Building your home library

We all agree here that hard times are a'coming. One of the hard times I foresee in the future is accessibility to knowledge.

Today, we've got the internet, eBooks, and libraries everywhere.
I don't know how long the internet will last. eBooks require electricity to charge those batteries and the batteries don't last forever.

Paper books can be read for decades. Books on parchment have been read for centuries. Clay tablets have been read for millennia. If you learn the language, you can read the object.

Books used to be scarce and expensive. Today they're everywhere but will that be true in the future?

I propose we all build our home libraries because if you've got the knowledge stored in a book, you have it safe on your shelf for when you need it.

1) What kinds of books? This is very personal but I don't recommend storing diet books or current top-ten fiction. They have their uses (toilet paper, insulation, fire-starters, radiation barriers) but otherwise don't waste the shelf space.
Instead, look for how-to guides, histories, the classics; books you think will stand the test of time. Fiction should be something you'd be willing to reread.

2) What format of books? Hardbacks tend to hold together longer, followed by trade paperbacks. Mass-market paperbacks will fall apart the fastest. Audiobooks have all the problems that eBooks do: no juice and they're dead, and if you don't have the correct interface, they're dead.

3) Where should you buy your books? Today, used books are everywhere. Start with your local used bookstore. Their stock always changes. Always, always, always check out the books at every thrift shop you walk into. You absolutely *NEVER* know what you'll find. Yard sales tend to be stocked with mass-market pop fiction and diet books but you never know. Yard sales at assisted living facilities and senior citizen housing tend to have the best selection. Estate sales can be good too.

I developed a list of bookstores in the Mid-Atlantic region, including used bookstores:

4) Library sales are the gold standard. As at your library when they do their sales. Then, move online to library sale listings. Dozens of library sales take place very month, many of them within driving distance. Booksale finder is a good place to start:

The selection of books at library sales varies wildly and smaller libraries with a college nearby will have a better selection than a larger library with no nearby college.

5) Online at and However, if you're going to buy a book (using word of mouth) from either site, make sure it's one you want. Before we buy a used book, we preview it using the interlibrary loan. Often-times, we look at the book and decide we don't want it. The interlibrary loan saves us $$ for the books we do want.

6) Proper storage. Don't store books in your basement in boxes. You'll get mildew and silverfish. Books need shelves. If you build them yourself, you can size them properly. Mass-market paperbacks can fit very tightly as long as the bookshelf is reserved exclusively for that size. Hardbacks and trades can go together. Build separate shelves for oversized books.

7) Sort your library. Once you've got more than a few hundred, you need to organize. Fiction should always be in alphabetical order by author. For nonfiction, use either Dewey Decimal or the Library of Congress to start with and then adjust for your own needs. Labeled yard-sale stickers affixed to the spines will help you see at a glance what's on your shelves. For example, we organize our histories (thousands of books) by subject date. That is, ancient history comes first and then the histories march forward in time. The stickers identify the time period the book covers.

Our Hollywood library is arranged in alphabetical order by movie star. Other Hollywood books are grouped in date/time order.

8) Purge as needed. If you can replace a mass-market paperback with a trade, do so. Replace trades with hardbacks. If a duplicate is especially useful, keep it for trading. Purging is hard, because you may not be able to replace the title. In general, the weird stuff from tiny presses is much harder to replace than something that sold 100,000 copies.

9) Don't discuss your library with unfriendly people. Only you need to know that you store problematic, questionable books by racist authors such as Dr. Seuss and Margaret Mitchell and Pearl S. Buck.

10) Build your home library NOW, while you can. Libraries are busily de-accessioning. Publishers are busily de-platforming. Amazon refuses to sell some books. You can find books everywhere today. That may not be true in the future both because you can't find something that's been burned and because you may not be able to afford the book if you do find it.

11) The more home libraries exist, the better the chances are some books will survive to be read in the brave new future.

12) Yes, I know modern books are printed on cheap, flimsy, degradable paper but so what? Perfect is the enemy of finished and we save what we can.

ClareBroommaker's picture

Could someone explain how to tell the difference?

And does "library binding" have a standard meaning?

Do you know what the books are called that have started life as some kind of paperback, but had the covers sliced off and affixed to hard chipboard (or some hard, heavy paper) then re-bound to the pages? Do you know if that is typically done to trade ppbk or mass market pprbk? I associate these with school purchases where an entire class will be reading the same novel. Since I've been acquiring children's books I've run into it fairly often. Usually the paper within seems low quality, grey and almost foamy.

Mass market paperbacks are small, almost hand-size. When you're at the used bookshop, the mass market paperbacks are usually segregated because they need shelves much closer together to not waste space. New mass market is always the cheapest book option other than eBooks. When mass markets ruled the book world, it included plenty of nonfiction. Today, not so much. Mass market size ranges from category romance (60,000 words or so) on up to much thicker books that should never have been printed as such because the spine cracks so fast and the pages fall out. eBooks seem to be replacing mass market for a lot of people. The point of mass market is cheapness and accessibility which is why you find them on a rack tucked away at the grocery store.

Trade paperback is a cross between mass market paperback. They tend to be the size of a hardback book, sometimes smaller but never as small as a mass market. Their covers are heavier and better quality than mass market but still not as good as hardback. The pages stay in place better too.

Hardback books have hard covers and normally come with dust jackets to attract the consumer's interest, protect the hardback cover, and provide marketing space (jacket copy inside and on the back). The big difference is in how the pages are attached. In hardbacks, they're sewn in signatures. A signature is a set of pages with the stitching down the center of the folded over group of pages. Mass markets are always glued. Trade paperbacks are glued as well but the glue tends to be of higher quality.

ANY of these formats can have its cover improved aftermarket to make the book last longer. Libraries do it all the time to make a book that is published in mass market hold up under hard use. A book binder can rebind your books. Alas, they can't do anything about the pages themselves because if a book isn't printed as signatures, it can't be retrofitted.

Traditionally, novels were published first in hardback, then in mass market paperback a year later. The cover would be revved up, because the market was different. Thus, a tasteful cover for the hardback and one with nudity for the mass market.

Trade paperbacks split the difference in terms of cost and quality. Today, some books get an initial release as hardbacks, six months later as a trade, and then, another year later, as a mass market paperback. The eBook fits in there somewhere, as do large print and audio.

The formats (also including large print and audio) each get assigned a unique ISBN so as to better track sales of which format sells best in which market. eBooks don't use ISBNs at this time. I'm guessing that's because eBooks are only sold online and not in bookstores, airports, grocery stores, and Walmart.

I've had great success with this set of instructions (since I haven't found used/cheap bookshelves with enough regularity to be able to count on that method): I've built both long and tall. Since we inherited a friend's library, we're in the process of making more.

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