The Life Changing Magic of Library Maintenance

marriage of 2 times great grandparents in family bibleAs a co-owner of this little corner of the Internet, I feel obliged to weigh in on Marie Kondo’s comments that had book lovers twitchy and defensive. Kondo’s philosophy is about a “less is more” lifestyle and advises the book people to let go of titles that don’t spark joy. Many of Kondo’s critics took issue with her suggestions of downsizing a personal library. The rallying cry of “you can never have too many books” was heard across the Internet.

Content vs Physical Book

Before everyone gets their book jackets in a twist, it is time to let go of the idea that books by themselves are sacred. Is it the actual book or the contents within? A public library exists to help people navigate life by having access to the information they need to make decisions. Sometimes that information is digital, video, audio, or a plain old book. It also is anything from romance fiction to a detailed 1,000 page tome on the life cycle of a fruit fly.

A personal library is different. You get to be your only patron. My personal library is not that interesting. There is a pile of library weeds from a parenting collection that will probably be showing up on our site soon. I also have several reference books on WordPress, Joomla, Excel, an APA manual, and several genealogy references. They are utilitarian and I wouldn’t say they spark any particular joy. They are simply useful right now. When they aren’t useful, they will go into a donation or book sale.

There are a handful of items that I will probably keep forever. They are, in fact, outdated, in poor condition, and would not be appropriate in anyone’s library except mine. I keep them because they are a physical reminder of my own life and history. The content is almost secondary.

My Picks for Sparking Joy

  • A Swedish Bible that belonged to my great-great, grandparents when they emigrated to Marquette, Michigan about 1880. My great-great grandmother passed away after giving birth to my great grandmother around 1876. It is fragile and is falling apart. (The picture is a portion of the page from that Bible.)
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. A cheap paperback edition from the late 1970s that was one of my favorites as a teen.
  • A Child’s History of the World by V.M. Hillyer because my mother read that book from cover to cover to me and my sister when we were probably 6 or 7.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: I love this book and I wanted my son to read it. At 16, he was not interested, even though I knew he would like it. I bribed him with cash and he made a vague promise. Nearly 10 years later after a near bankruptcy, divorce, and some serious life problems, he actually read it and gave me a book report. Best of all, he understood why I liked it.
  • Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman: I read this in one of the first women’s studies courses offered in the late 1970s early 1980s in college. It was a game changer and had me reading more and I ended up with a minor in women’s studies.

These books do spark joy because they bring me to a place in time where I was changing. They aren’t necessarily my favorite books. I have been a reader nearly my entire life. If I tried to keep every book I ever read, or even the ones I just liked, I would probably end up as a candidate for Hoarders.

For a personal library, you go right ahead and collect what you want. You have my permission to fill up your house with books if that is what you desire, even if you never read them. As a professional librarian, I would ask you why you have a particular title. Try and answer with something more than “it’s a good book.” Don’t crowd out your truly special items with stuff that is just okay.



  1. Hear, hear! I think one of the first things many of us learn to let go of during library training is the idea that a book, any book, all by itself is a sacred object.

    I have plenty of books, but they’re kept on the basis of a) whether I want to read them again and b) whether they can be easily obtained at the library. Since I have weird taste, that still makes for a lot, but pretty much keeps it under control in our not-very-big house.

  2. I had a similar reaction to the Kondo outrage. I actually own very few books, and recently gave a student all of my Anne of Green Gables books. She’ll read them. I don’t need to. I do, however, find myself unable to part with my teen etiquette manuals from the 1950s. There’s just no replacing them!

  3. My personal library is hovering somewhere just under three thousand books. I’m disabled, and reading is one of the few things I can do most of the time, so I average a book a day. I’m also a big re-reader, which is great because I’m on a fixed income. The bulk of my books are odd lots, closeouts, dollar store special buys, and clearance cart As-Is fix-ups. There are quite a few weeds from my local library, of course!

    I do weed my personal library. I pass along books to a community center library I got drafted into maintaining, or the thrift store. It helps to know that they’re going out into the world to be found and loved by someone else. The funny thing is that I’m much stricter about the community center library. I weed with an iron fist, lol. Good thing, because the powers that be are about to cut the shelf space in half to make room for a pool table. There will be some hard choices ahead, but thankfully I’ve got ALB to help me!

  4. I can predict that Marie Kondo and ghosts of her (guru’s “as seen in Marie Kondo’s show”) will lead to a significant increase in “donations” –
    bothering your public library with books you want to throw out that are not only just slightly foxed but definitely badgered, wolved and possibly beared as well. Old, dated, smelly and irrelevant, but surely the library will still want them?
    or, failing that, any second hand store that hasn’t already filled every nook and cranny with books already those conditions, surely any second hand store will be only too pleased with more rejected shades of grey, handy tips for windows 95 or dodgy children’s books.

    Books are definitely not sacred and sometimes they should be just thrown out, making room in this world for new books.

    1. YES! That community center library I run constantly gets boxes of nasty, dirty books with no covers and dubious yellow stains that have been stored in attics and garages for years. Of course, there’s always a hurt message passed along later when those delightful volumes fail to appear on our shelves…

  5. I go through and weed the books in my house at least a couple of times a year. My young son is good about this too – he is a huge book lover but he can also let things go if he isn’t likely to read them again. The well-worn Harry Potter books will never leave, though!

  6. I have about 600 physical books in my personal collection. (My Kindle list is getting a little out of control.) I’m slowly weeding it down to a core collection of things that are personally meaningful and/or too beautiful to give up. The process is inspired less by Marie Kondo and more by my memories of how much work it was to clean out my parents’ apartment when they moved to assisted living.

    Full disclosure — I buy very few print books any more. Those I do are usually editions of classics with good illustrations. My cherished Folio Society edition of Lord of the Rings will probably be buried with me.

    1. I’d say “You *Shouldn’t* Take It With You”. What good does having a well bound book buried in the ground do? Yes I know Andre Norton did it, but I think she used copies.

  7. I have no idea how many books I own, but it’s a lot. My ex, a non-reader who, now that I think of it, may be dyslexic, did not like them and frequently urged me to get rid of them — perhaps one reason for the title of “ex.”

    I really should get rid of the aged best-sellers, but I do like reading a lot of my collection again. I stopped acquiring books a while ago, for the most part, in favor of my library’s collection. I am fortunate that our local bookstore buys used books — they are fussy, but if they won’t take something, I can donate to our Friends book sale.

  8. I used to hoard my books but over the past couple years have gotten better at weeding my personal collection down to ones I genuinely think I could read again or were autographed. I collect a few series that have many books in them and even if I don’t like a particular book as much as some of the others, I’ll still keep it. I just got rid of around 60 books and first took them to Powell’s (I live in Portland) to try to see what they’d take for cash. They never take much so the rest of them I donated between Goodwill, Friends of the Library, and a day space for homeless youth. I made sure that none of the books were in crappy condition.

  9. I have a huge book collection and I do weed often. I have every Stephen King book out there and those are not going anywhere. I actually do re-read them. I use to collect cookbooks but that really got out of hand and I finally had to weed those. I only kept the ones I actually do use. On the other hand I collect Little Golden Books and I have over 200 of those and I also collect Wizard of Oz Books so I have a whole lot of those. My kids are already making mental notes of what they are going to do with all of this when I am gone. So I enjoy them now..when I am not here they can do what they want.

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