I’ve never met an academic without a room full of books.  Or two.  Or three.  Rooms, I mean.  There are always new books that we find out about or that come out which are relevant to our work.  However that is a LOT of storage space, not to mention cost if you move, weight if you don’t and dusting regardless.

You don’t HAVE to dedicate huge portions of your house to being a library.  And you don’t have to go completely broke keeping up with this material.  There are some techniques for managing both the cost and the storage of books that can help keep it all down to a dull roar.

ACQUISITION:

  • Buy used – wherever possible, buy used.  This is good for the planet (fewer trees killed) and good for your wallet.  Amazon shows used books with their listings and make it painless.
  • Check all the different formats – I have found that sometimes you can get a hard cover version of a book for less than the soft cover (both new and used).  So look for other formats and see if it matters to the price.
  • Pay attention to edition numbers, however – Books that are updated often put out new additions.  Sometimes that matters to you and sometimes it doesn’t.  Depending on the topic it can be more or less of a big deal.  You have to decide if you care, but regardless pay attention.
  • For new academic books, use your conference discount – Conferences invariably have book displays and discounts for those attending.  If you can’t go, get someone to bring you the new listings and conference order sheets.
  • Shop around – Amazon is a great starting point, but hit book search engines like AddAll and  BookFinder to make sure you are getting the best price.
  • Google Books – If the book is OLD, it may be freely downloadable via Google Books.  If it isn’t, you may still be able to read parts of it online via Google Books.  You need to search using Google Scholar to get at many of these books, but it is worth the effort ESPECIALLY if you only need a chapter or subsection.
  • Library book sales – Particularly for academics, library book sales are a goldmine.  Get on the list for your local libraries and go to one.  The books are inexpensive and it’s a great way to get out of print or older volumes. 
  • Used bookstores – Fun to browse and get ideas.  However this is often my last stop.  Any one used bookstore is likely to be spotty at best, whereas the online sources like Amazon Marketplace let you search several used bookstores at a time.
  • Audio Books – Less shelf space, easier storage.  However they can be expensive.  Check used bookstores and more importantly your local library for downloadable audio books.  These aren’t likely to be technical/academic books, but I’m a big fan of listening to background material as opposed to reading it.
  • eBooks – Same thing here – downloaded books take up less space than printed ones.  Having said that, you need to be comfortable reading books electronically for this to be helpful.  Again, check your library for downloadable ebooks.

STORAGE:

  • Get decent bookshelves – The cheaper the shelves, the faster they lean, sag, bend and ultimately break.  Ikea makes decent quality shelves at a very reasonable price, and they aren’t made of cardboard.  The Billy series is the most famous (and has the most options) but they make something for every decor.  We like Expedit.
  • Have a system – It does no good to have an extensive collection if you can’t find the book you need when you need it.  Have an organizational system.  It could be alphabetically by author, by topic then author, or whatever works for you.  The key is just to be able to find the books when you need them.
  • Catalog your collection – My husband, the librarian, recently turned me on to LibraryThing, a site that lets you catalog your collection and search it on the web, including on your phone.  You can also tag books and see what other things people have tagged similarly.  Social networking for your book collection.  (The search via phone is the most important feature, since it lets you search from the book store and make sure you don’t have it BEFORE you buy a second copy.)
  • Take care of the books – dust regularly, stand them up neatly, try not to rip the dust jackets, etc.  All of this will make them last longer and increase their resale value if/when you sell them.

DISPOSAL:  If you don’t periodically trim your collection it will take over your home.  Sometimes it is important to consider whether you will truly read the book again, whether the information is easy to find, if it is outdated, where else you might be able to find it, etc.  Then it’s time to get rid of some.

  • Amazon Marketplace – Amazon makes it PAINFULLY easy to sell your stuff.  You list the book, price it to sell, and ship it when it does.  A few tips though:
    • Be honest about the condition.  Use the comments to put in details.
    • If the book is a specific edition, list that in the comments.  Particularly if it is an older edition.
    • Price it low for a fast sale.  I often just price mine at the bottom regardless of condition to get it out of the house.
    • Don’t bother to list items for less than $3.00.  Amazon’s fees eat your profit.  I know some of the big sellers do this, but it just isn’t worth it for the average low volume seller.
    • Always offer expedited (priority mail) shipping.  Some buyers need the book fast and this can be the difference between a sale and no sale.
    • Search by ISBN number, not title.  There are LOTS of different versions of any book and the ISBN will more accurately match up your book to the correct description.
    • Don’t overpack.  These are books; piles of paper bound together.  They don’t need big boxes and bubble wrap.
  • Used bookstores – Used bookstores will often buy books for either small amounts of cash or larger amounts of credit.  My husband hasn’t bought a casual fiction book in YEARS because of the credits we have with our biggest local bookstore.  This is where all the books not worth listing on Amazon go.
  • Donate to Charity – If it might be interesting to folks who shop at the local Goodwill, donate the books.  Even if the store sells them for just a buck or two, you have still done some goo
    d.
  • Sell to fellow students – If you have collected a bunch of academic books on a topic that you are now no longer interested in or working on, put out a message to graduate students offering the books individually or as a set.

I personally consider disposal the most important part of this process.  I know people whose decorating scheme is walls lined with books throughout their entire house.  That is neither attractive nor usable (the books or the house).  Periodically you need to trim it back to what you want/need/intend to read or use again.  Keep the stuff that is hard to replace, get rid of the stuff you haven’t looked at in a while.  It will help your decorating and your budget.

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