Our Reading Lives

On Having Empty Shelves: Less Can Be More

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Brief intro: I’m a reader, I’m a professional librarian, I write, I don’t own many books.

I have a healthy collection. A few eclectic shelves of fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, and nonfiction. I have a collection that is growing. I’m on a hunt for hardcovers of my favorite authors and titles that I need for my collection. I have a well-used copy of Moby Dick next to my Harry Potter set. There are nonfiction books that have stuck with me as well, but long discarded are college textbooks I lugged around thinking they might be useful at some nondescript point in the future. 

The Minimalist Bookshelf and Collection: When Less is More | BookRiot.com

Some people love shelves like these

What I don’t have are piles. Overflowing shelves. This surprises—maybe even offends—some people who see or hear this. You’re a librarian and you don’t have too many books?! How can you be a librarian?! Don’t misunderstand, I love books and I love stories. I grew up in a home that has books stacked on the floor, and my late father built custom bookshelves in every room to accommodate them. I am a convert to Marie Kondo, and I “weed” my collection. Vigorously. I think it is important for my collection to stay well maintained, at home and at work. It helps my eyes go to something that sparks joy and brings a smile to my face.

Space is a premium, but tidy shelves give space for add-ons. Photos, knick-knacks and artwork that have some sort of connection to the books nearby. Maybe a souvenir I picked up at a time in my life when I first read a favorite. Or a postcard from a literary destination.

What to do with all of my books?

Some series I haven’t touched in years have gone to the library book sale, along with various paperbacks I haven’t read in years (or at all). What I do purchase now are books that elicit a deep emotion in me, items I want to own, reread yearly, and wouldn’t mind going through the hassle of moving with.  Tastes change, people change. The best thing for my books is for someone else to pick them up for a couple of quarters and enjoy them as I did, not to linger on my shelf when we both know it’s time to say goodbye to each other. The books want to be read; sometimes it’s best to let them.


Thinking about weeding your shelves? Check out How To Weed Your Bookshelves.