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Do You Even Need a Home Library in the Age of eBooks?

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For the first two and half decades of my life, I collected books like there was a prize for catching ’em all. I always swore that “real” books were better than eBooks… until I realized that the convenience, accessibility, and portability of virtual books made the half-ton of paper on my shelves a lot less appealing.

I recently moved into a new apartment, and I whittled my collection down to just eight small boxes. But why maintain a paper-based library at all?

For one thing, having your favorites in a hard copy is a good backup in case something happens to your digital collection. I’m not saying that one day Jeff Bezos will assume his final form and devour the sun, but if he did, you’d still be able to read your old-fashioned books by candlelight.

For another, a well-curated collection of books is a good way to tell visitors to your home a little bit about yourself. This is especially true if you’re trying to impress a date. A shelf or two of books, interspersed with the odd knickknack, can make a space feel cozier, too. Horace Mann’s oft-quoted line, “A house without books is like a room without windows,” comes to mind.

It’s also notoriously difficult to get an eBook signed. If you’re into signed first editions, rare books, or antiques, then paper is the only way to go. But how do you get started building a library for yourself?

Buy Decent Bookshelves

While your basic IKEA Billy bookshelf is technically an upgrade compared to stacking your books directly on the floor, they are not meant to last the ages. Mine started falling apart after one move; I didn’t even try to move them again this time. They’re made from particleboard–wood chips held together with glue–and don’t have the stability or longevity of actual wood.

Since brand-new bookcases can be quite expensive, your best bets are estate sales, yard sales, and thrift stores. You can often find quality, all-wood furniture for about 10%-25% of what similar pieces would cost new.

Prioritize Hardcovers

There are three basic types of book binding: hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback. Whenever possible, buy the hardcover book. Trade paperbacks are higher quality–and larger–than their mass-market brethren. Those are printed on cheaper paper with smaller font and flimsier covers. The spines of market paperbacks start to crack after one “use.” They’re not good for rereading, and they don’t look nice on the shelf.

As you buy books for your library, avoid mass-market paperbacks. Look for those titles as eBooks and save your shelf space for hardcovers. Again, if you’re on a budget then second-hand is your best choice. Thrift stores are filled with castoffs for a dollar. If your local library system holds an annual book sale, that’s another great time to stock up.

Buy the Books You Love

Home libraries are deeply personal. They tell a story about the people who curate them. As you start filling your shelves, choose books that you actually like–not whatever Oprah recommends that month or a list you found online of must-have classics. If you don’t particularly like Pride and Prejudice and would rather have Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books instead, then you do you.

There’s no right or wrong way to build a library. However, make like a librarian and take care of your collection. That means regular weeding–removing books that are damaged or no longer have a place in your library. That’s a crucial step that too many people ignore. Making space for new books by donating or selling titles that you no longer want will keep your collection fresh and manageable.

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