This morning my technology class was discussing libraries and the hot topic (in publishing, anyway) of ebook lending, specifically in relation to the HarperCollins fiasco. Our professor asked the class if anyone used libraries a lot. When I raised my hand, I was put on the spot, and got to tell the story of how I made it a goal to get rid of most of my books, and strengthened my already staunch support of libraries in the process.
When I was in high school and college, I equated the size of one’s personal library to the amount of knowledge they had. Teachers and professors were extremely knowledgeable and wise, and their offices were often lined with books. Jocks at my high school on the other hand, often didn’t bring a backpack to school, their lives were so free of books—and my conversations with some of them suggested a distinct lack of knowledge. At some point while navigating high school, I decided to keep all books I had ever bought in case I ever needed to refer to them again. (“The medicinal use of nettle tea? A Midwife’s Tale talks about that! Let me grab it and look it up!”) The only book I valued so little to part ways with it before about 2007 was Alexis de Toqueville’s Democracy in America. Books had an almost mystical value, and getting rid of them was like throwing away knowledge.
After many years of acquisition, in about 2007 I had a dismal epiphany: I would never be able to move anywhere–I had too many books! Graduate school? Forget about it! Getting out of The Ghettohaus [the name of my grand estate], with its abysmally poor insulation, collapsing roof, sinking back end, lack of a foundation, mouse problems, etc.? It would be impossible to move, simply because of the sheer amount of books I owned! A friend suggested I toy with the idea of trying to sell some books to Powell’s (above), and soon I set along a new path.
Meanwhile, a love of libraries was being cultivated in my heart. As I worked as a researcher for several years, I was accessing library materials constantly. My usage ranged from checking out library books to find the exact translation of a quote, browsing titles to search for reference photos, to accessing online databases like the Oxford English Dictionary from off-site. Eventually I started checking out CDs to expand my musical horizons, and DVDs to get up to speed on the world’s cinematic classics. Later yet, when I was interested in a book but did not know if I wanted to buy it, I would put it on hold at the library in order to preview before purchasing, to ensure my limited dollars would be spent most effectively.
As I wanted at least the option of moving at some point, I decided to stop acquiring more books by instead checking them out of the library. Once I had my next step defined in my head (graduate school in Vancouver BC), serious efforts were made to sell boxes of books to Powell’s (with remainders being donated to Ledding Library for their annual book sale). Soon I discovered and started pondering minimalism literature, and expanded the downsizing to the rest of my belongings as well.
It was really tough giving up books in the beginning, as physical books are more valuable than just the information contained therein. They’re beautiful to look at and touch. Perhaps your copy is signed by the author or was given to you by a dead relative. The frayed edges of a paperback may jog special memories. Becoming Minimalist covered the sentimental issues of giving up books last August, and Rowdy Kittens covered purging of sentimental items (not just books) recently as well.
I did it in baby steps. Slowly. It seems the more I’ve purged, the easier it has gotten. But I haven’t given up all my books yet. To date, I have sold or donated about 75% of what I once had, and hope to continue the trend when I return to Portland. The less stuff I have, the less there is to pack if I need to move, the less there is to clean, the less there is to worry about. One of my favorite things about getting books out of the library is that they’re often more beautiful than the copy I would have purchased for myself—I don’t have to store the thing and ruin it with dust, yet I can access it almost anytime I want!
As for the ebook lending fiasco, HarperCollins has nothing to fear from me. I don’t buy ebooks, I don’t borrow ebooks–the only time I have acquired an ebook at all was when it was the only available option, and free. But I do give both money and used books (to be sold for revenue) to my local library, and will continue to do so for years to come. Power to the libraries!