtfulness, thank them sincerely, but find a better home for those books–you will all be better off.
Y- Your collection: This book is no longer appropriate for your current passion. If you are finished learning everything there is to know about raising orchids and have moved on to quilting, donate the orchid books to a local club who can use them before they grow misleading, inaccurate and out of date for anyone else. Consider whether you have read it already and intend to do so again; or, if you haven’t read it, will you? Really and honestly?
Consider the less fortunate, someone who needs to read a good book. You have such good taste in books, shouldn’t you share with your friends? This is also good justification for purchasing duplicates at library booksales. I used to own about seven copies of C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, but I am down to two. The rest have been loaned out, and I’ve forgotten to whom, but I can always buy more. On the other hand, I have given away sixteen copies of Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss because that is a book that must be read repeatedly over a lifetime, and no kindred spirit of mine ought to live without that book. (Actually, only fifteen of those copies were my own to give away—I still owe one to my mother, having donated hers to a friend of mine!)
So having torn out your fingernails and shed a few drops of blood, what do you do with these books before you change your mind?
Once you have limited your collection to what you really want to keep, it’s time to decide how to make the best use of it. Stay tuned for the rest of the series to find out storage options, organizing options, and more!
Wagner, Patricia Jean. The Bloomsbury Review booklover’s guide: a collection of tips, techniques, anecdotes, controversies & suggestions for the home library. Denver: Bloomsbury Review, 1996.