Every couple of months, I work through my home library and remove several titles. I am currently preparing to move, which prompted me to go through this process yet again. After all, why ship books I’m going to get rid of?

For some die-hard readers, they say the time to get rid of a book is never. I strongly disagree. Quantity has nothing to do with quality.

In full transparency, one of my desires when I first started becoming an avid reader was to build up an impressively large library, however, that emphasis has shifted greatly over the past year. I am now constantly pruning my library – taking away volumes that are no longer deemed necessary. Having gone through the process several times, I have decided to jot down a few bits of advice to those managing their own book collections.

Before I choose to keep a book on my shelf, I will typically ask the following questions:

1. When did I reference this book last?

It’s not necessarily a question of when I read the entire book last, simply when I referenced it last. Personally, if I have not referenced a book at all within 6 months to a year – either for research on a topic I’m writing about, for studying, or for casual reading – it’s generally clear that the book is not an essential part of my library.

The exact timeframe by which one judges this will vary slightly from one person to the next. Many factors play into this, including how often you read, what the purpose of your reading is, etc. I am an avid reader and am constantly writing – meaning I’m in several books a week. Take your personal routines, habits, and schedules into account when you are determining how often you should be in a book for it to be deemed essential.

Note: If a book is a part of a commentary series or a set, this question may not apply. For example, I own the John MacArthur New Testament Commentary Set. I may not be in each book of the series in a year, however, I don’t remove portions of the set, considering I will likely reference them at some point when studying a specific chapter of the Bible.

2. Do I have more than one copy of this book?

This sounds silly, but if you read enough, you will inevitably discover two or three copies of the same book in your library. Sometimes this happens because you receive a copy of a book you already have as a gift. Other times, you will purchase a book from a bargain bookstore, unsure if you already have it. On rare occasions, sometimes an author will release an old book under a new title. I picked up Passion of the Christ by John Piper recently, not realizing it was a reprint of his alternately-titled book, Fifty Reasons Christ Came to Die – which I already owned.

When you discover multiple copies of the same book, consider passing one copy along to someone else. (Unless it’s a terrible book. Then dispose of it.)

3. Is there someone who needs this book more than me?

I consider this often. There are some books I have enjoyed and spent much time in, but have thought of a brother or sister-in-Christ whom it would be more beneficial for in their current situation or stage of life. If this is the case and I am not able to easily attain another copy for them, I will generally lend or give that particular book to them. I love Dave Harvey’s book on marriage, When Sinners Say I Do, but I was willing to part with it so that my wife’s newly engaged cousin could be helped by it.

Tip: This is easier if you write solid notes and key quotations down when reading a book. The ideal situation is to have a journal or computer document with these recordings, so that if you give away or loan out a book, you can still reference the primary information in the book without a physical copy present.

4. Is this book heretical?

If you are studying theological works, you will probably dive into a heretical book once in a while – even unwittingly. If so, ask yourself: Is this book significant enough to keep for research and reference purposes, or is it just a bad book wasting space? Typically, the answer will be the latter. If so, junk it.

Tim Challies made this statement in his excellent article, The Book Glutton,

“It is not sinful to throw away a book. When I receive books I usually take them to the church office and sort through them there. The ones that are not worth keeping I throw in the trash. It is amusing to me how often I find people removing these books from the trash as if books have intrinsic worth or value and should not be thrown away. Free yourself to throw away bad books. And when I say to throw them away, I mean it. Do not sell them at a used book store or garage sale. If they are harmful to you, they are harmful to others. Do the world a favor and toss them.”

5. Is this book simply here to make my library look more impressive, or is it genuinely here for my personal and spiritual edification?

Too often, a seemingly humble pursuit can transform into a prideful pursuit. Our aggregation of books should be for the purpose of growing, educating ourselves, and – as with anything – rooted in a desire to glorify God in all we do. No object in our lives, including our books, should exist for the sole purpose of impressing others and bringing approval to ourselves. I don’t need to keep a volume or set of volumes simply for this purpose.

How do you determine what books belong in your collection? Drop a comment below!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s