Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Should I Throw Out Books?

I do not like to throw things out and my house has a full basement, so from time to time I pack things for which I have no use, now or in the foreseeable future, into plastic boxes, label them, and lug them down to the basement. That includes old magazines, obsolete computer gear, and books. Two boxes worth just this evening.

The implicit theory is that some day, twenty, fifty, or a hundred years from now, a future occupant, perhaps a descendant, will find what I have stored of interest. In some cases the idea is not entirely implausible. The LNW80, for instance, that was my first computer, might be fun to play with for a future kid with an interest in gadgets and the history of technology, and similarly for my vectrex game machine. 

But what about books? My younger son reads them as kindles on his phone. There are lots of people around, of course, who still prefer to read books as books, one reason I have just been converting two of mine, currently available in the form of Kindles, into print on demand hardcopies. But will there be lots of such people fifty years from now? I doubt it. And if there are, there will also be a lot of old books for them that nobody else wants.

Which makes me think that instead of putting books I will never read in the basement, perhaps I should put them in the trash. But I don't have the heart to do it.

28 Comments:

At 10:27 PM, February 04, 2015, Blogger Brad said...

Donate them to your local public library. As I understand it, they keep the ones they can use for lending, and sell the ones they can't.

I suppose if some of your books have no resale value whatsoever, they might toss them. But at least the ones with value will find their way to people who can use them rather than ending up in a landfill somewhere.

 
At 3:23 AM, February 05, 2015, OpenID hudebnik said...

I saw a talk last week by author Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (of which I picked up a copy at the talk). I haven't finished the book yet, but the majority of it appears to be tricks and tips to persuade yourself to throw things out (or donate them or sell them or whatever -- just get them out of your life).

Some of them are sorta mystical: "your books aren't actually happy in storage in your basement, and would be happier in the hands of someone who will actually read them." Or "this book that you never finished has taught you all it was ever going to teach you, and therefore has served its purpose in your life."

Others are eminently sensible bits of psychological jiu-jitsu. Work by categories, not locations (e.g. triage all the fiction books in the house at once, not all the books in a given room at once). Remove all the items of the chosen category from their places and put them all on the floor, so (a) you see how many of them you have, and (b) it takes an affirmative action to put them back on the shelf, rather than "keep them where they are" being the passive default. Pick up each individual item and look for a visceral reaction: "does this item spark joy in my heart?" Work from the least-emotionally-wrenching categories to the most (e.g. clothes before books before mementoes), so you can develop triaging skills in the easy cases before testing them on hard cases. And so on. I haven't tried any of this yet, but it sounds workable.

 
At 7:05 AM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Michael_Tomac said...

I agree with Brad. You should find somewhere to donate them. Worst case scenario is some of them get thrown out, which would have happened anyway.

 
At 7:09 AM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Fred Mangels said...

I'm a firm believer in getting rid of things I know I'm not going to use anymore. Why leave a mess for someone else to clean up? As far as books go, the library suggestion is a good one.

Eureka has a used bookstore. Back in the late early 80s I had maybe 100 books I decided to get rid of. Took them down to the used bookstore and was surprised at how much they gave me for them. I believe it was close to $200. A tidy sum at the time.

That was before the internet so not sure if you'd get that much for them now.

 
At 7:13 AM, February 05, 2015, Anonymous The Singing Organ-Grinder said...

You virtually have to pay people to take away dictionaries, so set fire to 'em and cook some sausages for fellow iconoclasts.

 
At 9:15 AM, February 05, 2015, Blogger BG said...

I have used old books as kindling for fires. People get irrational when you talk about burning books though.

 
At 9:16 AM, February 05, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In history, we've lost books as old writing mediums gave way to new ones. Even now, transferring a book to something a kindle can read takes time and effort, and people have be selective in which books they do that with since there are so many books. There's the chance whatever books you have won't make the conversion cut elsewhere, and if they consistently don't, people will forget them.

Up until we find some old cache of books somewhere like a basement. Entire bibliographies have been saved this way.

In contrast, throwing them away helps nobody. And donating them to libraries puts the trust in the overall system that does this selection process.

I'd say keep them in your basement. One day somebody will find them, and even if every one of your books made it and can in the future be read on a future-kindle, they might spark or facilitate an interest in some future kid the same way your Vectrex might.

 
At 9:20 AM, February 05, 2015, Blogger August said...

I work in a library. If you care about the books, keep them. Their standards for determining what to keep are usually predicated on what is popular. Most librarians are trying to be 'relevant' rather than having a functional library. Profits and/or private philanthropists used to keep libraries on an even keel, but public money has led to the over-valuation of circulation statistics. In other words, your local library is now more interested in movies, videogames, etc... rather than maintaining a decent catalog of knowledge that might be helpful for people.
So, between leftist politics and attempts to serve the lowest common denominator to bump up stats- good books get shown the door. We need libraries as they used to be. It is about self-directed learning. Libraries often function as places for what the unschoolers call strewing. I am heavily into using the internet too, but I can tell most people need still need spaces to do this in, which is why I get so tired of libraries having little more than whatever is in Barnes&Nobles because they keep chasing the popular stuff. The coffee shop in B&N is the profit center- and the thing we ought to emulate. The inventory, however, ought to be much more interesting, like I suspect browsing through your basement would be.

Besides, if you collect enough of them, they can function as insulation and decor.

 
At 9:36 AM, February 05, 2015, OpenID whswhs said...

Here in San Diego there is a man who goes about collecting books that people have no more use for, and making them available for free to people who want them. A couple of used bookstores that I visit regularly accept dropoffs for him. You could ask around at your preferred bookstores and see if anyone does that.

A friend of ours holds an annual Cthulhumas party, as part of which, for the past couple of years, people are invited to bring any books, DVDs, CD, or other media they no longer want to keep, for other people to take home. Maybe your social circle could have such an event?

Donating to a public library is also an option, as already noted by Brad.

I certainly understand the difficulty of just throwing books away, though I've done it with books that were too worn out for anyone to want.

 
At 1:36 PM, February 05, 2015, Anonymous Robbo said...

Any specialist book that's our of print is likely to command a reasonable price on Amazon Marketplace. If you sell them they will at least be of some value to the purchaser.

The ones that don't command a price you can throw out with a clear conscience.

 
At 1:40 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Jonathan said...

Currently I have piles of books that I'm ready to get rid of. Throwing them away is a temptation. As I live in Spain and my books are in English, the local demand for them is rather limited.

 
At 2:26 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Jon Schipp said...

Donate them to archive.org, they especially like old computer gear, manuals, software, etc. They take physical material like books as well. @JasonScott of archive.org could help.

 
At 3:07 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Arthur B. said...

There are businesses who specialize in book scanning. You send them a book, they cut the spine, scan it, OCR it so that the image becomes searchable, and send you the result.

If the books are not particularly hard to find, then nothing of value is really lost if you throw them out.

If the books are hard to find, consider having them scanned and "liberating" them anonymously on a file sharing service.

 
At 4:49 PM, February 05, 2015, Blogger Bruce Sommer said...

I've had the same issue and have considered donating to the local Public Library, but they have a set policy of not using any donations for circulation and selling them on their own used. Call me selfish, but if I'm going to donate, I would like some input on what inventory will be added to the Library as a result of that donation.

 
At 9:48 PM, February 05, 2015, Anonymous RKN said...

Donation yes, or a celebratory bond bonfire -- a kind of wake of forgotten knowledge. I can sometimes not remember the import of what I read two years ago, much less two decades ago. That's the saddest part for me.

My wife & I once left boxes of books on the doorstep of a closed library. As we drove away we both teared up.

 
At 3:37 AM, February 06, 2015, OpenID hudebnik said...

When we attend the monthly SCA business meeting, we bring a "potlatch bag" containing a dozen or more books of medieval or Renaissance interest (they were duplicates, or we'd already read them and didn't expect to read them again, or we started them and didn't think much of them). We come home with (on average) one or two of them, and the comforting feeling that they've gone to homes where they might be more appreciated.

Of course, this doesn't help with truly massive numbers of books, unless you're willing to turn the gathering into a book swap at the expense of its original purpose.

 
At 9:27 AM, February 06, 2015, Blogger jimbino said...

Just 100 years ago, folks threw out their buggy whips and Model T Repair Manuals. Just think what they'd be worth today!

 
At 9:37 AM, February 06, 2015, Blogger jimbino said...

Whatever you do, don't contribute books to a library that does not serve booze, or at least coffee.

Who the hell wants to sit around reading books dehydrated?

On that subject, David, how is it that folks manage to get away with maintaining that drinking booze dehydrates you? Hard liquor is half water and wine and beer are around 90% water, so if you were to alternate a glass of wine with a glass of water, you're not doing much extra hydration.

 
At 11:53 AM, February 06, 2015, Blogger dgriffith said...

Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I feel happier after purging my home of things I don't use.

 
At 4:06 PM, February 06, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If they are in good condition, you might try a used book store. They might buy some of them. After that you could try the library or Goodwill or the like.

At the rate hackers are getting into everything and the way companies are slipping in more and more ads, folks might turn back to real books one day. Some studies already show that people are turning back to books instead of the machines.

 
At 7:24 AM, February 07, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Borrow, or invest in a good scanner and turn the books into a digital format. The beauty of this method is that you're not really getting rid of the books. If you can't imagine throwing the books away, this is a good workaround. You still "posses" the books when they're in digital format. You can still look up and find information from those books. This can help you get over any anxiety you may be feeling about losing the books.

 
At 1:59 PM, February 08, 2015, Blogger Tibor said...

For me, physical copies of books have become a souvenir and/or a luxury item. That means I like to have hardcover copies of books I really like (I sometimes buy LP records of some musicians, even though I don't even have a gramophone). Although music and books are in essence immaterial, there is something nice about having a physical manifestation of those that are really good. I'm happy to have the "also good" books and music just in an electronic format.

My guess is that this will be the future of books. LP record sales are on the rise and the highest since the beginning of the 1990s (when CDs kicked in). Of course they are nowhere near the level of the pre-digital era, but they don't seem to be vanishing either. I expect a similar pattern for books.

If I had a full basement, I'd keep those books that I would value the most and give the rest to a public library.

 
At 5:52 PM, February 08, 2015, Anonymous Robert Ayers said...

Related: http://accordingtohoyt.com/2015/02/07/being-prepared-cathe-smith/

 
At 4:04 PM, February 09, 2015, Anonymous Dain said...

I recently lugged around a weighty bag of books for selling in Berkeley. After the second store wanted none of them either, I thought it more worthwhile to just give them away than to hope to get maybe 5 bucks from the effort.

Even then, store employees debated for a minute if they even wanted them.

Books are in many cases worth less than nothing. Sad but true.

 
At 4:06 PM, February 09, 2015, Anonymous Dain said...

These were overwhelmingly classical liberal books btw, including stuff by Tibor Machan. Can't remember the others. They're all waiting for you however at Pegasus Books in North Berkeley if you're interested...

 
At 5:13 PM, February 11, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never regreted keeping a book but I have certainly regreted throwing some away.

 
At 8:45 PM, February 15, 2015, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got rid of some useless books. My process was:

1. Look up on Amazon
2. If the used book price is less than $3, trash it. I can't be bothered to ship it. Even $3 is not quite worth it, but there was some sentimentality involved.

It's possible that books worth less than $3, but at least worth something, could have been donated to a library. I think this is tax deductible.

I actually liked throwing out the books, because I don't want to be a windbag with shelves of books solely to impress guests. And I figure that soon I will be gone, and it's better to part with stuff on my terms.

 
At 10:45 AM, March 04, 2015, Blogger kevrob said...

Back in 2004, I had to move house on short notice. I was also in need of cash. I have been a bookseller, and had an idea of what my stuff was work. I had to triage. I had some local book dealers I knew visit the house and make an offer on the lot. One fellow agreed to give me a nice check for items he wanted, and left the rest. I bulked out some turned out not to be collectible stuff to another. The rest I shopped around to a few stores in my neighborhood. I had no time to try to sell them piecemeal on ebay or abebooks. Anything that had no commercial value was donated to Vincent de Paul, because A) they would pick them up and B) other thrift shops, such as Goodwill, didn't even want to see them.
I still had to throw out massive amounts of paper and videotape I couldn't sell or store, and that after a garage sale, at which I gave away many items. If I hadn't needed the cash, it would've been much nicer to keep my "friends," but needs must. Kevin R

 

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