End of year pondering: Thoughts on personal libraries, collecting and decluttering

It occurred to me, as I was preparing to add my e-books to my library database, that library size really doesn‘t matter any longer, at least where space is concerned. You could have a library with the same number of volumes as America‘s Library of Congress (over 22 million volumes), and yet you could carry it with ease in your pocket. In terms of the sheer number of owned books this is a great big opportunity for bibliophiliac one-upmanship. 

There are a little over 800 titles in my e-book collection, mostly free books downloaded from Project Gutenberg and other websites that legally offer e-books for free, plus a few I have bought or been given. Altogether they take up about 650 megabytes of hard drive space, which is enough to fill the largest hard drive available for the type of laptop I own, and then some. That hard drive takes up about the same amount of space as a small powder compact.

The 2 terabyte external hard drive I use for backing up the contents of the computer and to store stuff that doesn‘t need to be immediately accessible in the computer is the size of a thick trade paperback and could hold a library of 25 to 30 thousand volumes. You can get a more capacious hard drive into a box that size, how big I‘m not sure, but with modern technology being what it is, we  keep being able to store more and more information in less and less space all the time. Just look at SD cards - they are already offering ones with a storage capacity of 64 gigabytes, so the Library of Congress example I mentioned above is no science-fiction. It may even be possible right now, or if not, it will become possible within a few years' time, to store all that information in a box the size of a packet of cigarettes, or more likely on a memory card the size of a fingernail. 

The thing is, however, that if you want people to be impressed by the number of books you own, it is a lot easier to do so without being suspected of being a brag or a liar if you own a lot of physical books. All you have to do is bring into your home a non-bibliophile, by which I don‘t necessarily mean a non-reader, but let‘s rather say someone who reads books without feeling the overwhelming bibliophiliac urge to possess as many of them as possible. Then all you have to do is wait for them to notice the numerous and impressively overflowing bookcases. This will almost certainly lead to the question „How many books do you own?“ and that, inevitably, will lead to the follow up: „Have you read them all?“

This way, you don‘t need to work the contents of your Kindle or your hard drive into a conversation to get the desired awed or envious reaction, which can be difficult in any case, since non-bibliophiles tend not to like talking about books in general, only the books they are reading or have recently read (if any).

Among us bibliophiles I foresee this development: a few non-discriminating collectors, and by that I mean people who collect books in general as opposed to specific books, will start scouring the Web for all the free books they can find, regardless of whether they will ever read them or not. When they feel the collection is sufficiently large, they will begin one-upping each other left and right in a modern version of the Battle of the Books, in which the war will not be waged between the armies of the Ancients and the Moderns, but will instread be fought in a series of duels in which the last bibliophile standing will be the one with the biggest number of books.

As a collector, you see, I know how easy it is to lose control over the collecting urge. I am currently in the process of decluttering my home by throwing out, donating and using up several of my collections which have gotten out of hand. They include quilting fabrics, paper, yarn, craft supplies and, yes, books. I hasten to add that I do not collect any of these things indiscriminately, but merely what I plan to use. Unfortunately I operate on the „out of sight, out of mind“ principle, which means that rather than buy and use I buy and store for later, for that near-mythical time known to most pack-rats: when I have the time to do the project or read the book. Now, however, I am in a situation where I find it necessary to be careful with my money (the house is being repaired – again – and a large bill is looming) so I am now, finally, spending my time making and doing rather than buying and storing.

Phase one of this unusual situation is to try to use something from my pantry and/or freezer every time I cook something, instead of constantly buying new stock and ending up throwing out the old because it has expired. Phase two is the TBR challenge. Phase three is to use up some of the colourful paper scraps and leftovers from my bookbinding projects, and to finish at least one partially done craft project. I am turning the paper into beads, bowls, baskets and Christmas decorations, and the craft project is to finish the granny square crochet afghan I started making 5 years go. If I keep this up, by next spring I will have a nice pile of paper crafts  to sell through the handicrafts co-operative I am planning to join next summer, and an afghan to curl up under next winter while I continue the TBR challenge and get going with watching – before the technology becomes obsolete – all the DVDs I have accumulated. There still remain the quilting fabrics, but I‘ll climb that hill when the paper mountain has finally been conquered.

You might think that adding all those aforementioned e-books to the library database will destroy the TBR challenge, but no, that challenge is specifically to make room on my shelves for more TBR books and to prevent the necessity of buying more shelving. The e-books are a blissful extra, a bonus and a guarantee that I will not  run out of books to read even if I have to spend the next 20 years under house arrest. I just have to be careful not to start buying e-books unless I have definite plans of reading them. 

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