History in the Making

Creating Your Library

After working in a bookstore for years, and being a voracious reader myself, I have spoken with countless people who for various reasons want to build a library for themselves. While this is a lovely dream to have, it isn’t as easy as it might seem on the surface, and there is a lot to consider. For a lot of people, it is a way to establish their intellectual self in their home. This seems quite straightforward but can be overwhelming once you actually start. This guide will you help you set a budget and a timeline for your library, plan your physical space, and decide what you want in it. Creating your library is a bigger task, but can be enjoyable with a little bit of planning!

A lot of people will not set out to build a library, but rather will accumulate books over the years and gradually create a library over time. However, a lot of people decide to build a library in a few months or years because they suddenly have more disposable income, they have moved into a space that has room for a library, or they have someone that they want to impress. In any case, it usually isn’t as simple as buying 200 books, sticking them on a shelf, and calling it a day.

Timeline + Budget

If you don’t need your library assembled by a certain date, you will have more flexibility in what you have in it and how much you spend. I would recommend building it over a year or two; it will give you the time to really think on your list, plan out the space, and get the best deals. (I am big fan of collecting books regularly and then building a formal library later, but I know it isn’t ideal for everyone.)

I would determine what your total budget is and how many books you want in your library; that will give you an average book cost. Once you know that, start paying attention to sales and events at your local bookstore, chains, and places like Amazon. I think that all of us would love to only support small bookshops but I can say personally that my budget doesn’t stretch to only buy from local stores. Chapters and Barnes and Noble will often have “Buy 3, Get the 4th free” or “Half-price classics” events, and those are fantastic when you are creating your library. You can often set up a wishlist to send you notifications when you a book you are looking for is on sale, even! You could also ask for books for your birthday and holidays, but I would give people the specific ISBN/edition if you particular about edition/format.

Creating Your Library At Home

Setting Up Your Space

Setting up your physical space for your library is a big part of it- I think a lot of us bibliophiles dream a Beauty and the Beast-esque library, but for many people it consists of a few bookshelves, or perhaps a corner in your living room. That doesn’t make it any less of a library, though! Figure out where your library will be in your home, and anything that may disturb it- ie. do you have a toddler who might pull books out of low shelves and tear them? Is there a puppy or kitten who might jump up and try to knock books off? Is it in direct sunlight for much of the day? (That will fade books, FYI.)

This may sound ridiculous, but make sure that the shelves can bear the weight of your books. I remember a customer coming back into the bookstore that I worked at to tell us that the weight of all of her hardcover books actually broke the shelf that they were on; just because they look pretty does not mean that they are meant to be there in reality. Also, make sure that the height of the shelves suit the height of your books! Sturdy shelves, protection from direct sunlight, and no chance of moisture will go a long way to preserving your library.

Woman reading in her home library

What Books Should You Include?

This tends to be the touchiest subject for people building a library. Should a library only include classic literature? Should all of your books be hardcover, or softcover? Or is a mix acceptable? Should all books in a series be the same edition? Should you have only cloth covered books? The list goes on and on. Fun fact: You get to pick what goes into your library, and if you are solely basing it on the way it looks, collecting art might be a better way to go.

I would start by figuring out if you want all of the books you read in your library, or only a few select genres/books. I personally would recommend only including books that you will actually read (or other people living with you will). There is no point to buying books for your library that you will never read, as putting them in your library opens you up to questions about them- will you really impress someone with your Dickens collection if they ask you about Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities, and you have to tell them that you never read it? Probably not. I would also recommend buying the books that are the most comfortable for you to read. If hardcover books are hard on your wrists, buy the paperback or mass market version that you will actually read. At the end of the day, make sure that your library suits you, and makes you want to read!

Bookcase in Home LIbrary

I think that libraries are best when collected over time from books that you have collected yourself and from others, for the memories that come with them! The stories behind books are as important as the writing itself, and a library full of memories is priceless.

Do you have your own library? And if you do, how did you assemble it? 

Cheers,
The Historian
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9 thoughts on “Creating Your Library”

  • I have always dreamed of having a “Beauty and the Beast-esque” library complete with those sliding wooden ladders but that will probably continue to be a dream. When we visit country houses and castles the library is always my favourite room to visit.

    You make some really good points and perhaps I will start thinking about starting a mini library in a cranny of our tiny home 🙂

    • It can be so much fun to do, and then you have a little area to yourself where the entire function is relaxing!! And that is the dream library but I know I will never have it haha. And I feel like libraries are the window into people’s souls (eyes can be changed with makeup and contact lenses but libraries are key)! What surprises me in those country houses is just how dark the library is, but I think that may be my North American background of super light and open concept spaces influencing me!

  • I’d love a library! I kind of have a small one but if I had my way it would expand much more! I suppose building it up over time is a good idea or you’d spend all your money in one go, also definitely your library should reflect you and what you want to read. It is definitely one of my dreams if/when I get my own place to have a reading room/library 🙂

  • Love the idea of building a library. I have a small one. My decision to purchase a book is whether I will read it more than once. So I purchase mostly self-help or reference books. The majority of fiction I read I get from the library.

    • That is definitely a criteria I use- if I (or one of my close friends/family) will read it again, I am certainly more inclined to purchase it. My own library does skew heavily towards history and biography because I will re-read those! I love mysteries, but I typically have to wait 3+ years to re-read, so it doesn’t make sense to purchase them.

    • I’ve not read any Novick (as a Canadian who studied early medieval history, I have very little experience with American historians) but I would thoroughly recommend Ludmilla Jordanova’s History in Practice, a fascinating academic discussion of the role of history now! In terms of Foucault, I could recommend some articles but I don’t know that many full length monographs have been written on him and his role in history. I think most people just read his works and then took to their own writing haha! I will be back with articles soon!!

  • My library was one that developed over time. When I moved to London, I brought all my favourite novels with me! And continued to add to their number. Then when my daughter came along six years later, I called Oxfam, who came and collected the lot (nesting instinct?). And so I started again. Maybe ten years later I had another clearout car-booting, books I didn’t want to get rid of entered the loft.
    When I began studying history, my personal history library grew exponentially. I bought new and second-hand and the dream is to have that office/library space so that they can all be displayed together. At the moment they’ve been boxed up (in century order!) so that we can decorate, I suspect hubby is going to want them boxed until we finally move!

    • Moves and family changes definitely can influence your library!! I am hoping to move to the UK in 3-4 years, and after living overseas once, I am very cognisant of the fact that I will have to pay to have all of those books moved over an ocean.

      I had a good 200+ history books, and I had to go through and purge some of them; many ended up with friends, but I knew that because I wasn’t working in the field, I didn’t need all of those books. I try to read at least 52 new books a year- I can’t keep re-reading books to make that happen, so I like to think that by giving them to friends, I am doing my bit to share history 🙂

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